Battery Kemble Park

Battery Kemble Park. Credit: Geoff Livingston

The common jujube located on the U.S. Capitol Hill grounds was in danger of losing its crown on the spring 2013 National Register of Big Trees because it needed to be re-measured in accordance with the 10-year rule. Washington, D.C.’s big tree program was made aware of the situation and immediately took action to get the jujube re-measured. Unfortunately, what they discovered when they got there was a tree that had been blown over during a storm.

Even though the nation’s capital was without a national champion for the first time in 10 years, a nomination of a chestnut oak popped up just after the spring register’s release. Mary Pat Rowan and Lou Aronica, members of the D.C. chapter of the Maryland Native Plant Society, spotted the tree while visiting Battery Kemble Park, a Union Army Civil War fort. Rowan and Aronica realized the chestnut oak was quite big for its species and reached out to Greg Zell and Rod Simmons, big tree hunters with state and national titles, to measure the tree. What they had discovered has now become a co-champion sharing a title with the chestnut oak in Maryland.

The Civil War Defenses of Washington is a collection of forts that commemorate the defense of the capital during the American Civil War. Also known as the Fort Circle Parks, the system of parks was established by the Commissioners of the District of Columbia in 1919 and is now administered by the National Park Service. The parks are preserved for their historical significance but also because of the natural habitat.

Co-champion chestnut oak

Greg Zell and David Garcia with national co-champion chestnut oak. Credit: R.H. Simmons

High points in the area were acquired by the Union Army as lookout points to watch for the Confederate Army and protect President Lincoln. Troops cleared the area by cutting down trees and used the wood to build forts and batteries to store ammunition. However, not all parts of the tree were cut all the way down to the ground and rooted up. Rowan said there are many multiple-stemmed trees in the area, including the co-champion chestnut, which is rare for its species. There is no clear explanation of why there are so many multiple-stemmed trees but the theory is that trees sprouted after being cut down. The great news is that although the oak has eight large stems, it has been verified as a singular tree.

If you want to experience American history and nature, you can tour the system of parks, which includes the 374-acre Fort Dupont, on the bicycle path that connects the circle of forts. With the addition of the champion chestnut oak, Battery Kemble Park now has a new attraction. The D.C. chapter of the Maryland Native Plant Society gives monthly tours of these parks in the District. You can learn more about visiting the parks on their website at http://www.mdflora.org/chapters/washingtondc/dcchapter.html. You never know if more champion trees are still waiting to be discovered.

Check out the chestnut-oak and the complete list of champions on the fall 2013 National Register of Big Trees at http://www.americanforests.org/bigtrees/bigtrees-search/.