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13 Rare Trees That Are National Treasures

Learn more about these natural, awe-inspiring beauties.

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Big tree and big branch have green leaves plant in forest very fresh , soft focus , blurred.

Meet the champions of the National Register of Big Trees!

Since 1940, tree hunters—park and forestry employees as well as regular folks—have nominated rare trees in this highly competitive contest, and conservation group American Forests has vetted them and published a twice-yearly roster. The tree shown here is the biggest koa in the United States—it can be found in Hawaii and boasts a circumference of 345 inches and a height of 115 feet. Check out these 12 jaw-dropping photos of the world’s most beautiful trees.

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Giant Sequoias Forest. Sequoia National Park in California Sierra Nevada Mountains, USA.

“General Sherman” Giant Sequoia, California

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.

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Angel Oak Tree
Erin McGrady/Shutterstock

“Seven Sisters” Live Oak, Louisiana

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 rare 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. These are the best American cities for history buffs.

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Maclura aurantiaca. Moraceae. (Hedge Apple)

Osage Orange Tree, Virginia

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. These rare trees have wood that is dense and rot-resistant, which makes it a favorite for tool handles, fence posts, and Native American bows and war clubs.

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A lone western juniper tree on the ledges above olmsted point in Yosemite national park.
Remo Nonaz/Shutterstock

“Bennett” Western Juniper, California

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.

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Nikiforos Delatolas/American Forests

Wili Wili Coralbean, Hawaii

This particular specimen 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. Don’t miss the most gorgeous waterfalls in every state.

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The Davey Tree Expert Company/American Forests

“Quinault Lake” Western Redcedar, Washington

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, was one-third the volume of General Sherman, with a 761-inch circumference and a 159-foot height, until it fell in 2016. It reigned as champion on the Register since 1945, in the forests of Olympic National Park with other giants of its kind.

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Giant cottonwood tree with fall foliage native to Colorado Plains, also the State tree of Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas - looking up

Plains Cottonwood, Montana

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.

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Valley oak (Quercus lobata) on a hill with new green leaves growing in springtime, Santa Clara county, south San Francisco bay area, California
Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Valley Oak, California

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.

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Old limber pine in the Rocky Mountain foothills, Alberta, Canada
Tomas Nevesely/Shutterstock

Limber Pine, Utah

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 rare 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. Don’t miss these 10 national parks that are off the beaten path to check out some of the country’s best flora and fauna.

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The Davey Tree Expert Company/American Forests

Honey Mesquite, Texas

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.

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Long green leaves and gum seeds, flower bud of Tasmanian blue gum evergreen tree with blue sky, Autumn in Tasmania, Australia (Eucalyptus globulus)

Bluegum Eucalyptus, California

The eucalyptus is native to Australia, but this particular tree is located in Petrol, California. It has a whopping circumference of 49 feet and height of 141 feet. Interestingly, the tree that held the title formerly until this tree was discovered, in 2002, was owned by Clint Eastwood on his property in Carmel, California.

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Massive Bald Cypress Trees at the Edge of a Lake
Steve Bower/Shutterstock

Common Baldcypress, Louisiana

At a height of 96 feet and a circumference of 56 feet, this tree is not only the largest of its species but also the largest tree of any species east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It only makes sense that the largest baldcypress would be in Louisiana; it’s the official state tree. These particular rare trees are located in the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge.

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Western Sycamore branches and foliage (Platanus racemosa) seen from below, San Francisco bay, California
Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

California Sycamore, California

Dubbed the Sister Witness Tree after its historically significant counterpart nearby, the Witness Tree,  this is the largest sycamore tree in the nation. The town of Goleta, where the tree can be found, is a neighbor to Santa Barbara, and the county actually lays claim to three champion rare trees. The Sister Witness Tree measures almost 50 feet around and 94 feet in height. The Santa Barbara Independent reported that the tree, though its age is not known for sure, predates European colonization, meaning that it is not hybridized like more recent sycamore varieties are. Check out the 20 best hikes across America for some up-close views of America’s best nature and wildlife.

All tree images were provided by American Forests. To read about the champions in your state, check out the Big Tree Register.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest