Meet the champions of the 2014 National Register of Big Trees.
Since 1940, tree hunters—park and forestry employees as well as regular folks—have nominated specimens in this highly competitive contest, and conservation group American Forests has vetted them and published a twice-yearly roster. With 129 champions, Florida has the most big trees, followed by Texas (89), Arizona (74), Virginia (68), California (53), and Oregon (40). (The tree shown here is the biggest koa in the U.S.—it can be found in Hawaii and boasts a circumference of 345 inches and a height of 115 feet.)
This rare beauty, located in Sequoia National Park, is the biggest living tree (by volume) on the entire planet. Yes, that's right—the whole planet. It weighs more than three 747 airplanes, with a circumference of 1,020 inches and a height of 274 feet, and is thought to be more than 2,200 years old. The peaceful tree, which has been on the Register since 1940, got its militaristic moniker in 1870 from a former Confederate lieutenant who'd served under fierce Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman.
Seven Sisters is the largest certified southern oak tree in the country, and it only took about 1,500 years of living in Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish to reach its impressive size. With a circumference of 467 inches around and a height of 68 feet, for years it was thought to be several large trees growing together, but it made the Register in 1967 after being confirmed to be a unique tree. Some people think this spectacular live oak got its name from the seven sets of branches it has, but in fact it was chosen by a woman who was one of seven sisters.
This tree first made the Register in 2011. Compared to General Sherman, Bennett, and Seven Sisters, this osage orange is much younger, dating to at least 200 years old. A member of the mulberry family, it has a girth of 349 inches and a height of 60 feet. The osage orange tree is also called the hedge apple, horse apple, or monkey ball because it produces a bumpy spherical fruit filled with sticky white latex. Theory has it that giant ground sloths, mammoths, and mastodons once enjoyed eating the fruit, but today it is inedible and prized for its ability to keep away household bugs. This rare tree's wood is dense and rot-resistant, which makes it a favorite for tool handles, fence posts, and Native American bows and war clubs.
Oh, the stories this tree could tell—after all, it's been alive some 3,000 years. It is thought to be the fourth longest lived tree in the world. Home is a relatively isolated location in Stanislaus National Forest. Named after naturalist Clarence Bennett who found it in 1932, the Bennett Western Juniper has a 481-inch circumference and is 78 feet tall. Like General Sherman, it has held its champion status on the Register since 1940.
This particular specimen is one of the brand-new champions (of nearly 80) on the Register this year, and it is nearly 187 inches around and 40 feet tall. Native to Hawaii, the wili wili coralbean is a drought-resistant, flowering tree—with orange, yellow, salmon, green, and white blooms—in the pea family. Rare among the Aloha State's trees, it is deciduous, meaning it sheds its leaves once a year. However, it does so in summer, not winter. In fall it produces seedpods with gorgeous cherry-red seeds, which locals string into leis. The wood is of low density, so native islanders use it for fishing net floats, outrigger canoe floats, and surfboards. Several years ago, it was facing endangerment due to invasive gall wasps, but clever Hawaiian officials found a second wasp that stopped the first.
Western redcedars played a prominent role in the lives of earlier Native Americans spanning from Oregon to southeast Alaska, so much that some northwestern tribes referred to themselves as "people of the redcedar." This tree provided wood, bark, and fibers for shelter, clothing, canoes, fishing nets, totems, baskets, blankets, diapers, and sails. (More recent Washingtonians use the wood for shingles, decks, posts, siding.) The pungent and aromatic wood contains a natural fungicide. This particular tree, known as the Quinault Lake Redcedar, is one-third the volume of General Sherman, with a 761-inch circumference and a 159-foot height, and it's reigned as champion on the Register since 1945. It lives in Olympic National Park in a forest with other giants of its kind.
The plains cottonwood is considered the great tree of the American prairies; it's one of the largest hardwood trees on the North American continent. Early pioneers revered them for their shade, a scarce commodity in that part of the country. Native Americans used their inner bark and sap for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, and Lewis and Clark carved the wood into dugout canoes. Entering the Register in 2012, this strapping specimen has a girth of 394 inches and a height of 112 feet.
Valley oaks are beloved by woodpeckers—not only do the trees produce acorns, but the birds also drill holes in the oak bark to hide this precious stash. (Acorns were also the main food staple of the Yokut Indians.) The valley oak grows only in California; this rare tree, located in Mendocino County, is 348 inches around and 153 feet tall. It's been on the Register since 2010.
Although the limber pine looks as sturdy as trees come, it owes its name to its tough yet flexible twigs. The wood itself is extremely hard, and was used by Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries as mine props and railroad ties. These trees are quite long-lived, and can exist for up to two millennia. Located in Uinta-Wasach-Cache National Forest, this hearty tree is 275 inches around and 62 feet tall—the species average is 20 inches in diameter and 40 feet tall—and it's held the champion title on the Register since 1968.
Texans say it's hard to drive far in the Lone Star State without seeing a mesquite, and the honey mesquite is the most common kind. Strangely enough, it's in the legume family, and produces a straight yellow seed pod eaten by both animals and humans. (Fun fact: Mesquite flour is chock full of proteins and carbohydrates.) The honey mesquite is well-suited to Texas, because it withstands droughts and will continue fruiting. Residing in Real County and on the Register since 1984, this grand and rare tree has a circumference of 183 inches and a height of 56 feet.