The Diary of a Big Tree Hunter

The Diary of a Big Tree Hunter

A large palm from Hawaii snags the title from two of the island's co-champion palm coconut trees, as Texas (and its 90 national champions) slides into second place, shifting Arizona to third.

While 40 new trees claim the largest measurements of their species, South Carolina loses six of its national champions to the "10-year rule," for failure to document re-measurement within that time.

For trees that want to reach the top - and retain their claim to fame - it's a tough competition out there.

This week, American Forests released its most recent version of the National Register of Big Trees, which now includes nearly 780 national champion and co-champion trees. Although some trees have since left the running after American Forests published the fall 2012 edition late last year, the new Register sheds light on big trees of which we'd otherwise be unaware.

One particular Davey employee tries his best to provide all big trees he discovers the attention they deserve.

Shawn Bruzda, natural resource consulting biologist and urban forester for Davey Resource Group, knows trees - but the big trees are what he's most interested in: "Whenever I'm traveling for Davey, if any large trees are on the way, I usually try to find them," he says.

For approximately 10 years, Bruzda has become familiar with big trees the eastern U.S. region has to offer. He's trekked the terrain, measuring contenders and nominating local specimens to determine the biggest of big trees. From Virginia's National Champion Darlington oak in Maymont Park, to what could possibly be the largest cucumber magnolia tree in the world - a specimen located in Northeast Ohio - Bruzda has awed the size, structure and age of countless big trees.

Although Bruzda has traveled to faraway locations for the sake of admiring a big tree, a majority of his measurements focus on big trees located in Ohio, in support of the state's Big Tree Program. Very similar to American Forests' National Big Tree Program, Ohio's Big Tree Program comprises volunteers who are dedicated to locating, measuring, recording and appreciating the largest tree species in the state.

embracing cucumbertree magnolia
Bruzda stands on the base of North Canton's National and World Champion cucumbertree magnolia and embraces its trunk.

As a "Big Tree Hunter," Bruzda searches for trees that appear to nearly match or surpass the measurements of champion trees. "Big trees often grow in the middle of nowhere - they may exist in backyards, community parks and cemeteries, where their size stands out," Bruzda explains. "Sometimes, fences, creeks and cliffs hinder accurate measurements of the extreme growth we're looking for."

Each Big Tree receives a score based on trunk circumference, crown spread and total height. If the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) thinks a tree measures close to the existing champion, they'll measure the submission, then ODNR foresters and other experts ultimately assess nominated trees to determine their eligibility for Big Tree honors.

"There is a standardized methodology to measuring champion trees, including standard tools," Bruzda says. He uses a clinometer, as well as a 100-foot tape roll to measure the canopy spread and circumference. "I follow ODNR's methodology to the letter to achieve the most accurate results, and it's definitely easier to measure huge trees with two people."

measuring big trees
Each Ohio Big Tree receives a score based on trunk circumference, crown spread and total height. Before volunteers measure champion trees, they must first obtain verbal consent from the property owner.

Bruzda's passion for big trees has earned him respect and trust among ODNR foresters and experts over the years. His dedicated and consistent volunteer work has also provided Ohio's Big Tree Program with several pertinent measurements to update existing champions' statistics.

Bruzda's next mission? Measuring some of the hundreds of submitted state champion trees scattered throughout Ohio's 88 counties.

The Davey Tree Expert Company sponsors the National Register of Big Trees, a continuous collection of national champion nominations. Because anyone can nominate a national champion tree, take a walk in Bruzda's shoes and be on the lookout for impressive trees in your area. You never know, your big tree nomination could dethrone an existing champion and claim its fame in an upcoming edition of the Register.

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