A champion among trees

Published 7:21 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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The Alabama Forestry Commission presented a certificate and plaque to the Troy University Arboretum on Thursday for the botanical garden’s champion Pond Pine.

Alvin Diamond, professor and director of the Arboretum, said the Pond Pine is a state listed rare species and Troy University has one of the largest of its kind right here  at the Arboretum and in Pike County.

The Pond Pine is the rarest pine species and is listed as an S1 species, typically with five or fewer occurrences.

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Diamond said the Pond Pine is a large native evergreen tree in the Pine Family. It ranges from Delaware and New Jersey, south to Florida and Alabama where the Pond Pine is found only in the southern third of the state.

State Forester Rick Oates, left, presented a certificate recognizing the tree to Alvin Diamond, Arboretum director.

The plaque presentation was open to the public and was an opportunity to learn more about the champion tree. The more adventuresome among those in attendance took advantage of the opportunity to make the rather long trek to see the Troy University Arboretum’s amazing champion Pond Pine.

Nell Hauge, a Pike County master gardener, said the Pond Pine is in a rather distant area of the Arboretum.

“The Pond Pine was not as large as I had expected,” Hauge said. “It would have taken someone with a great amount of knowledge to recognize it as a champion tree.”

Fortunately, Hauge said, Diamond has that knowledge.

Diamond said the Pond Pine occurs in bogs, in seeps, in flatwood and around depression ponds and is a large tree and reaches height of 60-80 feet.

The rare species sometimes have multiple trunks. The bark is reddish brown to gray in color and is thick furrowed with rectangular plate-like sections. The needle-like leaves are clustered towards the tips.  The needles are arranged in fascicles of three and are six to eight inches in length, slightly twisted, yellow green in color with fine lines of stomates on all surfaces.

Diamond said the Champion Tree Program began in 1970.

Twenty-eight trees were listed and Champion Tree Program was modeled after American Forest’s Big Tree Program.

“The Alabama Champion Tree program is designed to discover, recognize and celebrate the largest of each native tree species in Alabama, “Diamond said.

The Forestry Commission uses a formula developed by American Forests to determine the points assigned to a tree. The formula is based on three size measurements -circumference, height and average crowns spread. Points are assigned as one point for each inch of circumference, one point for each foot height and one point for each four feet of average crown

Once a champion is declared, its owner and nominator receive certificates and also a permanent marker to place near the base of the tree.

Even if a Champion tree is later superseded by a larger specimen, owners may keep their sign to commemorate their tree’s moment of fame.

Anyone can nominate a tree, however, Diamond said, it is wise to check with the Alabama Forestry Commission so as to know the size of the current champion.

The Alabama Forestry Commission is charged by state law to protect and sustain our forests. Recognizing special trees through the Champion Tree Program provides an opportunity to celebrate and promote the value of trees, not only for today’s landowners but for future generations of Alabamians as well.