The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Take a family field trip to look for big trees

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

If you need a reason to get your overstuffed body out of your overstuffed chair, why not venture outside to appreciate the native trees of Illinois. Prairies and farm fields are the common images of Illinois landscapes; however, trees are also an integral part of our Illinois heritage.

Just a few facts about Illinois trees:

  • State tree: white oak (Quercus alba)
  • Illinois has six trees listed on the National Register of Big Trees.
  • Over 250 tree species have been recorded in Illinois.
  • Most common tree: slippery elm
  • Tallest tree on record: northern red oak ( over 150 ft.), Dixon Springs State Park
  • Greatest circumference: baldcypress (34.3 ft.), Pulaski County
  • Biggest tree on record: sycamore (31 ft. in circumference, 119 ft. tall, crown spread of 134 ft.), Christian County
  • Twenty native oak species occur in Illinois: (white oak group) bur oak, chestnut oak, chinkapin oak, overcup oak, post oak, swamp chestnut oak, swamp white oak, and white oak; (red oak group) black oak, blackjack oak, cherrybark oak, northern pin oak, northern red oak, nuttall oak, pin oak, scarlet oak, shingle oak, shumard oak, southern red oak, and willow oak.
  • Nine native hickory: black hickory, mockernut hickory, pignut hickory, red hickory, shagbark hickory, shellbark hickory, bitternut hickory, pecan, and water hickory
  • Five native ash: black ash, blue ash, green ash, pumpkin ash, and white ash

This is a great time to get outside. Once trees have shed their leaves each bony branch and twisted trunk in the forest tells a story. To make the journey even more fun consider getting involved in the Illinois Big Tree Register to locate and nominate champion trees native to Illinois. Initiated in 1962 The Illinois Big Tree Register fosters appreciation of Illinois trees and provides a format to discover and record the largest native tree species in the state. The Illinois Big Tree Register is part of a cooperative effort between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the National Register of Big Trees.

A few of the state champions are nearby. The largest yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) is in Danville. State champions white ash (Fraxinus americana), chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) and Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) are in Springfield. State champion green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) is in Clinton and Charleston is home to the state champion hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).

I'm sure there are plenty of undocumented champion trees just waiting for someone to notice their grandeur and nominate them. Everyone is encouraged to submit their nominations to the Illinois Big Tree Register. For a complete list of champion native trees and their locations and how to get involved in The Illinois Big Tree Register

If trees as lumber is more your thing, join us for the workshop "Recovering and Utilizing Hardwood Trees" on Thursday, December 1 from 8am-4pm at the Rantoul Recreation Center 100 East Flessner Avenue in Rantoul, IL. The workshop instructs municipal forest managers and arborists on how to obtain the highest possible use for the wood from their urban and suburban trees. This program deals with management issues such as markets, contracts and other removal considerations. A morning of classroom instruction is followed by hands-on outdoor sessions concerning log and standing tree grading, whole log removals, sawmill demonstrations, and insight into the lumber produced by urban trees.

The program is offered thanks to: Illinois Emerald Ash Borer Wood Utilization Team, Purdue University, USDA APHIS and PPQ, IDNR, Illinois Arborist Association, University of Illinois Extension and The Village of Rantoul. 6.75 CEUs available for arborists. Cost is $35 including lunch and materials.

For more information: Carrie Tauscher, Illinois EAB Wood Utilization Team Administrator,, 630-719-5646 or register online.

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