Maryland big tree hunter Joe Howard. Courtesy: Joe Howard

Having grown up in Talbot County, Maryland, home of the much-beloved, former national champion Wye Oak, Joe Howard has loved big trees since childhood. So, it’s no surprise that his childhood enthusiasm for big trees became a lifelong hobby. But Joe took his passion one step further and incorporated big trees into his professional life.

As principal of a school in a state that boasted 23 state and 6 national champions, Joe often enjoyed taking field trips with his students to visit champion trees, some of which he discovered himself.

Joe currently doesn’t have a national champion to his credit — the cockspur hawthorn he discovered in 2010 was recently dethroned — but he’s on the hunt. While some might aspire to the glory of a national champion to their name, Joe often prefers hunting for state and county champions — not that he would pass by a national champion if he came upon it.

Big tree hunting for Joe is about more than just impressive and beautiful trees. He enjoys the people that he meets during his travels and appreciates the healthy boost he receives from forests. That’s right: forests help improve his well being mentally and physically, as he recently discovered from Salisbury University’s Joan Maloof.

Shinrin yoku, or forest bathing, is a Japanese practice in which individuals spend time in forests to relieve stress and bolster their immune systems. Scientists have discovered that spending time in forests can decrease your blood pressure, stress levels and even blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

Joe insists that choosing a favorite tree is like choosing a favorite child: impossible. But he does admit to revisiting some of the most remarkable trees, or as he describes them “those trees that always require a second glance to be sure of what you’re seeing,” from time to time. One is a former national champion baldcypress near Sligo Creek; this impressive tree has more than 100 “knees.” Another is a tuliptree in Aspen Hill that has three trunks: two that are vertical and one that is completely horizontal.

Curious about Maryland’s national champion trees? Explore the 2011 National Register of Big Trees.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about forest bathing and how you might actually bolster your immune system by communing with nature? The upcoming autumn issue of our award-winning American Forests magazine features an article that discusses the myriad health benefits of trees and how you can live a better life by spending more time in the great outdoors. By becoming a member of American Forests today, you will receive a one-year subscription to our magazine and, as an added bonus, we will send you a copy of the Autumn 2011 issue as our gift to you. Please make your membership contribution online today!