You’ve heard it before and it’s correct. Fall truly is for planting, including seeds, bulbs, and of course trees. I’m a tree planting fool and take every opportunity to do so. So far this fall I’ve planted a ‘Peggy Clarke’ Japanese apricot, a ‘Florida Flame’ red maple, three cultivars of Aesculus x carnea, and scattered seed of flowering dogwood (yes, like Johnny Appleseed). I’ve also marked a number of small native red maples to dig and transplant this winter when they are completely dormant. And I’m certainly not finished, as Thanksgiving week is always tree planting week for me!
Thankfully most trees are container grown these days which means all their roots are intact and they don’t go through any transplant shock. By planting them in the fall, they get three seasons of moisture and root growth before having to endure their first hellish Texas summer.
As a child of the forest, I truly love trees, particularly large ones that have endured decades and even centuries. Their patient endurance of storms, droughts, and floods both amazes and inspires me. Their shady past intrigues me.
Though I’ve never visited the redwoods of California, it looms large on my list. I also like studying the Big Tree Registry (http://texasforestinfo.tamu.edu/BigTreeRegistry/) to see which specimens in Texas are the largest in the state and even the nation. I’ve even nominated one of them myself. I wish I had discovered them all!
Lately I was inspired by a number of counties and cities having their own big tree contests to conduct my own contest on my very own property. For many years I’ve wandered (and wondered) from big tree to big tree admiring them, but I’ve never really measured which ones were the biggest until now. Technically big tree specimens are measured with a combination of their height, canopy spread, and trunk circumference, but since I’m used to literally hugging them and not necessarily looking up, I decided to just measure their circumference. Here are the top ten on the 20-plus acres around my house which includes my Rebel Eloy Emanis Pine Savanna and Bird Sanctuary, my Trillium Woods, and my West Creek riparian corridor.
1. Quercus phellos (12 foot, 8 inch-Willow Oak): This jumbo is just inside my back fence row that divides my place from some half cousins. I knew it was big but didn’t realize it was my largest tree. I love oaks because they are long lived and feed lots of wildlife.
3. Quercus stellata (11 foot, 5 inch-Post Oak): This is one of a dozen or so large post oaks that used to adorn my property and community, a sign that we are on a fairly dry upland ridge. Most have been taken out by hurricanes, storms, and lightning. My Granny used to spook us with a true tale of a hanging taking place in one of them. Shame on her!
4. Quercus stellata (10 foot, 11 inch-Post Oak): This is another one of my surviving post oaks. This one has an old sickle mower blade sticking out of the trunk and is not far from where the old Arcadia Missionary Baptist Church and my grandparents’ M&E (“Marquette and Eloy”) Grocery once stood.
5. Pinus taeda (9 foot, 10 inch-Loblolly Pine): Judging by its imposing height and trunk along the creek on the back of my property, I had always assumed that this was the largest tree on my team.
6. Quercus shumardii (9 foot, 9 inch-Shumard Red Oak): This big ‘un is in a drainage leading to the creek. Shumard red oak was our state sesquicentennial tree if I remember correctly. I had an even larger one but Hurricane Ike took it down.
7. Quercus stellata (9 foot, 2 inch-Post Oak): This big guy sits on the highest point on my property and used to house my Uncle Ronnie’s homemade deer stand.
8. Pinus taeda (9 foot, 1 inch-Loblolly Pine): I have a good many large, tall loblolly pines in my “hardwood” forest. A timber man once tried to talk me into letting him cut them but of course I wouldn’t.
9. Juniperus virginiana (9 foot, 0 inch-Eastern Red Cedar): This big old cedar tree stands between the former sites of the Arcadia Missionary Baptist Church and my grandparents’ M&E Grocery.
10. Quercus alba (8 foot, 10 inch-White Oak): Looking at an old photo of my Granny Ruth standing on a rock ledge along the creek, I think this is one of the survivors of a timber cut in the early 20th century. No more timber cuts for my trees!
10. Platanus occidentalis (8 foot, 10 inch-Sycamore): There was a three way tie for 10th place! This stately sycamore is near the big Shumard red oak.
10. Platanus occidentalis (8 foot, 10 inch-Sycamore): This is one of two side-by-side sycamores along the banks of my creek. I love the way the white bark glows against a blue sky.
Despite what you’ve heard, size isn’t everything. Some species grow large and some don’t. The state champion Acer leucoderme (Chalk Maple) I nominated only has a trunk circumference of 2 feet, 10 inches! And the big Carya ovata (shagbark hickory) in my woods only came in a tie for 18th place on my property despite having a larger circumference (7 feet, 11 inches) than the two existing state co-champs.
So technically my contest was for who gives the biggest hugs on my property. But as much as I enjoy big trees, I also enjoy forest succession and watching baby trees sprout and grow—the circle of life. So get growing. The best time to plant a tree is always now.