Basswood tree is officially big

Chapman park provides home to national winner

Friday, May 21, 2010

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Biologist Roderick Simmons discovered a large American basswood tree in Chapman State Park in Bryans Road and submitted it to American Forests for placement in the 2010 National Register of Big Trees.

A state and national champion lives deep in the forest at Chapman State Park in Bryans Road.

This winner is not a star athlete or a great scholar. It's a huge American basswood tree that has been selected to be placed on the American Forests 2010 National Register of Big Trees.

The Maryland Big Tree Program — a volunteer nonprofit organization that was established in 1925 by Fred Besley, the state's first forester — selected the more than 100-year-old tree for placement on the list because it measures 20 feet 3 inches in circumference and stands 135 feet tall, said John Bennett, a volunteer coordinator for the program who serves on the Cecil County Forestry Board. It is one of 23 trees in Maryland that have been included on this year's list, he said.

The program is sponsored by the Maryland Association of Forest Conservancy District Boards, Bennett said, adding that the group is an umbrella organization that represents the 24 local forestry boards in the state.

The register is updated every two years by American Forests, a national nonprofit conservation organization that was established in 1875, and sponsored by The Davey Tree Expert Co., Bennett said, adding that 733 trees from 637 native and naturalized species in the United States are listed on the register this year.

Chapman's tree is a multileader, meaning that it has two main branches that grow from the trunk, Bennett said. It was discovered during a survey being done last year by biologist Roderick Simmons for the Friends of Chapman State Park and the Chapman Forest Foundation.

Local environmentalist and president of the Chapman Forest Foundation Bonnie Bick said it is no surprise that a large tree was found in the park.

"Chapman State Park is a very high-quality forest and it needs additional protection," she said. "The discovery of a champion tree helps bring people's attention to the value of the forest. I'm not surprised that the tree was selected for the national register. This designation will bring more awareness to the value of the trees in the forest."

The park harbored a champion oak tree that unfortunately was knocked down by high winds during a recent severe thunderstorm, Bick said. "Chapman's forest is famous for its large trees," she said.

"It's just terrific that the tree was selected for the national register," said Elmer Biles, a Bryans Road environmentalist and Chapman's historian. "The park is important because of its natural features. It certainly has to be recognized as a park that has some very historical features to it, including the trees."

Biles said the park also harbors a rare shell-marl ravine forest — meaning there is a high concentration of calcium in the soil — and the state's largest glade fern population.

"This is why the park was saved from development; it's got a lot of value to it," he said.

Sequoia National Park's "General Sherman" sequoia was the highest-scoring tree during this year's selection with 1,321 points, according to an American Forests press release. The tree at Chapman's received 400.5 points.

"Our largest trees are impressive and special in their own right," the organization's acting executive director Gerry Gray said in a press release. "We hope this recognition brings protection and appreciation to these special trees as it reminds us that large trees cannot thrive without healthy ecosystems."

Other champion trees selected for the national register in Maryland are in Kent, Montgomery, Harford and Prince George's counties, according to the Maryland Big Trees Program.

Bennett said there is no monetary reward for having a tree selected.

"There's nothing that you can really put a dollar figure on," he said. "People who have champion trees on private property list that as one of the features of their property if they are selling it. It will add to the value of the property."

More volunteers are needed to search Charles County's forests for big trees, Bennett said. "Generally, we measure 200 trees a year in Maryland," he said. "Any time that we can get a volunteer team together to do measurements is good. In Charles County there's not a lot of activity because there aren't a lot of volunteers.

"Charles County has got pretty good growing conditions so if people started looking around they would probably find a good number of big trees," he added. "Charles County is just an untapped treasure trove of potential big trees and it would be wonderful to have folks explore the forests. It's not that the county doesn't have big trees. We just don't have the people to find them."