The "Prickly and Persistent" Ozark Chinkapin of Missouri won the title of "Ultimate Big Tree."
The “Prickly and Persistent” Ozark Chinkapin of Missouri won the title of “Ultimate Big Tree.”

What a win for the Midwest! Not only did the Louisville Cardinals take home the crown in last night’s NCAA championship, but the title of “Ultimate Big Tree” also went to a Midwestern tree in the Big Tree Madness final. Congratulations to Missouri’s “Prickly and Persistent” Ozark chinkapin!

Many may look at the champion and think, “It’s not that big. There are giant sequoias and southern live oaks that dwarf that tree.” But, remember, size is relative. All Big Tree Madness contenders are national champion trees — the largest known of their species in the country. Even the Texas redbud of Connecticut, which was eliminated in the first round, is a giant among its own kind — a “tiny titan” as they’re respectfully classified on the National Register of Big Trees.

Even so, the size of the Ultimate Big Tree becomes impressive when you take into account that the Ozark chinkapin is a member of the chestnut family, susceptible to the dreaded chestnut blight and, consequently, a species of conservation concern. Maybe that’s part of why it means so much to the legions of fans who came out to vote. Not only is the wood of this amazing tree rot-resistant, it proved itself resistant to defeat as well.

Perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament was the western redcedar’s fourth quarter defeat by the “Brave Giant” of Hawaii — the Acacia koa. Coming from a state known for its old-growth forest, Washington’s western redcedar was an early favorite to win, but the Brave Giant’s fans mobilized to crush the competition and went on to take their tree all the way to the Final Four.

The Acacia koa is the largest native tree species on an island that struggles with keeping invasives at bay. More than half of Hawaii’s original forests have been lost, largely due to invasives, so it’s no wonder that the “Brave Giant” would be an important symbol of pride in Hawaiian native forests. [Editor’s preview: The Spring/Summer 2013 issue of American Forests, which is being released next month, features an article on Hawaii’s delicate ecosystem and the struggle against invasives.]

But, as they say, everything is bigger in Texas, and in the Final Four, that included the “Mighty” Montezuma baldcypress’ fan base. The Montezuma baldcypress brought the koa’s run to an end, before facing its own defeat in the final.

You can review the entire bracket on our Big Tree page.

What’s next for Big Trees?

There are more than 780 national champions currently listed onthe National Register of Big Trees, so if your favorite big tree didn’t make it into the tournament, it doesn’t mean it’s not a national champion. Search the register, and if you still don’t see your favorite tree, stay tuned. The Spring 2013 release of the register is coming April 26th. Champions will rise, and reigning champs will be dethroned. Some new species may even see their first champion crowned. And, yes, we may mourn some fallen giants, as all life must eventually come to end. If you enjoyed Big Tree Madness, then hold on to your seats: The big tree fun is just getting started.