Willowwood Arboretum Champion Trees

The Morris County Park Commission’s Horticulture Department has been working with the New Jersey Forest Service to identify and register trees for the NJFS Champion Big Tree Program. The NJFS has been keeping record of the state’s largest trees since the 1950’s and recently Joe Bennett, who oversees of the champion tree program, visited Willowwood to measure some of the arboretum’s largest and rarest trees.

Ben Blackburn pictured here in 1986 pruning a branch
of the now National Champion Dawn Redwood
that he planted in 1950.

Evaluating a tree to determine if it is a state champion is achieved by measuring the tree’s trunk circumference, height, and crown spread. Each of these measurements are put into the following formula to assign an overall point value: Trunk Circumference + Tree Height + ¼ Average Crown Spread. Trees with the highest point values for their respective species are recognized as State Champion Trees and added to the state registry. Runner-up trees are also recognized on the list.

The following trees at Willowwood were measured and determined to be NJ State Champion Trees:

  • Acer davidii – David Maple
  • Cercidiphyllum japonicum – Katsura Tree
  • Cornus kousa – Kousa Dogwood
  • Magnolia sprengeri – Sprenger’s Magnolia
  • Metasequoia glyptostroboides – Dawn Redwood
  • Quercus shumardii – Shumard Oak
  • Salix matsudana – Peking Willow
  • Salix psedolasiogyne – Willow
  • Salix sericea – Silky Willow
  • Sorbus alnifolia – Korean Mountain Ash
  • Taxus x media ‘Thayerae’ – Japanese Yew Cultivar
  • Thuja plicata – Giant Red Cedar
  • Zelkova serrata – Japanese Zelkova

Of particular note from this list is the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) located next to the Stone Cottage at Willowwood. This towering specimen has a trunk circumference of 212 inches, a crown spread of 60 feet, and an overall height of 112 feet, making it not only the New Jersey State Champion, but the newly crowned National Champion as well. Henry Tubbs and Dr. Benjamin Blackburn planted the tree in 1950, along with other Dawn Redwood saplings that they received as seedlings from Princeton University. The seedlings were propagated from seeds collected by Chinese foresters in the city of Lichuan, located in the Hubei province of China. The foresters were on a plant collection expedition there, funded in part by the Arnold Arboretum; to collect herbarium specimens and seeds of this once thought to be extinct species. The seeds they collected were sent to the Arnold Arboretum who in turn distributed them to arboreta and horticulturists throughout the county. James Clark, a horticulturist at Princeton University, was a recipient of some of the seeds and grew them on in to seedlings. Luckily, he offered three of these incredibly rare plants Dr. Blackburn and Mr. Tubbs, who grew them on further and eventually planted them out at Willowwood where they still stand today.

With an abundance of old and uncommon tree species at Willowwood we have only begun to scratch the surface of how many champion trees exist at the arboretum. Over the next year the MCPC Horticulture Department plans to continue working with the NJFS to measure and certify champion trees. Plans are also being made to develop a champion tree tour as well as programming on champion and historic trees in partnership with the NJSF. To learn more about and see the complete listing of champion trees in New Jersey, please visit the NJFS website at www.communityforestry.nj.gov.

==Mark Inzano, Manager of Horticulture