Friday, February 5, 2016

And the Champion Is:

Alley of arborvitae at the Bishop Hill Cemetery
Lisa Hammer wrote an article published in The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus on January 19, 2016.   It talked about the row of 26-arborvitae in the Bishop Hill Cemetery.  Our own (yes, we do call him OUR OWN) forester, Shane Kaiser, was quoted regarding the Illinois “Champion arborvitae” in the Bishop Hill cemetery.

Like Shane, I don’t intend to tell the governing body of Bishop Hill how to run their business.  I do hope they don’t have to take the row of arborvitae nor the champion down.  I also do know sometimes the only choices are bad and worse. 
Other arborvitae in the Bishop Hill Cemetery

Leaving them to sort out their tree problems, I’ll move on to the topic of championship trees.

According to American Forests, as of 2015, Illinois had the following species of National Champion trees:

1.    Kansas hawthorn (Crataegus coccinioides) found in DuPage County.
2.    Scarlet hawthorn (Crataegus coccinea) found in Lisle County.
3.    Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) also in DuPage County.
4.    Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) found in Anna County.
5.    Jujube common (Ziziphus jujube) found in Lisle County. 
6.    Texas red oak (Quercus texana) found at the Morton Arboretum.
Champion in 2009 - Black Maple in Kewanee IL

The exciting news is Henry County has three State of Illinois champions.  They are (as of 2013):

River birch (Betula Nigra) located on private property in Cambridge.  The nominator for all three state champions is my very own James Ream.  (Yes, I call him MY OWN because Jim worked with me at Illinois Power in Kewanee (now Ameren) as a journeyman forester.)  The circumference is 10.2 feet, height is over 61 feet and spread is 84 feet. 

Northern catalpa or hardy catalpa (Catalpa speciosa.) It’s on private property in Kewanee. It’s over 84-foot tall, circumference of 18.4 feet and a spread of 61 feet.  Dang.

Northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentailis.)  This is the one located in the Bishop Hill Cemetery. Circumference is 10.1 feet, height 44 feet and spread is 25 feet.  Double dang.
Damaged former Champion, rural Galva IL
When this is in full leaf, it is stunning.
There’s a former champion at 20942 N 400 Ave. Galva IL.  Located on private property, this beautiful tree is damaged.  I respect the owners because they’ve faithfully supported its magnificent and graceful branches instead of giving up because of damage.  NEW NOTE:  My garden friend, Kathy Huffman tells me this is a Butternut tree.  THANKS KATHY!  It’s worth a drive summer or winter because it is so very awesome. 
20942 - showing tree damage.  
Check out the web site at  It’s the organization that started the big tree register back in 1940.  And if you’re a tree nut – pun intended – then you’ll love this site along with the sub-culture of “big tree hunters”.  Their National Big Tree Program is “a testament to American Forests’ legacy of leadership in recognizing the beauty and critical ecosystem services provided by our biggest and oldest trees.”
Champion White Oak in Putnam County IL

Championship trees can be located any place trees grow such as forests, back yards, sidewalk strips and parks.  Most of the champions on private property were discovered/nominated by someone other than the owner.

If you’d like to become a big tree hunter, check out the American Forests web page for help.  Or if you like to visit State and National champions, the America Forest and the University of Illinois lists both have GPS coordinates. 

A cautionary note:  It’s against the law to damage any of these trees and to trespass on private property.  On public property, you may hug the tree, take pictures and admire.  You may not climb, carve your initials or be stupid.  On private property, you can drive by, take pictures from the roadway and know you’re seeing a true Champion.  You may not set foot on private property without permission, take pictures of their personal property or annoy them beyond tolerance.  If you feel the burning need to get closer, knock on their door and ask permission first.  And you may not pick off leaves, fruit or break off branches for mementoes.  If they are laying on the ground on public property or if you have an owner’s permission, you may gather off the ground. 

Many public grounds have duel uses and those should also be respected.  The Bishop Hill Cemetery is a sacred place to families who have kin buried there or to those who are respectful of the history.  For those who want information about the cemetery, requests may be made directly to the Village Clerk at 309-927-3583.  Their web site will also point out the many attractions available and when they’re open.
Bishop Hill Cemetery Avenue of Arborvitae with my
Granddaughter, Katherine

FYI:  I did notice it was difficult to get a current listing of what trees were Championship.  I expect it’s due to bigger ones being found and some old ones coming down or are severely damaged.  It speaks to the need to get out and see these beauties sooner rather than later.  Later may be too late.

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