Why Are Big Trees So Important?
Big trees fascinate us because they catch our attention. At first sight, people are often amazed by big trees’ size and beauty. A second look can spur the imagination, and our interest deepens. How did this tree get here? If this tree could talk, what has it seen? Why did this particular tree live so long? Big trees are a minority in any forest and they grace our landscape with nobility and our lives with wonder.
Visit the photo gallery to see of some of Vermont's largest trees.
History of Vermont's Big Tree List
In 1972, a list of Vermont’s largest trees was assembled under the guidance of Jeff Freeman, a now-retired professor of Castleton State College in Castleton, Vermont. The list contained 27 of the largest known Vermont trees, listing diameter only. The later lists of 1977 and 1982 expanded the list to 75 and 81 species, respectively. Then, in 1990 the list was expanded to 91 species and updated to follow the American Forests (AF) system using distinguishing criteria: circumference, tree height, and crown spread. Today there are 145 species on Vermont’s big tree list, and they range in score from 48 for a Dwarf Chinkapin Oak in Bridport to 442 for a Cottonwood in Hubbardton. Freeman continued to maintain the list up until 2008, when he turned his files over to FPR. With the advancments of technology, we now maintain an online, searchable database of Vermont's big trees.
As of the summer of 2021, we are updating the Vermont Big Trees Program and existing database that has laid dormant for almost ten years. No applications for state champions are being accepted at this time. Please visit our site again in early 2022.
How to Measure a Big Tree
The Vermont Register of Big Trees uses AF's formula to determine whether a tree is a champion.
There are three measurements that are used:
Circumference in inches, a measure typically taken 4.5 feet above the ground. Root swell or very low branches may require adjustment to the measurement location.
Height in feet, measured from the ground to the highest branch. There are many ways to measure the height of a tree. One of the easiest methods is to use a metal tape measure laid out on the ground near the tree or up against the tree to show either 10 (or 20) feet as a reference. Then, by using a thumb and index finger at arms-length and angled parallel to the tape measure on the ground, thumb and index finger, representing the known measure can be sized up against the tree to estimate the tree’s height. The number of lengths are then simply added up and multiplied by 10 (or 20) feet for the final score.
Crown Spread is measured by extending the outer crown edge down to the ground and measuring widest and shortest diameter. Average these.
Once you have these measurements, calculate the tree's total points by using the formula below.
Big Tree Formula
Trunk circumference in inches
Height in feet
+ 1/4 of the crown spread in feet
= Total Points
If you have further questions on tree measurements, visit AF's measuring guidelines.
National Register of Big Trees
The National Register of Big Trees is maintained by American Forests, a non-profit citizens' conservation organization founded in 1875. Since 1940, citizens have helped the organization identify the largest known species across the United States. The AF National Register lists 734 species of Big Trees and is available electronically.
Check out the List of Vermont Big Trees:
As of summer 2021, we are in the process of updating Vermont's Big Tree database. Many records have not been updated in ten years. We expect to release our current list of Big Trees in early 2022.