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Six trees at MU named state champions

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 | 7:17 p.m. CDT; updated 4:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 23, 2010

COLUMBIA — The Mizzou Botanic Garden, which comprises several gardens throughout MU is home to about 6,000 trees. Six of these trees, however, are particularly special.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has recognized these six trees as state champions. In order to qualify as a state-champion tree, the tree must be native to Missouri and the largest known tree of its species in the state. 

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Arborists Ryan Russell and Will Branch, who work for Campus Facilities Landscape Services, discovered that a blackhaw, a buttonbush, a dogwood, a fringetree, a black maple and a sugarberry at MU were all large enough to qualify as champions.

"It's just taken until now to realize those gems are hidden on campus," said Ann Koenig, an urban forester at the Missouri Department of Conservation.

A yellowwood tree sparked Russell and Branch's interest in looking for state-champion trees. Russell said they knew the yellowwood was close in size to the current champion and wanted to see if MU's was bigger. It fell short, but Russell said he and Branch began looking looking at some tree species that the state didn't list champions for yet, and then expanded to species that already had champions.

Russell said that because of all the construction that takes place on campus, sometimes trees are removed.

"In my mind, we could help protect some of our trees if we had the status on some of these plants," Russell said.

Koenig said that though people might see these champion trees and think they aren't particularly large, they are still the largest of their kind in the state.

"We tend to associate trees of size with their age, and that's not necessarily true," said Pete Millier, director of the Mizzou Botanic Garden.  "You can have the biggest one of the species right here in Columbia ... but it may not be the oldest."

The size of the tree is determined by three measurements: the circumference at a height of 4.5 feet, the height and the crown spread, which is the distance from the tip of one branch across the diameter of the tree to the tip of the opposite branch. The height in feet is added to the circumference in inches, which is then added to one-fourth of the crown spread in order to determine the size.

Boone County is home to 10 of the 110 state champion trees

Russell said that having the sugarberry named a state champion was the most exciting of the bunch. 

"It did have a current champion," he said. "We stole one away."

The former sugarberry champion lives at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

"My first thought was this is a wonderful heritage that we have here on campus," Millier said. "The single most important element in the landscape are the trees because they set the stage for everything that we do."

The Department of Conservation plans to recognize the trees with certificates at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Peace Park.


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