Registry recognizes unique specimens

Spanish moss drapes trees surrounding the Charles A. Pinckney house in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. Pinckney was a principal framer of the U.S. Constitution.

A new online tree registry showcases trees that are unique, significant in history or simply your personal favorite.

The new program, America’s Historic Tree Register, is sponsored by American Forests (, which is the nation’s oldest nonprofit citizens’ conservation organization. Founded in 1875, it focuses on assisting communities in planning and implementing tree and forest programs to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems and communities. Its strategy is to provide action opportunities to targeted audiences to enable them to improve their environment with trees. By using the best science to identify conservation issues, American Forests develops and markets practical solutions that individuals and groups can apply.

The new historic tree register may include unique varieties such as the Melaleuca quinquenervia, also known as the paperback tree, which forms dense forests that can reach heights of over 20 meters.

The group offers myriad programs to promote a tree-friendly society. Since 1990, its Global ReLeaf campaign has been planting native trees in rural and urban ecosystem restoration projects primarily in the United States, but to a lesser degree, around the world. The program plants trees in locations, such as hillsides, to reduce erosion and streams to prevent polluted runoff and sedimentation. An extension is Wildlife Releaf, which provides education about forest blazes.

American Forests uses satellite and geographic information systems (GIS) technology to analyze the state of urban tree populations. It has calculated that the National Urban Tree Deficit, the number of trees needed to provide adequate tree cover to the nation’s largest cities, now stands at more than 634 million trees. The group has produced CITYgreen ( GIS computer software to provide individuals and organizations with a powerful, but user-friendly way to evaluate development and restoration strategies and their impact on communities.

American Forests sponsors Johnny Appleseed planting trees. The 2010 event occurs in Ohio and Indiana during September. In addition, Margo Dawley, vice president of the Global Releaf Center, says the group is the de facto "go-to guy" for tree rescue efforts. "It’s common for us to get questions about saving trees," she says.

That can result in the preservation of the precise type of tree that will be represented in the new historic register. The group worked with foresters to prevent the removal of an Osage orange tree that was one of the few living examples of hedgerows planted by Jonathan Baldwin Turner, a botanist and early proponent of the country’s land grant university system. An alert arborist launched an e-mail campaign to save the tree, and with assistance from American Forests, the local municipality and arborists who provide ongoing care, it continues to thrive.

The Angel Oak is a Southern live oak tree located in Angel Oak Park, on Johns Island, S.C. It may be the oldest tree east of the Mississippi River.

Honoring trees

American Forests has several programs in place to recognize and preserve significant species. Its National Register of Big Trees identifies and protects America’s most enormous trees by maintaining and publishing a list of the largest-known specimens of native and naturalized trees in the United States. The register, launched in 1940, is published biennially to document and encourage the preservation of the largest specimens of each species. National champion trees are nominated by the public ( Three champions from the inaugural register continue to thrive: the giant sequoia (General Sherman), Rocky Mountain juniper (Jardine Juniper) and Western juniper (Bennett Juniper).

American Forests’ Historic Trees Nursery, a state-of-the-art facility in Jacksonville, Fla., propagates direct offspring of trees that witnessed events and lives significant to American history. Among hundreds of offerings are offspring of tulip poplars that majestically stand at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Eisenhower green ash trees grown from a tree that stands at the birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Other selections honor America’s wars, special groups such as African Americans, veterans and artists, and trees of regional significance. Here’s the place to score a Johnny Appleseed specimen, a Wright Brothers sweetgum or a Walden Woods red maple. Catalogs, ordering information and monthly specials are available at

Trees growing in unusual places, such as this tree of heaven, are among several categories that will be featured in the register.

Planning the new registry

Although the group has authenticated and propagated historic trees since 1984 and published two books on the subject, a historic register has been difficult to establish. Dawley says the organization has long wanted to expand its recognition program, cognizant that many trees that don’t fall into the gentle giant category merit greater awareness and preservation, but new efforts require new dollars, which don’t, of course, grow on trees.

In 2008, the group applied for and received a matching grant from the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council, enabling the concept to move forward. American’s Historic Tree Register will be highly inclusive of species and locations.

After several months of planning and developing guidelines, criteria and categories, American Forests announced the new register on July 4, 2009, by inviting nominations. Qualified and verified candidates will begin appearing online this month.

Trees related to specific historical events, famous people and places may be nominated, along with particularly old and unique specimens. If your favorite doesn’t fall within those categories, it may be listed in the personal section. Expect to see a Gleditsia triacanthos (honey locust) that witnessed the Gettysburg Address and a Quercus virginiana (angel live oak) estimated to be between 350 and 800 years old. Specimens related to Andrew Jackson and Elvis Presley have also been nominated, as well as unique submissions that include trees growing out of bikes and cars.

The register will continue to grow, as the nomination process is ongoing. Upon submission, staff reviews the required documentation. Five or more references, such as news articles and Web site mentions, must be provided. Upon verification, a photo and information about each tree will be posted online. Complete guidelines and nomination forms are available at or by calling 202-737-1944.

Although a big tree registry is already in existence, American Forests developed the new register to help educate the industry and the public about the many significant trees across the country.

Perhaps most exciting of all, as many trees on the register as possible will be propagated in the nursery and made available to the public.

"We will be adding nominated trees over time and hope that the nursery and register will help each other," Dawley says.

In addition to unveiling the historic regisster this year, American Forests is celebrating its 135th birthday and the 20th anniversary of its tree planting program.

Based in Greensboro, N.C., the author writes articles about horticulture, landscaping, agriculture and travel. She has been a contributor to Moose River Media publications for three years.