Although Nebraska is considered a "prairie state", trees have always played a prominent role in the quality of life of our state. From the native trees used to build and heat the first pioneer homes to the trees planted to beautify I-80, natural forests and planted trees provide beauty, protection, products, wildlife habitat, and other benefits. The Nebraska Champion Trees program builds awareness of how trees contribute to "the good life" in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Champion Trees program, administered by The Nebraska Community Forestry Council, the Nebraska Forest Service, and Cooperative Extension, is designed to identify and recognize the largest living specimen of all native and the most common introduced tree species in Nebraska. Over 80 species are listed in the Nebraska Champion Tree Register. These tree aristocrats are truly natural landmarks. Most listed species are described in Nebraska Cooperative Extension publication "Trees of Nebraska" (EC 92-1774-X).
The Nebraska Champion Trees program uses rules of the American Forests’ Big Tree Program. Tree circumference, height and crown spread are combined using a point system as explained below.
A tree is defined as a woody plant having an erect, perennial stem or trunk. The trunk must measure at least 9½ inches in circumference (approximately 3 inches in diameter at breast height). The tree must have a definitely-formed crown of live foliage and a height of at least 13 feet.
Circumference: Measure around the trunk at a point 4½ feet above the ground. If the tree is on a slope, measure the tree from the average ground level. If a swelling, branch, flare or other obstruction occurs at 4½ feet, measure the smallest circumference below the obstruction. If the tree forks or branches below 4½ feet, measure the largest fork.
Height: Height can be measured by using a yardstick. First, pace off or measure 100 feet from the base of the tree, preferably on the level. Next, hold the yardstick vertically 25 inches from your eye (about an arm’s length). Site along the zero-inch mark to the base of the tree. Then, read the inch mark that aligns with the tree top. This reading in inches, multiplied by four, gives you the tree’s height in feet. A leaning tree’s height is measured vertically from the ground to the top of the tree, not along the leaning trunk.
Crown Spread: Crown spread is the average width of the tree’s crown. This measurement should be taken from one edge of the crown, through the tree’s trunk to the opposite edge. Determine where the crown’s edge is by hanging a weight from a string and sighting up the resulting vertical line. Move back and forth until the string lines up with the crown’s edge. The tree’s widest and narrowest crown spread should be measured to the nearest foot. Add these measurements and divide by two to get the average crown spread.
Total Points: Champions are determined by assigning points based on trunk circumference, height, and crown spread. One point is assigned for every inch of stem circumference, one point for each foot of height, and 1/4 point for each foot of average crown spread. The point total is the sum of the points from circumference, height, and crown spread measurements. The tree with the most total points is the "State Champion" for that species. If two or more trees are within 2 percent of each other, they will be declared Co-Champions.
Anyone can nominate a tree for inclusion in the Nebraska Champion Trees Register. If you have measured a possible Champion Tree and its total points are somewhat close to or larger than the current Champion for that species, please complete and submit a nomination form. The appropriate information can also be sent in a letter if a nomination form is not available.
- Record the tree’s measurements. Fill in the name, address, and phone number of the owner(s) and nominator(s), the tree’s location, and its species. Give complete information, particularly tree location. Indicate if the circumference was measured at a height other than 4½ feet and, if so, why.
- Enclose a section of twig (with leaves if possible). Mailing the sample between two pieces of cardboard works quite well and prevents breakage. Photographs of the tree are also very helpful.
- Send the completed nomination form and sample to:
Graham Herbst Nebraska Forest Service Community Forestry Assistant 8015 W Center Rd. Omaha NE, 68124 (402) 444-7804
- A member of the Nebraska Community Forestry Council, the Nebraska Forest Service or the Champion Tree Coordinator will confirm the tree’s species, check the current Register to see if the tree is a possible Champion, and if so, officially measure the tree to determine its exact score. If the tree is a new Champion, it will be entered into the Nebraska Champion Tree Register. The owner and nominator will receive a Certificate of Recognition signed by the State Forester, the Chair of the Community Forestry Council, and the Champion Tree Coordinator.
Champion Tree Register
The Nebraska Champion Tree Register lists current champions alphabetically by common name. Latin names are included below the common names. Tree locations are approximate. Please note that many of these trees are on private land. Always obtain permission before looking for trees on private land.