Join the NH Big Tree Team Volunteers
The Big Tree Team volunteers work in small groups in their local area measuring trees submitted to the program. The full group typically meets on a bimonthly basis in Concord for program updates, continuing education, and to share discoveries and stories. For more information contact Mary Tebo Davis at email@example.com or 603 641-6060.
The Quest for Big Trees in NH
Anne Krantz, Hillsborough County Big Tree Coordinator
The lovely forested suburban landscapes of NH were once farms and pastures, as evidenced by the endless network of stonewall snaking through our backyards and woodlots. Obviously, these forests are second growth that reclaimed the land after the height of the agricultural heyday of the mid 1800s. “Across much of New England (except for northern Maine and mountainous areas), 60 to 80 percent of the land was cleared for pasture, tillage, orchards, and buildings.” New England Forests Through Time, Foster & O’Keefe, Harvard University Press, 2000, Pg.8.
This history combined with our harsh weather; from the hurricane of 1938 to the October snowstorm of 2012, make finding Big Trees a real challenge in NH, and a fun sport. In an effort to find, record, and recognize these magnificent individual trees, the New Hampshire Big Tree Program was started in 1950. Today the program is coordinated through the Natural Resources Stewards part of UNH Cooperative Extension and NH Division of Forests and Lands
The list of recorded champions now includes nearly 700 giants of their kind. Natural Resources Steward volunteers help identify, measure, and record these big trees at the state, county and national levels. The NH Big Tree program cooperates with the National Register of Big Trees through American Forests.
Each county maintains a list of its champion trees and Natural Resources Stewards do the measuring according to American Forest standards and guidelines. Nominations are submitted through the web site: nhbigtrees.org.
Jeremy Turner of New London, NH, submitted a nomination for a black ash, Fraxinus nigra, also called swamp ash, or basket ash. Because of its use in making beautiful baskets, it is a rare tree in NH today, with no listing for Hillsborough County. Not sure that I could ID this tree, I was delighted to learn that Jeremy is a forester, in fact the managing forester for the Audubon dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary near Hancock.
We met in July at the Willard Pond parking lot. I was even more thrilled to learn that the tree is located right along Willard Pond Road, and viewable by the public. Of course I had already driven right by the tree, as has everyone else who has been to Willard Pond. The tree is so tall that its top is lost in the high tree canopy. No leaves, or twigs for clues. Jeremy recognized it from its bark. But it just looked like shaggy old bark to me - not at all like the neat diamond patterned bark of white ash.
Jeremy manages stands of black ash for basket makers, who use young fast growing trees to harvest for the ash splints. The trunks for baskets need to be straight and10-12 feet tall before branching to produce the long unblemished splints that are painstakingly separated from the trunk by pounding.
The tall black ash we measured was a knobby old hollow tree; not the quality for basket makers which is why it is still standing. Using a clinometers we measured the height at 92’, with circumference at breast height, CBH (4.5 feet from ground), of 58 ½ “. The crown was tricky to measure but we figured an average crown spread of 22.5 feet. The scoring formula gives this tree total points of 157, making it the NH State champion
Coincidentally, I just stumbled onto a great new book Bark, A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech, University Press of New England, 2011, that is perfect for identifying big trees when the leaves and canopy are far beyond reach. The author explains bark botany is the reason for the various kinds of bark. This very useful reference book has with lots of photos diagrams and maps of each tree species range. For example the author describes green ash bark: ‘Young – light brown to grey with soft, corky scales that can be easily rubbed off. Mature – darker gray to grayish-brown. Scales may build in thickness and become irregular and knobby-looking.” Exactly what caught Jeremy’s eye!