Champion buckeye tree could be in your yard


COLUMBUS – Ohio proudly staked its claim this year to the nation’s No. 1 college football team. But those Buckeyes notwithstanding, another national champion Ohio buckeye remains firmly planted in the soil of another state.

Not in Ohio. Sad to say, the country’s largest Ohio buckeye tree is not here in the Buckeye State, where we might expect it to be found. Instead, those bragging rights belong to our southerly neighbor, Kentucky.

Deep in the heart of Bluegrass country, there grows an Ohio buckeye tree 148 feet tall and 151 inches around. It just doesn’t seem right that the largest known example of Ohio’s official state tree isn’t standing tall somewhere between the shores of Lake Erie and the banks of the Ohio River.

Everyone benefits from one or more things obtained from trees, but few things are as awe-inspiring as a huge tree, swaying in the breeze and dominating the landscape.

Big trees have a spiritual quality – they give us a sense of continuity, and are important links to our natural past. By just standing tall and proud, they help cleanse our air and provide aesthetic pleasure to even the most casual observer.

Seeking to identify and preserve the largest of each tree species, American Forests – a conservation organization based in Washington, D.C. – collects a list of our nation’s grandest trees.

To date, they’ve recorded 826 national champion Big Trees, representing the largest-known specimens of native and naturalized trees in the United States.

And, they count on folks to help find and nominate these outstanding specimens.

Qualifications. To qualify as a state or national champion tree, three measurements are taken into consideration: the circumference, height and crown spread. These numbers are added to obtain an index number, and the tree with the largest index number receives the revered rank of national champion Big Tree.

Measurements for nominating a Big Tree should include: trunk circumference at 4.5 feet above the ground, overall height (by comparing the tree to a nearby object), and crown spread at its widest and narrowest points.

Measuring. Measure the circumference of the trunk four and a half feet above the ground. Each inch represents one point. Estimate the tree’s height by comparing it to another object. Each foot adds one more point. Measure the distance of the ground area under the spread of the tree at both the widest and narrowest part of the spread, and then divide by two to get the average crown spread. Each foot adds .25 point.

All of these measurements together provide an estimated score. Representatives of the Division of Forestry’s Big Tree Program will use special equipment to verify all nominated trees.

The biggest Big Tree in the entire nation is a giant sequoia in California. Known as the General Sherman, it soars a neck-wrenching 261 feet in the sky and is 1,024 inches around (that’s about 85 feet).

Closer to home, Ohio’s largest tree is the swamp white oak tree – the largest of its kind in the nation. Located in Washington County, it’s a stately 75-foot high specimen that features a circumference of 282 inches and a crown spread of 107 feet.

Experts with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry believe the tree could be 250 to 300 years old, which means it was already standing when the first European settlers arrived in Ohio in 1788.

Ohio’s champions. With abundant and fertile woodland habitats, Ohio is home to thousands of these monarchs. A select few – 207 to be exact – have been nominated by individuals and singled out for Big Tree status in Ohio.

Fourteen of those, like the Washington County swamp white oak, are also national “champion” trees – the largest of their kind in the country.

In addition to our swamp white oak, Ohio’s other national champion Big Trees include a black ash, Kentucky coffeetree, Siberian elm, two slippery elms, Norway maple, northern pin oak, shingle oak, common pear, eastern redbud, two-winged silverbell, American smoketree and a yellowwood.

The Division of Forestry is renewing efforts to find and catalog Ohio’s biggest, most magnificent trees and is seeking the help of other Big Tree “admirers” for the process.

Could be close. If you go looking for a Big Tree, don’t get lost in the forest. You’re best chances for success may be no farther than your yard, local park, arboretum or cemetery. Champion trees are less frequently found in dense woods where the competition is greater for sunshine and nutrients.

Nomination. Anyone can nominate a tree for Big Tree designation. Nomination forms will be accepted anytime and are available on the ODNR Web site at, along with a diagram for taking preliminary measurements of a nominated tree.


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