Naturalist tracks down the big ones

By Peter Kent

Champion TreeIt’s Bill Jordan’s job to track down champions. Through Spanish Moss-shrouded swamps and into manicured, gated communities, Jordan seeks his quarry – not that they are trying to elude him, but they do sometimes disappear.

Jordan is field coordinator for the South Carolina Champion Tree Program, headquartered at Clemson. He is looking for leads on where to find the state’s biggest trees. He has found that nearly every search has a story; but not every story has a happy ending.

“Often, when I found the location of a previous champion, the area was totally different, usually because of residential or commercial development,” said Jordan. “The majestic tree that once grew there was probably bulldozed by people who had no idea of its designation.”

A champion tree is one that is judged to be the largest of its species, according to a standard measuring formula. To be eligible, a tree must be native to or naturalized in the continental United States, including Alaska but not Hawaii. Hybrids and minor varieties are excluded.

Part of the American Forests national program, the South Carolina Champion Tree project is a cooperative initiative between the S.C. Forestry Commission and Clemson’s forestry and natural resources department.

For more information or to nominate a tree: