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Mississippi's Champion Trees
by Ed Brown
Mississippi is now known as a “tree state.” The latest forest acreage figure from Mississippi State University now puts the state land base at 68 percent forest land, which amounts to 19.8 million acres. Mississippi's total land base is 30 million acres.
Do you ever wonder how many big trees are out there in the forests just waiting to be discovered by someone who enjoys finding a forest giant? In this article, we will explore what champion trees (big trees) are already on the Mississippi Champion Tree List and what species may be in your own backyard or on forest land, and not on the list, just waiting to be nominated.
The Champion Tree Program was started in 1972 by the Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC), specifically Bill Colvin, who was the information and education director. Mr. Colvin is now retired from the MFC. He patterned the program from the National Register of Big Trees. This program was initiated in 1940 by the American Forestry Association, now known as American Forests. The National Register of Big Trees keeps records of the largest trees by diameter, height and crown spread located across the nation. All trees submitted to the Mississippi Champion Tree Program are compared to the most current edition of the National Register of Big Trees. Currently, 163 trees are registered as Mississippi “State” Champions, eight of which are also National Champions, largest of their species, and five are National Co-Champions.
The state tree of Mississippi is the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and its flower is our state blossom. Did you know it is our very own State and National Champion Tree? This giant tree is located in Jones County approximately 2 miles east of State Highway 11, across from Ellisville State School and is owned by the Jones County Board of Education. It is quite a hike to see this magnificent State and National Champion Tree.
The state’s largest tree is a baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) and it is located 8 miles north of Belzoni in Humphreys County on property owned by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. It is 46 feet 9 inches in circumference, about 15 feet in diameter and 70 feet in height. This state champion is located within 300 feet of the former champion baldcypress which in only slightly smaller. The smaller tree remains the second largest tree in the state and would produce enough lumber to build 6 ordinary houses.
The tallest tree in the state is owned by the U.S. Forest Service in Scott County. It is located in the Strong River flood plain just south of the Morton-Marathon Road. It is a spruce pine (Pinus glabra) and its height is 156 feet. You will get a crick in your neck to look up and find the tip-top of this tree. Mr. Art Bradshaw and his wife, Grace, of Smith County, found this champion while squirrel hunting along the Strong River. Its circumference is only 12 feet 2 inches. There are not many trees in Mississippi over 150 feet tall! This tree is a wonder to see.
You may ask the question, “Are there any large oak trees in Mississippi?” Yes, there are two National Co-Champions and one National Champion in the state, according to the National Register of Big Trees.
The two National Co-Champions are Nuttall oak (Quercus nuttallii) and water oak (Quercus nigra). The Nuttall oak is one prized by lumbermen and wildlife managers alike. It sports an acorn that has the most crude protein of any red oak species in the state. The protein content is almost 35 percent. Deer, turkey and squirrels really like this red oak species. The Nuttall oak, pronounced “nut all,” is located in Washington County and is owned by Mr. L. B. Stein. This oak is very popular in the Delta Region but is being found throughout the state, even in the Pascagoula River watershed. The theory is that the Native Americans traded these acorns due to the crude protein content. The Nuttall oak is now being planted all over the state because of its great lumber potential and value to wildlife. This Nuttall oak has a circumference of 21 feet 8 inches and is 110 feet tall. The National Co-Champion water oak is located in Jones County just south of Ellisville. It is owned by Mrs. Teresa Hill. Its circumference is 23 feet; its height is 118 feet with a crown spread of 108 feet. This is a monster of an oak tree.
How are Champion Trees selected?
Champion Trees are determined on the basis of
points awarded in the following manner:
The Champion Tree entry with the largest number of total points shall be declared the champion of its species in Mississippi. It shall be recognized as such in each edition of Champion Trees of Mississippi until a new champion is found or until the tree dies. Co-Champions will be listed in the case of very close point totals (within 5 total points).
Mississippi's Champion Trees which score points in excess of those currently listed in the American Forests National Register of Big Trees will be forwarded to American Forests for nomination as a National Champion.
If you like to find giant trees as a hobby or think you have a potential Champion Tree, please give the Mississippi Forestry Commission a call or visit their new web site at www.mfc.state.ms.us. Who knows, you may have a tree that is the largest of its species in the State or Nation!
The Arkansas oak is the only National Champion oak tree Mississippi has on the Champion Tree List that is not shared by any other state. Arkansas oaks (Quercus arkansana) are very similar to water oaks with the difference being a more heavy leaf structure similar to that of the blackjack oak. The tips of the leaves have more of the red oak spines. The acorns are somewhat shiny to dull black when mature. The proud owner of this tree is the City of Collins in Covington County. This oak species was found during an Urban Forestry Street Tree Survey in 1996. Arkansas oaks are somewhat rare. This oak can also be found on the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Winston Counties, on the eastern side of Jasper County and now in Covington County.
Another National Champion tree is the Southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides) located in Yalobusha County. It is owned by Mr. Dale Camp. Catalpas have the catalpa caterpillars that many of us love to use as bait for catfish. This tree sports a 22-foot, 7-inch circumference along with a height of 88 feet. Another species that is native to the Delta Region is the swamp cottonwood (Populus heterophylla). This tree is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington County. It is 12 feet 6 inches in circumference and is 93 feet tall.
Smaller trees are listed on the Mississippi Champion Tree List along with the National Registry of Big Trees. The three National Champions are swamp dogwood, parsley hawthorn and Hercules-club (tooth ache tree). The swamp dogwood (Cornus stricta) is located on land owned by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District in Madison County. This Champion Tree is part of a nature trail constructed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks at the Turcotte Field Station on the Ross Barnett Reservoir on State Highway 43. The parsley hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii) is another National Champion owned by the City of Collins in Covington County. It is located on a vacant lot behind the Sonic Hamburger Drive-In. It was also found while on an Urban Forestry Survey in 1996. The Hercules-club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) is another small tree that has made the Mississippi Champion Tree List and the National Registry of Big Trees. The inter bark has a substance that numbs the mouth and gums if you chew on the inter bark or cambium layer. The Native Americans in the Southeastern Region of the United States used this tree to treat tooth aches and other mouth pains. This tree is located in Jefferson County. Its circumference is 53 inches, height is 68 feet and its crown spread is 29 feet.
The last two National Champion small trees are tree sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) and shining winged sumac (Rhus copallinum). The tree sparkleberry is owned by the U.S. Forest Service in Harrison County. Tree sparkleberry likes a sandy type soil and it is the largest of the huckleberries. It is known as “winter huckleberry.” The shining winged sumac is owned by Mr. William Killough of Pontotoc County. It boasts a 3 foot 2 inch circumference and it is 29 feet tall. (The word sumac is pronounced “su mac” not “shoe make.”)
As mentioned earlier, the Mississippi Champion Tree List has 163 champions listed. These large trees are difficult to de-throne. You can find the Champion Tree List on the internet by typing in www.mfc.state.ms.us and click on Champion Tree Program. As you scroll down the list, please review the species list that does not have a Mississippi champion. The list has 69 tree species that have not been nominated and declared a champion. If you can correctly identify the species and measure it, you automatically have a State Champion.
The tree species that do not have a listed champion are sweet crabapple, pumpkin ash, Carolina ash, Carolina basswood, roughleaf and smooth dogwood, September elm, Georgia hackberry, nutmeg hickory, possumhaw holly, black locust, chestnut oak, Delta post oak, laurel oak, bigflower and smallflower pawpaw, Chickasaw plum and weeping willow. This is just to name a few species that do not have a Mississippi Champion Tree on the MFC's list.
If you think you have found a potential champion tree candidate, please schedule
an appointment with your local Service Forester's office. The Service Forester
can verify if the species will meet the criteria for the Champion Tree List.
Any qualified forester may make the official measurements for nominating a Champion
Tree. Only those species of trees recognized by the U.S. Forest Service publication
Checklist of United States Trees (Native or Naturalized) by Elbert
C. Little, Jr. are eligible for listing in the Mississippi Champion Tree
Again, you can contact your local MFC Service Forester's office or write Mississippi Champion Tree List, c/o Ed Brown, State Champion Tree Coordinator, at P. O. Box 348, Bay Springs, Mississippi 39422 or call (601) 764-2711 or (601) 764- 3061 in Bay Springs. Click here for a PDF version of the tree list.