Notable Trees: Florida’s Champion Trees

Florida’s position at the foot of the North America, its peninsula stretching languidly toward the tropics, results in diverse set of forest communities including about 465 species of native trees and shrubs. Add to that a wide array of introduced species and you have one of the longest lists of champion trees in the United States.

Florida has the nation’s largest recorded specimens for 94 different species. That’s out of 695 for the entire nation. A database maintained by the Florida Forest Service lists state champions for an additional 167 species. National champions are the largest specimens of their species in the state, but are not double counted as state champions.

Trees vying for the title of champion are scored by adding their circumference in inches, height in feet, and one-forth of the average crown spread in feet. The largest Florida tree of any species is a kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) in Palm Beach County. It has a circumference of 899 inches (23.8 feet in diameter) and a height of 74 feet.

The kapok is an introduced species, so the largest specimen of a native species is a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) in Hamilton County. It has a circumference of 557 inches (14.8 feet in diameter) and a height of 84 feet.

Champion trees don’t have to be huge. The national champion corkwood (Leitneria floridana) in Leon County is only nine inches in circumference and 17 feet tall.

Miami-Dade County has the greatest number of champions with 23 national champions and 39 Florida champions. Alachua County, home of the University of Florida, is second with six national champions and 19 Florida champions. Monroe County which includes the Florida Keys has the highest number of national champions, 24, and four additional Florida champions.

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Notable Trees: Cummer Oak

The Cummer Oak, Jacksonville, FL

The Cummer Oak is a live oak (Quercus virginiana) located on the grounds of the Cummer Museum and Gardens, 829 Riverside Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32204. It is estimated to be 175 to 200 years old. It is 21 feet in circumference, 80 feet tall, and with a crown spread of 138 feet.

The Cummer family found the majestic oak on the banks of the St. Johns River when they moved to Florida from Michigan in the 1890s. Arthur and Ninah Cummer built their home around the tree in 1902. After Ninah’s death in 1958, the property and Ninah’s art collection were transferred to a foundation which opened the museum in 1961. The Cummer Oak was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.