Virginia's champion trees make history

December 18, 2002

Blacksburg, Va., -- Big trees are important to everyone. "Not only do they provide useful information about natural history and forest ecology, but they add beauty to our landscape, as well as health, and even economic values. The Virginia Big Tree Program offers recognition to the commonwealth's rich natural heritage. In fact, Virginia is ranked 4th in United States champion trees," said Jeff Kirwan, Extension 4-H Specialist for forestry at Virginia Tech.

The program relies on volunteers to search for, nominate, and verify the measurements of big trees in Virginia. When a big tree is reported to the program, it is entered into the Virginia Big Tree Registry, an official list maintained jointly by the Virginia Forestry Association, the Virginia Department of Forestry, and Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources. The largest of each species appears on the big tree list.

The current Virginia Big Tree Program website contains links to Big Tree News; the Virginia big tree list; National big tree list; directions on how to measure a tree through circumference, height, and crown diameter; how to nominate a big tree; how to identify a tree; a list of tree lifespans; how to protect big trees; and a guide to famous and historic trees.

"Most of Virginia's current champion trees were nominated in the 1970s and have not been verified in years," said Kirwan. In 2002, a survey was conducted, and it estimated that 38 percent of those trees are now dead. The survey also showed many landowners are not aware that they have a champion tree on their property. Directions to trees are so poor that 25 percent simply could not be found.

Big trees are a community treasure. "For example," explained Kirwan, "the new champion redwood nominated by Joe Foreman of Norfolk a year ago scored 270 total points, beating the former three co-champions by more than 45 points. Another tree, a new champion black oak, nominated by Charlie Knoeller, from Westmoreland County, scored 469 total points." These trees and many other champion winners can be viewed at the Big Tree Program website at

Current programs related to the Virginia Big Tree Program include Virginia Tech's Master Gardener and municipal Tree Stewards around the state. Kirwan hopes that volunteers from these programs can re-measure all 500 trees in the current database over the next five years. These volunteers -- along with volunteers from the 4-H Big Tree Program -- will ensure that big trees will be recognized and protected now and into the future. "The one thing we still lack," noted Kirwan, "is a Virginia Historic Tree Program, which would delineate another aspect of special trees."

"Surprisingly enough, two-thirds of the big trees occur in urban areas," Kirwan said. One group that addresses the needs of urban forestry is Trees Virginia, whose mission is to teach citizens and those involved in tree use how to take care of city trees. For more information on that group, contact 1-800-866-VATREES, or
Written by Sarah Kayser, Intern in the Office of University Relations
Contact for more information: Jeff Kirwan, 540-231-7265 or
PR CONTACT: Lynn Davis 540-231-6157

Virginia Tech

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