By Michelle Werts

When I first heard of American Forests’ National Big Tree Program, I instantly envisioned towering, giant trees — the kind that hurt your neck when you try to take in all their grandeur. But, my awe of those redwoods and sequoias was soon replaced by a love for the “tiny titans.”

Reverchon hawthorn
Texas’ Reverchon hawthorn, the smallest tree on the 2012 National Register of Big Trees. Credit: American Forests

As their name implies, the tiny titans are small in comparison to some of their big-tree brethren, but they are still the biggest of their species because not all trees are destined to become 200-plus feet tall. Some are mighty at less than 20 feet tall. So, the week before we unveil the complete list of 760-plus champion trees, I wanted to pay tribute to the smallest big trees on the list.

    • Smallest Big Tree: Texas’ Reverchon hawthorn
      This champion tree repeats its reign as the smallest champion on the National Register of Big Trees, which it first joined last year. It has a mere 21 points to its name at 9 feet tall, 11 inches around and an average crown of 5.5 feet. Now, for those big-tree followers out there, the inclusion of this tree on the list at all might seem a little suspect. Is it too small to be a big tree?

      The USDA Forest Service defines a tree as being 13 feet tall with a trunk circumference of 9 and a half inches at 4 and half feet above the ground, and this is the measurement that American Forests uses to define a tree. So, how did the Reverchon hawthorn make the list without being 13 feet tall? Well, Reverchon hawthorns are trees, but they don’t get much taller than this champion — hence, it being the champion — so on the list it goes via a special exemption.

Texas redbud
National champion Texas redbud in Connecticut. Credit: American Forests
  • Newest Smallest Champs: Missouri’s common prickly-ash and Connecticut’s Texas redbud
    Both of these champions will be crowned next Friday with the release of the 2012 register. The common prickly-ash is actually the second-smallest tree on the list with only 22 points, whereas the Texas redbud champion, which is located far from Texas, is just a hair larger at 28 points.
  • Tallest of the Smallest: Texas’ huajillo
    This tree is tied for eighth smallest tree on the register at 32 points, but of the top 10 smallest trees, it claims honors for being the tallest at 21 feet. What a showoff.

Beyond their size, the other thing I love about these small trees is how they are often found not far away in some forest, but right in our backyards. For instance, the Reverchon hawthorn is in Dallas and the Texas redbud is in Hartford. These small trees remind us that big trees are anywhere and everywhere. You never know: You could be driving or walking by a champion tree every day. So start looking around to see if you can find a big tree in your neighborhood — the pickings are prime, as we have more than 200 species still seeking their champions.

Coming next week: The full 2012 National Register of Big Trees!