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Champion Trees

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Tennessee's Champion Tree Program was developed in the mid-1970s to identify the largest specimens of native trees in East Tennessee. Since then the program has expanded statewide and includes 263 species that are native or common to Tennessee.

A tree earns points based upon its circumference, height and crown spread. The tree with the most points for its species is declared a champion. If trees are within five points of each other they may share the title of co-champions.

Our goal is to update the list every two years.

The Art of Measuring Trees

There are three measurements required to nominate a champion tree: (1) Trunk Circumference (measured in inches), (2) Vertical Tree Height (measured to the nearest foot), and (3) Average Crown Spread (measured to the nearest foot).

Image of how to measure a champion tree

Trunk Circumference: The circumference of the tree is to be measured at 4.5 feet above the ground on the uphill side of the tree.  If the tree forks below 4.5 feet then measure the circumference of the largest fork at 4.5 feet.  If the tree forks at 4.5 feet, then measure the circumference at the smallest place below the fork.  The best tool to use to measure circumference is a flexible tape measure or one can use a non-stretch string and a ruler.  To ensure an accurate measurement make sure the tape or string is perpendicular to the axis of the trunk and is not twisted.  Remember that all circumference measurements need to be made in inches.

Vertical Tree Height: The total height of the tree is considered to be the distance between the base of the tree trunk and the topmost twig.  The most reliable measuring tools are the Abney hand level, clinometer, or transit.  If these tools are not available, one can measure the tree's height with a straight stick.  First, measure the distance from your eye to the joint of your thumb and index finger (arm is stretched out -- see photo 1).  Next, hold the stick straight up and down at arm's length in front of you and make sure the portion above your hand is the same as what you measured from your eye to your hand (see photo 2).  Step backwards until the tree's base appears to rest on the top of your fist, while the top of the stick appears to touch the top of the tree (see photo 3).  At this exact point, the height of the tree is equal to the distance from the base of the tree to you.  Place a stake in the ground and measure (in feet) from the trunk of the tree to the stake to find the height!

Image of how to measure champion tree height

Average Crown Spread: For the crown spread, you will need two sets of measurements to get an average.  First, step away from the tree and take a look at the tree's crown.  More than likely the tree is not symmetrical, and it has a narrow and a wide side.  Measure from the outermost branch on one side to the outermost branch on the other side of a tree.  The measurement should be to the nearest foot and be done for both the narrow spread and the wide spread.

Then average these two measurements by adding them together and dividing by two: (wide spread + narrow spread) / 2 = Average Crown Spread

Scoring Your Tree: Champion trees are determined on the basis of points awarded in the following manner:

  • One (1) point for each inch in circumference
  • One (1) point for each foot in height
  • One-fourth (1/4) point for each foot in average crown spread

Total points = circumference in inches + height in feet + one fourth of the average crown spread in feet

Once you have the total points of your tree, compare it with its species on the Tennessee Champion Tree List and if your tree scores higher than the current champion or is close in points to a current champion, submit your nomination to the following address:

Division of Forestry
Champion Tree Program
Box 40627, Melrose Station
Nashville, TN 37204

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