Be alert as you drive around the state this fall to watch the leaves change colors on the trees. You might be looking at a state champion.
While every tree is special in some way, some have garnered attention by virtue of their size, their age, or their historical significance and are listed as North Carolina Champion Big Trees with the North Carolina Forest Service.
Since the 1970s, the North Carolina Champion Big Tree program has recognized and celebrated the state’s largest trees. In the seven-county Triangle Gardener area, almost two-dozen trees have made the list of champions. These largest trees in the Triangle include American Elder, Carolina Laurel Cherry, Shellbark Hickory, Chinese Parasol, Black Oak and over a dozen other species.
Remember, while some of these trees are on public property, visitors are requested to respect the rights of private property owners when searching for and viewing champion trees in the state.
Anyone can nominate a tree for the champions program. And you don’t have to climb the tree to measure it from top to bottom. Exact measurements are not required for nomination. The evaluation committee will perform exact measurement.
For trees nominated in other categories, especially for historic, documentation is required. Historic trees must be at least 50 years old with verification of association of some historical event or location.
The North Carolina program follows national standards for the species that can be nominated. According to these guidelines, hybrids and minor varieties are not eligible for champion status. The North Carolina Forest Service has posted a list of eligible species on its website that are accepted for nominations in the state.
Not all species currently listed in the state database are actually eligible by today’s standards. Some of these trees are not native to the state, but have been on the list and continue to receive recognition. New nominations for these specimen trees are not being accepted. Once these specimen trees die, the species will no longer be included on the state list.
A county-by-county database of champions, the list of eligible species, and the nomination form are available at www.ncforestservice.gov/Urban/nc_champion_big_trees_overview.