Legendary Champion? Or Simply Ancient Legend?

Being a Champion is all about size, but as trees grow continuously throughout their lives, it makes sense that bigger trees are usually older. As a result, some of American Forests’ Champion Trees are truly ancient legends! But some of America’s oldest trees actually aren’t American Forests Champions. How can this be? Trees earn points based on a combination of trunk circumference, height, and crown spread. The tree with the most points for its species is crowned a Champion. Let’s see if some of America’s very oldest trees are simply ancient legends, or legendary American Forest Champion Trees. Can you guess?

The oldest living tree in the world is believed to be Methuselah, an intermountain bristlecone pine that began growing in California’s White Mountains during the Early Bronze Age around 2833 BCE. The Ancient One, as it has been referred, this pine was named in honor of the grandfather of Ark-building Noah from the Bible. The oldest individual tree of great age in the Americas — and possibly the world — Methuselah began germinating before the pyramids of Egypt were built and has survived the entirety of recorded human history. The cold, dry conditions of the White Mountains severely limit the growth of Methuselah’s rings to a hundredth of an inch or less each year (although, with global warming, it has grown faster in the last 50 years than ever before). Methuselah is ancient, but not on American Forests’ National Register of Champion Trees.

The President is a Giant Sequoia located in the Sierra Nevada that is estimated to be over 3260 years old, and stands tall at 3200 feet. Believed to be the oldest Giant Sequoia still alive, The President was named for President Warren G. Harding in 1923. Growing near it are two dense stands of medium-sized sequoias that represent the “House” and “Senate.” Earning 1321 points on our Champion Tree scale, The President is an American Forests Champion.

Raintree (pictured) is estimated to be about 3000 years old. Located near Kyle Canyon in the Spring Mountain Range in Nevada, this great Bristlecone Pine has actually never been cored, so its age can only be estimated; it may be even older! Hiking trails clearly indicate the location of this ancient tree — while others are more hidden for their protection — but hikers seem to respect its space, and have even built a structure at its base to secure it from catching fire. Raintree, like Methuselah, is old and beautiful but not on our National Register of Champion Trees.

The age of the Bennett Juniper is difficult to measure. During coring, it was discovered that the tree is partially hollow, so there can never be a definitive result from a complete core sample, but estimates remain at about 3,000 years old. Found in Sierra Nevada, California, the tree is owned by the Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of western big trees. Worth celebrating, the Bennett Juniper is the largest juniper of any type listed in the National Register of Champion Trees, clocking in at 573 points.

General Sherman, a 2300 to 2700-year-old Giant Sequoia, is among the tallest, widest and longest-lived trees on the planet. This massive sequoia found in Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park was named for the American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1879 by naturalist James Wolverton, who had served under him. General Sherman is a legend but not a legendary American Forests Champion.

SHP 7, otherwise unnamed, is a Foxtail Pine that can be found in the Sierra Nevada. A close relative of the bristlecone pine, SHP 7 has lived amongst many Champion friends in Sequoia National Park for some 2110 years. This Foxtail Pine comes in on our Champion Tree scale at 405 points.

Lady Liberty, a 2000-year-old Baldcypress, is located in Longwood, Florida. Previously called “The Companion” tree to the Senator, a tree that burned in 2012, Lady Liberty was awarded her name though a Geneva Elementary School competition in 2005, when two fifth-graders offered the moniker, saying one of her branches looked like the uplifted arm of the Statue of Liberty. She may have a statuesque stance and age on her side, but another Baldcypress actually stands taller. On our National Register of Champion Trees, a Baldcypress from Louisiana in the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge reigns at 739 points.

Regardless of size or age, American Forests celebrates all of these legends because we know that all trees are champions of the environment.

Share our interest in conserving America’s tree and forest resources by following along as we recognize Champion Trees throughout the month of July. Also find out how you can support the Champion Tree program and other American Forests conservation efforts!