Giants live among us. Arkansas Giants. From the Loblolly Pine to the Possum Haw, the Arkansas Forestry Commission maintains a list of champion trees, the titans of their species. So what makes a champion tree? Size. The official valuation system includes a “bigness index” determined by measurement—trunk circumference, tree height and average crown spread.
Known for its natural, scenic beauty, Arkansas currently has 123 champion trees, plus pending nominations. With more than 2.9 million acres included within three national forests (Ozark, Ouachita and St. Francis), is it any wonder? Arkansas has a vast amount of area for trees to breathe and grow.
I’ve always had a thing for trees, and now that I know about this list, I’ve become a little obsessed with seeing these special trees for myself. Think about it. These champion trees have grown and survived for hundreds of years, avoiding lightning strikes and commercial development and forest blight. Arkansas Giants deserve to be recognized and celebrated.
The first champion tree I visited was practically in my own backyard in the Confederate Cemetery in Fayetteville (Washington County). This sugar maple, the largest in the state, measures 97 inches in circumference with a bigness index of 218. She is glorious to behold, and I plan to return in the fall when she is dressed in brilliant colors.
A week or so later as my son and I traveled across the state, we set out to find a few more champions. (Stick with me son and we shall have adventures…)
Yell County boasts seven champion trees! Here’s a shot of the northern catalpa champion tree in Dardanelle. This particular tree’s bigness index is 352.5 and was quite spectacular when we came upon it.
A few hours later in Monroe County, we searched for the largest fig tree in the state. Although I wasn’t that excited about seeing a fig tree—with a bigness index of 69, just how big could a fig tree be?—when we found it, I was nearly speechless. Truly.
The last tree on my search so far (because I intend to continue visiting these trees) was in Mississippi County (my home county) on a dirt road I know like the freckles on my nose. Why? Because I practically grew up on this dirt road.
My cousin owns this American elm. When I think back on all the time I spent bike riding on that road and playing in the surrounding fields, I can’t believe I was growing up alongside such greatness, the largest American elm in the state.
A few additional “good to know” facts and tips about these Arkansas Giants:
- Although the list of champion trees includes owner and address, many of these trees are difficult or impossible to find without assistance from the forestry commission. When the address is simply “Ozark National Forest,” well that’s a little vague. Other trees are located on private property. Ask before wandering around in someone’s backyard.
- Although most trees are unmarked, it doesn’t matter. When you come upon a champion tree, you’ll know it. It will be seriously awe-inspiring.
- Linda Williams Palmer, Arkansan and Hot Springs artist, has created an entire collection of artwork surrounding these champion trees. Visit her website at lindawilliamspalmer.com.
- The largest tree, the goliath of all the Arkansas Giants, is a Bald Cypress found in Arkansas County with a bigness index of 638! This tree is located in the White River National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest remaining bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi River Valley. Click HERE to watch an excerpt of an award-winning video, which includes footage of this unbelievable tree.
- Anyone can nominate a tree. If you believe you have the largest tree of a particular species, contact the Arkansas Forestry Commission for an official measurement.
Now I leave you with the age-old question… if you could return as an Arkansas tree in your next life, which tree would it be?