National champion cucumbertree magnolia. Credit: Ohio Big Tree Program

The average lifespan of a cucumbertree magnolia is 100 to 120 years, but the national champion in North Canton, Ohio is estimated to be 432 years old, making it the oldest known cucumbertree magnolia in the world. When the magnolia was a seedling, squirrels could travel miles without touching the ground in deep forests before the first Europeans arrived. How did this tree live an additional 300 years outside of its species’ normal lifespan? Simply put, the tree had ideal conditions to grow to this size. According to Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources, the cucumbertree magnolia is the most common of the three native magnolias found in Ohio forests. The name comes from the unripened green fruit that is often shaped like a small cucumber.

Towering over oaks, elms and maples, the lone cucumbertree magnolia sits on the property of a luxury condominium. The champion was nominated in 1979 and had a short reign until 1986 before a tree in Iowa dethroned it. The magnolia regained its title in 2004 after the Iowa tree was pronounced dead and cut down in 2003. The most recent measurements for the spring 2013 register list this champion as having a circumference of 299 inches, height of 96 feet and average crown spread of 79 feet, giving the tree a total of 415 points.

In 2000, the fate of the national champion was bleak after one of its eight main branches was blown down during an evening windstorm in September. The branch was located 85 to 90 feet high on the tree, weighed approximately two-and-a-half tons and had spanned 70 feet. An anonymous note stated that in three days the tree was going to come down because of the storm, the main reason being the tree was “mushy.” Rod Covey, a resident who had admired and cared for the tree for 20 years took swift action to spare the tree saying, “This can’t happen.”


Rod Covey in front of the magnolia. Credit: Rod Covey.

Rod saved about 18 inches, a forearm’s length, of the limb that came down. The following month, at the October homeowners’ meeting, Rod struck the piece of solid wood on the wooden table and proclaimed the tree was not mushy and still had seven strong limbs with leaves. The council agreed and the removal was rescinded. Even though it’s been more than 12 years, they still don’t know who wrote the note.

Soon after, five tree professionals joined efforts to help protect the tree to ensure its longevity. As of 2012, more than 1,000 individuals — the youngest being five months and the oldest 95 years old — have visited the tree from various states and countries.

North Canton’s national champion is symbolic of the power individuals and communities have in protecting heritage trees. Heritage trees are a link between generations and offer historic, educational and scientific value, while also inspiring and connecting with us on a spiritual level. Covey, a former magazine editor and advertising executive who owned his own agency, was born in a rural setting where trees and nature were part of his life. “Trees have the same functions that we do,” Rod says. “If a meteor killed the trees like the dinosaurs, we wouldn’t be able to live.”

Advertisements now feature the luxury condominiums and the cucumbertree magnolias as a place “Where you make a statement without saying a single word.”