All trees are unique, but not every tree has what it takes to be a champion. Only the largest tree of each species can lay claim to this prestigious title.
What is a champion tree? The Missouri Department of Conservation and American Forests set the ground rules. Points are awarded for circumference, crown spread, and height. Missouri state champion trees must be Missouri-native species.
The Missouri Botanical Garden has a champion in its canopy—and a newly-crowned title tree at its Litzsinger Road Ecology Center.
Our white basswood (Tilia americana var. heterophylla) isn’t just a state champion, it’s a national champion. It picked up the title after being nominated by horticulturist Chip Tynan in 2009. The white basswood nabbed a total score of 266 points, more than any other tree of this species in the entire country. This champion towers some 90 feet over the northwest corner of the Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum.
The Garden’s other champion is a boxelder (Acer Negundo) at the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center. This newcomer was crowned in 2018, with a height of 46 feet and a spread of 65 feet. Boxelder trees are suckering, fast-growing, weak-wooded, and a host for the boxelder bug, giving them the reputation of being weedy or trash trees. But staff at Litzsinger Road Ecology Center say this champion “is determined to wear the crown proudly and let all its progeny known they too can become heroes.”
Champions come and go, as is the case with a Garden possumhaw (Ilex decidua). This relative of the holly once reigned supreme over other members of its species. However, a larger possumhaw was discovered on private property and our tree was dethroned in 2015. New champions are crowned all the time as larger specimens are discovered and submitted, or when reigning champion trees are felled by age or other factors.
There are two more champion trees just outside the Garden walls. Tower Grove Park is home to Missouri’s largest bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata), and swamp privet (Forestiera acuminata). To search for a champion tree near you, check out the updated list from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Cassidy Moody – Digital Media Specialist