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We are the champions: Missouri recognizes largest trees in state

Missouri is home to not only Super Bowl and World Series champions, but also to championship trees. Since 1968 the Department of Conservation has maintained a list of state champion trees, which are defined as the largest known trees of a species native to Missouri.

State forester Justine Gartner says that native species are determined by the book “Flora of Missouri” by Julian Steyermark, published in 1963. “It is used as the principal reference on plant life in the state,” she said.

To be considered, a tree must score the most points using a formula that adds the circumference in inches (measured 4.5 feet up from the ground) to the height in inches, to one-fourth of the average crown spread in inches. Information on potential new state champion trees comes voluntarily from the public as well as state foresters who happen to notice candidates for the honor.

“Our champion trees can be found all over the state, in our backyards and farms, along roadways, in city parks, state parks and conservation areas,” Gartner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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The Champion Bald Cypress tree is located in southern Missouri, pictured here.championship trees

When time permits, state employees check on the existing champion trees to be certain they are still standing.  “It is easy to check on the trees that have been awarded the title the last 30 years because they are accurately located by a PGS address,” she said. “Checking on older trees on the list can be difficult. For those, the location recorded can be as simple as ‘in a field two blocks from the store on the corner.’”

Gartner said only a few people know the location of the supposed oldest champion in the state, which is an eastern red cedar somewhere on a bluff in Missouri.  “All we know is that it is verified by carbon dating by some foresters working at the University of Missouri, but they will not disclose the location,” she said. “It is supposedly more than a thousand years old.”

A national list of America’s largest trees is maintained by American Forests, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring healthy forest ecosystems. Since the 1930s, individual state lists have been scrutinized to identify the national tree champions. The latest version of that list dates to 2021 and contains 561 national champion trees. Missouri boasts eight national champions.

–Anita Widaman | Metro Voice

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