One thing I love about Arkansas is its diverse nature. With the nickname The Natural State, Arkansas offers a wide variety of activities for enjoying nature. There is hunting, hiking, fishing, boating, birding, and many more activities that put you in the middle of nature. But did you also know you can go tree spotting or hunting? This is an activity I have had a lot of fun doing.
The Arkansas Agriculture Department’s Arkansas Champion Trees Program showcases the largest tree in each species within the state. I love trees because they are fascinating as well as beautiful.
One of the best times I have spent exploring was when my friend, Matt, and I went on a scavenger hunt to see the Arkansas Champion Trees.
There are 132 different species with listed champions, and there are several species with nominations pending, according to the Arkansas Agriculture Department’s website, which also has a list of each trees on the Arkansas Champion Trees list.
Where to find the Arkansas Champion Trees
On that website, it lists information about each tree, which includes the bigness index, who the owner is, what county it is in, the address and GPS coordinates, and whether it is on private or public property.
The website warns that, “In the case of private property, please contact the County (Arkansas Forestry Commission) Office to ensure viewing is permitted and to schedule a showing.”
You can also check the GPS coordinates on a map because some are on private property may be viewed from the road, which is public property.
Although when I was driving the state searching for them, I found most owners of trees on private property to be extremely friendly. But there are also a good number on public property.
However some are deep in the woods, not marked, and hard to find. So I advise trying to locate the tree on a map or call the Arkansas Forestry Commission’s county office before you take off with just GPS coordinates in hand.
What is the “bigness index”?
The “bigness index” sounds like a made-up term, but it is actually quiet scientific. It’s kind of a way to compare apples and oranges. How do you compare a tree that has a massive crown like the Northern Red Oak to a tree that is extremely tall like a White Pine, and then compare those to a tree that has a massive trunk?
The bigness index is a mathematical formula that takes all that into account to equal an overall number. You add the circumference of the tree in inches to the height in feet plus one fourth the average spread in feet to equal the bigness index.
The largest tree in the world is located in Sequoia National Park. It’s the General Sherman Tree and one thing that makes it so big is that its trunk retains its thickness high up into the top of the tree.
Arkansas’s largest tree
With a bigness index number of 638, the Bald Cypress is Arkansas’ largest tree. You can find it on public land at the Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge.
I love cypress trees. They are conifers but their needles turn red in the fall and drop for winter.
Cypress trees also have “knees” which are distinctive structure that shoot up from the roots of the tree. Even though their function is not known, some hypothesize they help anchor the tree in the soft muddy soil of a swamp. Others believe they help aerate the roots. Either way they are pretty cool, and on a huge tree like the Champion Bald Cypress they are extremely impressive.
Diversity in the trees
One thing I loved about seeing the Arkansas Champion Trees is it shows how diverse trees are, as well as how diverse Arkansas is. When I was hunting the champion trees, I was wading through swamps, climbing mountains, or standing on the banks of the Arkansas River.
Arkansas Post National Memorial is home to the Champion Osage Orange Tree, you can read about exploring the park here.
You don’t get to be a champion by accident either. It takes years to grow into the largest in your species. Some of the trees I visited were hundreds of years old. To stand next to a “Council Oak” that Native Americans used as a meeting place is pretty humbling.
The Council Oak is also on public property in Dardenelle, and estimated at around 400-500 years old. The champion cottonwood, although it is on private property, can be seen from the Council Oak area.
More on the Arkansas Champion Trees
A few years ago, AETN produced an amazing film called, “Champion Trees”.
Hot Springs artist Linda Palmer drew many of the trees in colored pencil and has an amazing collection of art.