Everyone enjoys the beauty of trees, whether they are growing in our yards, parks or public spaces. 

They grace our yards with shade in summer, shower down beautifully colored leaves in fall, provide sculptural masterpieces in winter, and then, once again, offer a glorious canopy of summer greenery.

Some trees, such as the Liberty Tree or the Angel Oak (pictured at right) have lived long enough to achieve historical relevance, as well as being majestic beauties. Their age has allowed them to witness significant events in our country’s history that we can only read about.

The Angel Oak, located on Johns Island, twelve miles from Charleston, S.C., is a southern live oak that, according to reports, was already a mighty oak tree on Abraham Waight’s land in 1717 and is about 500 years old. The Angel Oak stayed in the Waight family for four generations and then became part of a marriage settlement when Justus Angel married Martha Waight Tucker. Its name, Angel Oak, is derived from their last name, Angel.

Over the centuries, as the Angel Oak has grown and spread its twisted branches skyward, it has witnessed America’s rise from a group of thirteen colonies in 1776 to our present fifty states. It has lived through each historical event in our nation’s history, from the Civil War to World War II and from the use of a horse and carriage for transportation to Neil Armstrong stepping foot on the moon. If the Angel Oak could talk, think of the tales it would tell.

Today, this majestic tree is part of Angel Oak State Park. Each year, thousands of visitors come to admire its majestic beauty. Its trunk has a diameter of 28 feet, rises 65 feet skyward and has a canopy spread of 187 feet. Its gnarled limbs cover over 17,000 square feet of ground. Like the arms of a giant sea serpent, the Angel Oak’s branches twist and turn, beckoning those who visit to step closer and touch its ancient limbs in order to experience the awesomeness of nature at its best.

As large and beautiful as the Angel Oak is, since 1976, the Seven Sisters Oak in Mandeville, La., has been the national champion “big tree” for southern live oaks and is listed in the American Forestry Association’s National Register of Big Trees. According to the register, the tree’s circumference is 467 inches, its height is 68 feet and its crown spread is 139 feet. It is estimated to be about 1,200 years old.

The National Register of Big Trees is a program that recognizes trees for their beauty, longevity and especially for their size. It is sponsored by The Davey Tree Expert Company, which provides tree care to residential and commercial markets, and by American Forests, a nonprofit conservation group. American Forests has sponsored the registry since 1940 and The DaveyTree Expert Company has been a sponsor since 1988. Together, they are ensuring that America’s special big trees are given the proper recognition they deserve.

“The Davey Tree Expert Company sponsors the National Register of Big Trees because it identifies the giants, but more importantly, because it brings into focus the value of all trees and the environment in which they need to exist,” said Sandra Reid, vice president of corporate communications and strategic planning for Davey Tree. “The National Register of Big Trees is full of remarkable examples of how, with proper care, trees can grow to be wondrous giants, enhancing our forest and communities and improving our quality of life.”

The National Register of Big Trees has as its goal increasing public awareness of the need to conserve our beautiful, old trees and to preserve our forests. Forests are a key factor in the health of earth’s ecosystems and are an important part of our planet’s “lungs.” As our population grows and urban sprawl continues, there is an ever-increasing need to protect our forests in order to protect our environment.

Presently, the register has 750 different varieties of big trees. (See the complete list at americanforests.org/bigtrees/bigtrees-search/.) The register depends upon tree hunters, like you and me, to find the largest trees of each variety and report them to their state coordinator. Tree hunters measure a tree’s height, its circumference at 4.5 feet above ground and its crown spread (1/4 of the spread is used in final calculations). This information, along with a photo, is sent to the state coordinator. If the tree is determined to be the largest of its kind in the state, its information is sent to the national register for consideration. If it is found to be the largest tree of its kind in the nation, it is designated as the national champion big tree for that year and is recorded in the registry. The number of big trees increases each year as more people become aware of their role in finding the next big tree.

The coordinator for Arizona is John Richardson, Arizona State Forestry, 1110 W. Washington #100, Phoenix, AZ, 85007.

In 2012, Florida ranked No. 1 with 106 big trees; Arizona had 87, Texas 86, Virginia 76, and California 72.

The national champion big tree Fremont Cottonwood is found in Skull Valley, Ariz., the national champion Long beak Eucalyptus is found in Chandler, Ariz., and the national champion Arizona Sycamore is found in the Coconino National Forest. Perhaps Yuma has a big tree just waiting to be discovered.

Our nation’s big trees are leaving their footprints through America’s history and are symbolic of the power each individual has to protect earth’s environment.

Each year, our local garden clubs do their part by planting trees in our city parks and school grounds.

Happy gardening!

Karen Bowen is a master gardener and member of MGM Garden Club. This column is sponsored by the Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma.

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