Sunday, March 1, 2009

Big Tree Tour

This past Saturday the Virginia Native Plant Society organized a big tree drive around in Hampton and Newport News. The tour was lead by Byron Carmean who has found many of the state's biggest trees including Big Mama. The weather started out chilly and got a little drizzly as the afternoon went on, but nothing was going to stop our determined group of tree-huggers.

We started out with a visit to the state champion butternut (Juglans cinerea) on a beautiful site overlooking the Warwick River and Mulberry Island. I think I heard someone say it was planted in the 1830's. I'd never seen a butternut before - they're not that common, but there are some scattered around here and there. Nancy Ross Hugo, co-author of Remarkable Trees of Virginia, was among the tour members. I don't think she had seen this tree before - she joked that it might end up on the cover of a sequel.

Pictured above is the national champion swamp bay (Persea palustris). It's in a cozy neighborhood close to Shoe Lane in Newport News. The owner was surprised by the number of people who came to see the tree. She laughed a bit while taking a picture of us taking pictures of the tree. I was surprised to learn that I had been misidentifying our local bay trees as Persea borbonia (redbay). It turns out that P. borbonia doesn't grow in Virginia - all the trees are P. palustris. There's another Persea that you might be more familiar with - Persea americana, better known as the avocado.

We took a look at three trees on the campus of Hampton University. The first one was the famous Emancipation Oak. The Tidewater Gardener has a great posting about this tree. In this shot Byron Carmean is measuring the canopy of the tree.

We also stopped at this American Holly at the Hampton National Cemetery. It's not the state champion, but Byron said it was the biggest with a single trunk.

Here's a shot of the state champion Japanese Maple at Hampton University near the shores of Hampton Roads. One VNPS member, who shall remain nameless, grumbled something about it not being native, but it was still an impressive tree. I'll have to go back later this year to see it in leaf.

The last tree we visited was the national co-champion dogwood (Cornus Florida). It's in the Olde Wythe neighborhood in Hampton. When you first see it, you might not think it would be a national champion but you can look it up in the National Register of Big Trees. It tops the list at 153 points, as does another dogwood in Tennessee.

I got to see it last year, a few days after it's peak bloom. The owners are very nice and seem happy to show off the tree. Many thanks to Mary Hyde Berg for organizing Saturday's tour!


Les said...

What a great idea, and I am sorry to have missed it. I only heard of it yesterday, but I was too ill to want to brave the rain, even for such magnificent trees (native or otherwise). Thank you for the link also.

Janet said...

What wonderful specimen we have here in our area! Thanks for posting these. Certainly worth going and looking at them, wish I could have joined you yesterday.

Phillip M said...

Sorry you guys couldn't make it!

Cosmo said...

Oh, I'm sorry I couldn't make it, too. Those trees are magnificent--you should say how many of you it took to hug each one. imagine seeing the world these trees grew up in (ok, I just ended a sentence in a preposition, sorry!)prowi

Phillip M said...

What does prowi mean?

Cosmo said...

Oops, sorry, I wonder if "prowi" was the word verification? If this message ends in "destema," that's the culprit--

jhprince said...

Yes, there are interesting trees all around us Phillip. You ought to see some of the large (native)ones in Norfolk that most of you leaf-peepers never see. (affectionate reference) The Jap. Maple was not impressive, as I've seen many larger and more characteristic ones around here. I suspected you would figure out that Persea borbonia is a native to coastal N.C., not Virginia. Get your Latin right! Speaking of coastal N.C. natives: because southeast Tidewater's proximity to the coastal Carolinas, it behooves us to consider these natives when planting in wetlands around here. Political boundaries are not always best when selecting natives for a region, (and we are actually closer to these natives than those of central VA.) as southeast Tidewater is and always has been a coastal Carolinian culture.
I do agree that the Jap. Maple has been given too much attention.

Phillip M said...

John,if you know of some larger Japanese maples you should contact Byron Carmean and you can establish a new state champ! Also, if know of other especially nice specimens of natives trees in Norfolk, I'd be interested in seeing them sometime.

jhprince said...

Sure. I think Martha Stokes has some impressive Jap. Maples. I have a wonderful Gordonia near my house you might be interested in, as well as Redbay, Bald cypress, Magnolia, Live Oak, Persimmon. My dad has a wonderful old Podocarpus, for exotic, you might be interested in. Let me know when you're thinkin of heading this way. My cell is on my website.