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The national champion pigeon-plum tree measures 42 feet tall and 28 feet wide. Photo: Ian Simpkins

Survivor-Turned-National Champion Tree

March 31, 2014

Their structures impress us with deep roots, sturdy trunks and dense canopies.

But what does it take to become a big tree?

Big trees root deep in the will to survive several conditions, weather events and unusual environments we'd otherwise assume to be uninhabitable, much less worthy of long-term, permanent residence. And it's that ability to survive anything and everything Mother Nature throws their way--often for hundreds, even thousands, of years--that mesmerizes us most.

Because big trees exist in regions all over the world, we've learned some special specimens can outlast several different challenging weather events and climate conditions, such as one TREE-mendous pigeon-plum tree in Florida.


Miami-Dade County, Fla., has had its share of hurricanes. But nothing shakes its nearly 350-year-old national champion tree.

This co-champion pigeon-plum not only withstands the strong winds, heavy rains and debris accumulation associated with the Atlantic Coastline's frequent notorious hurricanes, but it's also survived Miami's fast transformation into a hub of subdivisions and tourist resorts after the 1920s real estate boom. The growth occurred so quickly--"like magic"--Miami came to be known as the "Magic City."

Yet, as one of the few counties with its own archeologist on staff, Miami-Dade boasts such a rich, unique history as well. Within its 2,000 square miles--one-third of which is located in Everglades National Park--exist the sites of numerous ceremonial artifact discoveries of objects dating back 2,000 years.

Although Miami-Dade's impressive pigeon-plum tree isn't quite that old, it's featured in archival photographs from 1917, at which time it was almost as large as it was when Ian Simpkins nominated it in 2012: 42 feet tall, 28 feet wide.

The pigeon-plum tree thrives on moist, well-drained soils, and its tolerance of urban conditions and salt makes it ideal for streetscapes and parking lots. While its fruit falls to the ground during two months of the year, the tree's large, gorgeous canopy and interesting bark generate shade appeal and visual interest for the persistent pigeon-plum.

On the lookout for big trees?

You never know, a national champion tree might be standing in your community, or even in your own backyard! You can learn more about nominating big trees for American Forests' National Register of Big Trees online.

In the meantime, look forward to the latest update on national champion trees in the spring 2014 edition of the National Register of Big Trees, which Davey has sponsored for 25 years.

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