“Coco” Coconut Palm from Hawaiʻi

The second annual Big Tree Madness competition has been close and well fought! The faceoff between select national champion trees has determined the most popular tree in the nation to be the coconut palm from Hawaiʻi known as “Coco.” With 64 percent of the vote, Coco defeated Big Sassy Bassy, the white basswood from Missouri, in the championship match and gained the title of the Ultimate Big Tree! While any national champion tree from any of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., is eligible to compete if nominated, only 16 trees begin in the first round as the Sweet 16 in this March Madness-style competition. Coco, representing the West, and Big Sassy Bassy, representing the Midwest, were joined in this year’s Final Four by Virginia’s willow oak representing the east and Texas’s sand post oak representing the south. To see the journey each champion had to make it to the Final Four, visit the Big Tree Madness page to view the bracket. Here’s a little background on each of 2014’s Final Four trees.

“Big Sassy Bassy” White Basswood from Missouri

Hawaiʻi’s coconut tree, or “niu” (Cocos nucifera), with 130 points on the National Register of Big Trees, is located in a culturally unique area on the island of O’ahu. According to Hawaiʻi’s big tree coordinator Sheri Mann, “this niu is part of an ancient coconut grove located in the Hāwea heiau complex and Keawawa wetland on O‘ahu. The property contains numerous petroglyphs, many ancient rock formations, agricultural terraces, burial sites and Hāwea heiau, a Hawaiʻian temple.” Mann adds, “Keawawa wetland is home to approximately nine of the remaining 300 endangered Hawaiʻian moorhen, as well as indigenous black-crowned night heron, Hawaiʻian dragonfly and possibly the Hawaiʻian hoary bat.” Nicholas Joly, who works with the Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife, stated in an interview that this sensitive ecological area is protected as a cultural preserve and is managed by the local nonprofit Livable Hawaiʻi Kai Hui. Coco was a fan favorite in this year’s Big Tree Madness, even receiving social media support from Hawaiʻi’s governor, Neil Abercrombie.

“Super” Sand Post Oak from Texas

The runner-up, Missouri’s white basswood (Tilia heterophylla), is located in the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. “The Garden was virtually treeless when Henry Shaw began it in 1859 on the Missouri prairie,” says Missouri big tree coordinator Donna Baldwin. “This particular tree is located by the Museum Building, one of the original structures built over 150 years ago.” Nominated to Big Tree Champion Status in 2007 by Chip Tynan, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s manager, the tree’s common name of “basswood” is derived from bastwood, referring to the “bast,” or tough inner bark, which was used to make mats and rope. The easiest way to tell a white basswood from an American basswood is by the covering of white, short, soft hair on the undersides of the white basswood leaves. At 103 feet tall and 149 inches in circumference, Big Sassy Bassy was one of the largest trees in the competition!

Texas’ sand post oak (Quercus Margaretta) made its appearance as a national champ in 2011. The owner says that chickens used to roost in the tree when it was  young, causing a sweeping bend in the trunk. According to the U.S. Forest Service, mature sand post oaks rarely exceed 150 inches in circumference. The national champ has a diameter of approximately 193 inches!

Willow “WOW!” Oak from Virginia

Virginia’s Eastville willow oak (Quercus phellos), according to associate professor at Virginia Tech and Virginia’s Big Tree coordinator Eric Wiseman, “has traded national champion status back and forth with [a willow oak] in Chesapeake. Both trees were measured in 2013, and this tree was found to be larger and appears to be in excellent health. It is not endangered by building projects or highway changes.” The tree is located within walking distance of the historic Eastville Courthouse, which is home of the oldest continuous court records in the nation. Nominated by Jack Williams and with 467 points in the National Register, this tree was the largest in the Final Four by a narrow margin.

With the support of the entire state, including Hawaiʻi’s governor, Neil Abercrombie, the Aloha state has shown the importance of protecting champion trees. We will find out next year if Hawaiʻi can hold on to the claim of being home to the Ultimate Big Tree. View more of Hawaiʻi’s champion trees and all of our national champions in the National Register of Big Trees.