Georgia’s National Champion Trees

The nice trees I observed on Berry College campus last week inspired me to study the inventory of Georgia’s National Champion Trees published by the Georgia Forestry Commission (available online http://www.gfc.state.ga.us/forest-management/champion-tree-program/).  Georgia has 20 national champion trees.  Foresters measure the circumference at 4.5 feet above the ground + height + crown width to determine whether a tree is a champion of its species.  Some species have a range that is restricted to Georgia, so of course, the national champion of that species would be found in state.  The Georgia plume (Elliotia recemosa) is a small rare tree known from just 9 sites in the Georgia sandhills.  The largest known Georgia plume is in Tattnall County and is 47 feet tall with a diameter of a foot.

Other species have a limited regional range but are most common in Georgia, so the champion of that species would be expected in state.  Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana), first discovered on Stone Mountain in 1840, is a species of red oak that grows on rocky outcrops in the southern Appalachians.  The national record Georgia oak is found in Clarke County and is 59 feet tall with a diameter of just over 2 feet.  The Oglethorpe oak (Q. oglethorpensis), a species of white oak not recognized till 1940, includes a population of less than 1000 specimens in disjunct locations primarily on the Georgia Piedmont but also in Mississippi and South Carolina.  The record tree of this species is found in Oglethorpe County and is 64 feet tall with a diameter of over 3 feet.  Nutmeg hickory (Carya myritieformis) is another regionally rare tree with disjunct populations.  The largest known specimen is found in Floyd County and is 115 feet tall with a diameter of about 2 feet.

Some species of trees are fairly common throughout the southeastern coastal plain, but the largest specimens are found in Georgia.  Ogeechee lime (Nyssa ogeche), a tupelo with an edible fruit, is most common in Georgia.  The largest known is found in Toombs County and is 45 feet tall with a diameter over 6 feet.  Swamp privet (Foresteria acuminata), a member of the olive family, grows throughout the southeastern coastal plain.  The largest known specimen, also found in Toombs County, is 47 feet tall with a diameter of 11 inches.  Chalk maple (Acer leucoderma) is a rare regional tree found on the inner coastal plain and piedmont.  The largest specimen is found in Greene County and is 64 feet tall with a diameter of a foot.  Florida maple (Acer barbatum) is a little more widespread than chalk maple.  The largest known Florida maple is found in Floyd County and is 91 feet tall with a diameter of almost 4 feet.  May hawthorne (Crataegus aestivalis), produces a fruit used in making jelly.  The largest known is found in Haralson County and is 40 feet tall with a diameter of over 1 foot.  Viburnum possumhaw (V. nudem) is another regional borderline shrub with a record specimen found in Georgia.  The largest known is found in Oconee County and is 33 feet tall with a diameter of 4.4 inches.  Aloe yucca (Yucca aloensis) grows in coastal scrub along the southeastern coast as far north as New Jersey.  The largest known is found in Brantley County and is 14 feet tall with a diameter of 6 inches.

Myrtle oak (Q. myrtifolia) ranges mostly in Florida but the northernmost population in Camden County, Georgia holds the record specimen which is 36 feet tall with a diameter of 9.5 inches.

The most impressive national record trees in Georgia are from species found across most of eastern North America.  The largest red mulberry (Morus rubra) is found 20 minutes from my house in Richmond County.  It is 54 feet tall with a diameter of over 7 feet–truly an impressive tree harking back to primeval times.

This national champion red mulberry tree is located about 20 minutes from my house in Richmond County.

A post oak (Q. stellata) in Jackson County is 86 feet tall with a diameter over 6 feet.

The national champion post oak is in Jackson, County, Georgia.

National champion Ogeechee Lime Tupelo in Toombs County.

A southern red oak (Q. falcata) in Upson County is 137 feet tall with a diameter of 9 feet.  Unfortunately, there’s no photo of it online.  An eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) growing in a Coffee County cemetery is 54 feet tall with a diameter of over 6 feet.

National champion Eastern Red Cedar growing in the Lane Hill United Methodist Church Cemetery, Coffee County, Georgia.

The largest Alabama black cherry (Prunus serotina alabamensis), a subspecies of black cherry, is found in Floyd County and is 49 feet tall with a diameter of 9 inches.  This is much smaller than the state record black cherry found in Ellijay which is 83 feet tall with a diameter of over 5 feet.

Georgia has some champion specimens of common borderline shrubs too.  The largest flatwoods plum (Prunus umbellata) is found in Union County and is 43 feet tall with a diameter of 11 inches.    The largest smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is found in Twiggs County and is 52 feet tall with a diameter of 11 inches.  The largest mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is found in Fannin County and is 20 feet tall with a diameter of almost 20 inches.  The largest buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), favorite food of the mastodon, is found in Screvin County and is 22 feet tall with a diameter of 5 inches.

Some of the most impressive trees in Georgia are not national record trees.  Below are photos of a few.

Georgia’s state champion black oak is located next to a convent in Fulton County.  William Bartram walked through a forest of gigantic oaks, some larger than this.  Too bad, pioneers destroyed that forest.

Georgia’s state record eastern cottonwood also located in downtown Atlanta.

Georgia’s state record beech is located in Lawrenceville, Georgia where my grandfather lived until he was 16.

The 2nd highest scoring trees in Georgia are bald cypresses.  

The highest scoring tree in Georgia is this live oak in Ware County.

The black oak growing next to the convent is over 7 feet in diameter.  This is not as large as many of the black oaks William Bartram observed in a 7 mile long forest he traveled through in 1775 (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/william-bartrams-magnificent-forest/)  Some of those trees measured 11 feet in diameter.  Loggers destroyed most of Georgia’s forests between 1865-1945.  The primeval forests prior to the Civil War undoubtedly held specimens larger than today’s state and national champions.  However, we are living during a climatic phase favorable to the rapid growth of trees.  The largest tree specimens lived during interglacials and interstadials when CO2 concentrations and precipitation levels were high.  If we preserve enough green space on fertile ground and allow remaining old growth forests to remain intact, there is hope that trees such as Bartram encountered may grow once again.

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