Missouri State Champion Trees

Big Trees

There is something about a big tree that commands interest, respect and a certain amount of awe. Trees are the largest and oldest living organisms. The giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) attain a height of 300 feet and a diameter of 30 feet at their base.

Missouri doesn't have the giant sequoias, but we did at one time register a baldcypress that was 39 feet in circumference, or 12.5 feet in diameter.

How big is big? American Forests and the Missouri Department of Conservation use a formula to assess a point value for big trees. Points are determined by a tree's height, crown spread and trunk size. The formula adds the circumference in inches (measured at a point 4.5 feet above the ground) to the height in feet to one-fourth of the average crown spread.

Using this formula, the largest known living tree in Missouri is a bald cypress with a point total of 466. The tree with the largest circumference is the same bald cypress at 26 feet 8 inches. The record for height is shared by a pumpkin ash and shumard oak, both with heights of 150 feet. The greatest crown spread--158 feet--belongs to an eastern cottowwood.

Everyone is invited to join the search for Missouri's champion trees. There are many unreported giants just waiting to be discovered.

What Tree Species Are Eligible to be Champions?

To be eligible for listing, a tree must be native or naturalized. Native tree species are survivors of the last ice age. Examples are shortleaf pine and shagbark hickory. Naturalized trees are exotic (introduced from other regions or continents) that have become common and establish themselves as if they are native. The white mulberry is a good example of a non-native, naturalized tree. Horticultural varieties, hybrids and exotic species, such as winter king hawthorn, tree of heaven and Oklahoma redbud, are excluded from the list.

All eligible trees that are nominated and are within 30 points of the champion are filed as "contenders." Frequently, champion trees blow over in storms, fall victim to disease or old age, or are simply cut down. When a mishap occurs, the largest contender of that species on file becomes the new champion.

The owner and nominator of each champion will receive a certificate mounted on a walnut plaque and all the bragging rights associated with finding or owning a champion tree. If two or more trees are within four points of each other, they will be co-champions.

Measuring for the Champion Tree

Measuring Circumference

Circumference is measured at 4.5 feet above the ground. If a growth or branch is located at this point, measure below it where the circumference is least. If the tree forks below 4.5 feet, measure the larger fork at 4.5 feet.

To measure the circumference, locate a point at 4.5 feet above the ground on the trunk and place the zero end of the tape there. The tape is wrapped around the trunk tightly without sagging so that it exactly meets the zero end of the tape. The circumference is read in feet and inches.

Measuring Crown Spread

Crown Spread can be measured by setting a stake directly under the outside edge of the crown farthest from the trunk (A) and another directly opposite it at the outer edge of the crown (B) on a line passing through the center of the tree. Next, set stakes marking the shortest diameter of the crown passing through the center of the tree (C and D). Measure both distances to the nearest foot with a tape measure. Add the two measurements together and divide the sum by two to obtain the average crown spread.

Measuring Height

Height is the distance between the base and the top-most branch of the tree. A simple method of measuring tree height, which is quite accurate, is done in the following manner: Make a target which is a known height (5 feet works well when measuring tall trees). A yardstick will be needed, into which you have cut a fine notch at each inch mark. Place this target against the tree, making sure that it will be visible as you walk back to measure it. Be sure the target is vertical or your reading will not be true. Holding the yardstick vertically, back up from the tree to the point where the five-foot target exactly fills one inch on the yard-stick. Now, without moving the yardstick, sight from the base of the tree to the top of the tree. The number of inches on the yardstick which is filled by the tree is noted. Each inch is equal to five feet. If the tree occupied 18 inches on the ruler, then 18 x 5 feet = 90 feet, the height of the tree. Be sure and take measurements from several points around the tree and use an average of measurements for the height.

Nomination Form for Missouri Champion Tree Program

Think you may have a champion tree?

Print out the Missouri Champion Tree Nomination form that is linked at the bottom of this page and return it to:

Champion Tree Coordinator
Missouri Department of Conservation
P.O. Box 180
Jefferson City, MO 65102

Enclose a photograph or slide of the tree if possible.

Key Messages: 
Missourians care about conserving forests, fish and wildlife.
Missouri's Current Champion Trees

View a list of Missouri's current champion trees.

Missouri Champion Tree Nomination form

Use this form to nominate a tree to be a "Missouri Champion Tree."