There are giants in the forests here.They rise, sometimes unnoticed, above the forest canopy and wait.As years pass, their trunks grow wide and tall. Their branches stretch far above the tippy tops …
There are giants in the forests here.
They rise, sometimes unnoticed, above the forest canopy and wait.
As years pass, their trunks grow wide and tall. Their branches stretch far above the tippy tops of their neighbors' highest boughs. And if the skies spare them a lightning strike and sheering winds, glory awaits them.
That is, if a human happens to stumble across their majestic path.
With a quick measurement, a few photos and some paperwork, they may be crowned a champion tree.
The state of Alabama began recognizing the most colossal of its forest residents in 1970 to discover, recognize and preserve the largest of each native tree species across the state.
Now, 136 trees in 46 counties hold the distinction of being the tallest, the roundest and the grandest in all the yellowhammer land.
Baldwin County is currently home to 11 champion trees, a number that wiggles and shimmies like the branches of its honorees because the trees are remeasured every four years. Baldwin County-based botanist Fred Nation, who has discovered dozens of champion trees, said many are enormous because they are so far from humans, and thus, difficult to visit and measure.
For some, words like big and huge are far too trivial. Ancient. Mammoth. Not the stuff of legends. They are legend.
People talk about spotting them as if they've glimpsed Bigfoot. In Northern Baldwin County's Bayou Jessamine, whose waters, depending on the season, flood or barely move with the help of the Tensaw River, is hidden what was deemed the state's champion bald cypress. It reigns in a forest that was depleted by loggers several times since settlers arrived in Baldwin County. By sheer luck or by crews too tired to down the already massive trunk, the tree survived. Hikes to it usually require a kayak and a lot of luck.
In 2020, a Clarke County cypress bested its numbers, measuring 8 feet more than the Baldwin tree's 27 feet across.
An easier hike can be made to the bluff oak in Daphne, whose trunk reaches 97 feet into the sky and whose branches stretch 57 feet across. It casts a heavy shadow upon the gravestones at Village Point Park Preserve.
It is not to be confused with nearby Jackson's Oak whose legend claims Gen. Andrew Jackson stood atop one of its branches to speak to his troops. While that live oak, decked out with a photo-worthy observation deck that is a staple of tourist stops, measures 28 feet around, a Mobile County live oak reigns supreme at 2 feet wider.
Still, a visit to the Daphne park is to walk among giants. Nation said more trees have been nominated in that spot than in any in the state.
But with nearly 23 million acres covering 70% of the state, Nation said he is certain bigger trees are out there. And not necessarily in the deepest, darkest part of the woods.
"A lot of these trees are in places where people were living for a long time and cared for them. They didn't cut them down, and the trees had reduced competition," Nation said.
Are there more champion trees to be found?
"I am," Nation said, "quite certain of it."
Editor's note: This article originally published in Beachin', a lifestyle magazine from Gulf Coast Media that explores people, places and things across Baldwin County and along the Alabama Gulf Coast. To read the magazine in full, find free copies in racks around Baldwin County, at our office in Foley, in our bi-weekly newsletter at www.gulfcoastmedia.com/newsletter or here.