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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.

Big Tree Registry

University of Illinois Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup, claims you could have an Illinois champion tree in your back yard.

University of Illinois maintains the Illinois Big Tree Registry to track the largest native woody specimens across the state. With forests and gardens full of prized Illinois natives like black walnut, red maple, paper birch, American hophornbeam, eastern red bud, black locust and peach leaf willow, no large tree should be overlooked.

The measurements considered in determining Illinois state champions are circumference (inches) at breast height, height (feet) and crown spread (feet). The best tool to measure circumference is a flexible measuring tape. The best methods to measure tree height is a professional clinometer tool or by using the shadow method.

You can determine a tree's height by multiplying the length of the tree's shadow by your known height and then dividing the resulting number by the length of your shadow. To measure the crown spread, start measurement at the base of the trunk and measure to edge of drip line. Do these measurements several times like the spoke of a wheel and find the average for the most accurate reading.

Once the tree is measured it can be submitted using a nomination form before Aug. 1 to the Illinois Big Tree Registry at, accompanied by the scientific name and high-quality pictures.

Each big tree is measured every 10 years to maintain champion status. Currently, Illinois' tallest tree is a Northern Red Oak in Dixon Springs, standing at 150 feet, and the biggest tree is a sycamore in Christian County that is 119 feet tall, 31 feet in circumference and has a 134-foot spread. The tree with the greatest trunk circumference is a bald cypress in Pulaski County with a circumference of 34.3 feet.

A blue ash in McLean that was last measured in 2007 holds champion status at 130 feet tall, with a 72-foot spread. The top 10 Big Illinois Trees are bald cypress, shumard oak, cherry bark oak, sycamore, burr oak (2), pecan, pin oak, hackberry and white oak.

If you are unable to identify the trees, contact your local Master Gardener Plant Clinic. In addition, please refer to the Illinois State Museum Herbarium collection for a list and images of Illinois native trees or refer to the University of Illinois Extension Technical Forestry Bulletin NRES-102 for a detailed list of eligible tree species.

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