Chronicles Of Measuring Champion Trees
When conjuring a mental image of a typical Oregon forest, most people will imagine a landscape of arrow-straight conifer trunks uninterrupted by any large broadleaf trees. While this is sometimes true of forests in the more populated north-western part of the state, it is generally not true for the forests of Southern Oregon. In these warmer areas, conifers are almost always accompanied by a bevy of broadleaved evergreen trees; Pacific Madrone, Canyon Live Oak, Tanoak and Golden Chinkapin (Castanopsis chrysophylla) being the most common. Because these trees grow interspersed with extremely tall conifers, they also tend to grow very tall and upright. The contrast provided by these members of the ecosystem make Southern Oregon forests some of the more colorful forests of the west.
The particular tree we were investigating was a new nomination sent to us by a local resident, Kim Parsley. We showed up early in the day at his home near Azalea and went out to the tree, which was on a hill a few miles back but within sight of his house. Our first impressions were very positive; not only was the tree obviously large enough to be a competitor of the current champ, but it seemed extremely healthy and vigorous. It had a huge circular scar in the bark where it had been used as an anchor for a spar pole in a nearby logging operation. Fortunately the loggers had not cut into the tree to help the cable hold, so the damage appeared to be merely aesthetic. In a way, the cable scar gives the tree the look of a survivor, a look befitting of its place as one of the last old trees in a young second growth forest on the edge of a recent clearcut.
We climbed and measured the tree while Kim and his family watched, awaiting the final points tally. A reporter for a local weekly paper was also present to observe the measuring process. In the tree, we were struck by how the structure of the tree seemed more akin to a conifer than to its actual biological relatives; oaks, beeches and chestnuts. The tree has a large, straight trunk with no branches for the lowest forty feet. The branches were relatively small and came out of the trunk horizontally, and even with the tree's advanced age it still had a vigorous, upward pointing leader. It seemed to be still growing upward at an impressive 5-6 inches a year.
Back at Kim's house, we tallied up our measurements, and found the tree to have 297 total points, 13 more than the California tree. The kids were as excited as us about the tree's future listing on the National Registry of Big Trees. With a little more light left in the day, we helped Kim set up a rope swing in a Madrone behind his house, and then we were treated to an amazing home-cooked dinner. As we packed up for the trip back to Portland, we couldn't help but grin.