Big Oak Tree State Park (BOTSP) is located in the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain near the community of East Prairie, Missouri. This state park, which now covers nearly 1,029 acres, was established in 1938 to protect a remnant 80-acre stand of old bottomland hardwood timber, including the iconic “big oak” for which the park was named (this tree died in 1952) (MDNR 2015). BOTSP has been long known for producing champion trees—the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) touts this aspect in its interpretation materials and website.
I had visited BOTSP several times in the past and formally reported on this site in 2005 (Bragg 2005). I was certainly impressed with this stand of timber, and measured a number of the identified champion trees. Not surprisingly, I noted a number of departures between the sine heights I was taking, and the ones reported on BOTSP interpretative signs and in their literature. Prominently, the current American Forests national champion pumpkin ash (Fraxinus profunda
) is listed at 188 inches in circumference with a crown spread of 77 feet and a height of 150 feet. In my initial report, I expressed doubt about the height, which at that time I had measured with my Impulse to 102.8 feet (the crown spread and circumference seemed pretty good). With the leaves on and the rather cumbersome Impulse, I was not able to get many different perspectives on this champion pumpkin ash (the sign along the elevated boardwalk trail, by the way, gives this tree’s height as 133 feet). Bob Leverett visited BOTSP the next March, and reported a slightly taller 110.7 feet for this pumpkin ash (Leverett 2006).
Recently, American Forests has enlisted Native Tree Society members to help improve the quality of their big tree measurements through the National Cadre program. One of the roles of those of us in the National Cadre is to help validate current champions, especially those with potentially dubious height measurements. Because I live in the general area, and travel past BOTSP periodically, I volunteered to revisit this national champion pumpkin ash to provide a definite set of size measurements for the national register of champion trees. On June 15, 2015, I had my opportunity, and spent a couple hours at BOTSP to remeasure the champion pumpkin ash and check on several other large trees along the trails of this park.
Unfortunately, over the last decade there have been several major ice and wind storms that have passed through the area and heavily damaged timber at BOTSP. It has been some years since I had visited the park, and when I returned I was saddened to see that the huge cow oak (Quercus michauxii
) and one of the bigger bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa
) were now dead. The stand was much more open than I remembered it; the tell-tale effects of severe ice damage loss and some windthrow were apparent (also suggested by the bumper crops of poison ivy now crowding the forest floor!).
The pumpkin ash has survived, and seems to have fared well, although I’m sure it had received some damage from the ice storms. The thick foliage and dense poison ivy in places hampered my viewing, but I was able to see the top of this forked tree from numerous angles, and I’m pretty confident I did not miss any particularly tall leaders. From my multiple vantage points, I only managed to get a high point of 104.5 feet—slightly higher than the 102.8 feet I found in 2005, but less than the 110.7 feet Bob Leverett reported in 2006. Without knowing exactly what high point Bob found, and with uncertainty as to how this tree has been affected by the repeated ice storms of the last decade, I will forward to American Forests my 104.5-foot height, as well as the 74-foot average crown spread, and 198-inch circumference I measured. I’m pretty comfortable with both the total height and crown spread measurements; the circumference was challenging to measure due to multiple large poison ivy vines along the bole. This tree is a forked specimen, splitting at about 15 feet above the ground, but I did not see any strong evidence that this is two trees that grew (fused) together over the years—my guess is that there is only one pith at ground line and DBH.
I did not have enough time to measure any of the other known champion trees at BOTSP, but I suspect that a number of the listed heights are also problematic. In addition to the repeated damage this stand has experienced from ice and wind in recent years, the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis
) has been found in nearby counties in Missouri and Illinois, and this insect pest is spreading through parts of southern Arkansas now, strongly suggesting that it is only a matter of time before this exotic invasive species plagues the pumpkin oaks of BOTSP.
Bragg, D.C. 2005. Big Oak Tree State Park, MO report. Available online at: http://www.nativetreesociety.org/fieldt ... ee_sp.htm;
last accessed 18 July 2015.
Leverett, R. 2006. Defiance Park, IL and Big Oak Tree SP, Missouri. Available online at: http://www.nativetreesociety.org/fieldt ... _park.htm;
last accessed 18 July 2015.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). 2015. General information at Big Oak Tree State Park. Available online at: http://mostateparks.com/page/54945/general-information;
last accessed 17 July 2015.