Program calls for saving 'big trees'

May 22, 2010|By CELESTE MAIORANA / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • A red oak at Williamsport Elementary School. The photo was taken by Aaron Cook, a Western Maryland Research Conservation and Development Council Forester, assisting George Eberling, Maryland Department Natural Resources.
Submitted photo,

Big trees inspire awe and admiration. Their immense, enduring presence invites us to consider the events they have witnessed -- and the lives they have touched. While almost all of eastern North America's original forests have been removed, they remain as living reminders of a bygone era.

The Big Tree program had much help from Frederick W. Besley, Maryland's first state forester, who compiled the "Noted Tree List" for Maryland in 1925. Besley started an intensive search for big trees of all species growing in Maryland, and a statewide contest was held. The search continues to the present time.

Nationally, the call to find and save America's biggest trees came in the September 1940 issue of American Forests. In the magazine, Joseph Sterns, a concerned forester, published his article "Let's Find and Save the Biggest trees."

Besley's Maryland's rules of measurement, are still used by American Forests today for its Register of Big Trees: "Three standard measurements ... the circumference of the trunk at 4 1/2 feet from the ground ... the greatest diameter of spread of branches in feet in a line that would touch the trunk of the tree and third, the height of the tree in feet."


The importance of trees, not only in our landscape, but in our very way of life, gains recognition by more people every day. By calling attention to the biggest of the great variety of trees growing here, Washington County Forest Conservation District staff hope that people will be inspired to look more closely at trees, to think of all the ways they contribute to our well-being, and to plant and care for future champions.

If you look at the list of Maryland's big trees, you will notice that some are quite large, such as a sycamore measuring more than 27 feet in circumference, and its co-champion, which is 105 feet tall. But some are quite small, such as a witch-hazel, often described as a shrub, which is 10 inches in circumference and 34 feet in height. A tree is defined as having a circumference of at least 9.5 inches and a height of at least 13 feet. To qualify as a "big tree," a specimen only has to be big for its type.

You may also note that Washington County has several state champions, including the national champion Kentucky coffeetree, a hackberry, a red spruce and a chinkapin oak. Sadly, the bur oak has died.

As the Forestry Board members prepare to re-measure our existing state and county champions, we are hoping to receive nominations for new specimens. Some species for which we have no county champion are: beech, shagbark hickory, white pine and hemlock.

We will consider nominations for all species, according to the following Maryland State rules

The tree must measure at least 70 percent of the total score of the Maryland champion of the species.

A trunk circumference measurement (at 4.5 feet from the ground) must be at least 70 percent of the circumference of the specie's state champion in order for an official complete measurement activity ... by either the county forestry board personnel (from the county where the tree is located) or by qualified individuals as designated by the state program."

Registering a tree in the Big Tree Program confers no special protections to the tree and there are no special requirements of its owner, who remains free to treat the tree in any way he or she desires. The location and ownership are not made public unless the tree is located on public grounds.

If you wish to nominate a tree, just e-mail the circumference, the species, and your contact information to Nomination forms can be downloaded from the Maryland Big Tree Program and American Forests sites listed below.

Additionally, if you know of a tree that was alive (in Maryland) in 1776, please let us know. Volunteers from the Maryland Big Tree Program and local forestry boards are working on locating and measuring these trees, and updating the list made for the 1976 bicentennial celebration.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board, which promotes forest conservation in Washington County. Please visit online at .

Helpful sites

Maryland Big Tree Program:

Big Tree Champions of Maryland:

America Forest National Register of Big Trees: sources/bigtrees

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