A Nebraska eastern cottonwood tree near Beatrice has the distinction of being the national champion. It was selected as such by American Forests, a national conservation group.
The cottonwood was added to the "National Register of Big Trees" by the group, says Sheri Shannon, coordinator of the National Big Tree Program at American Forests. It will be crowned as the largest known species of its kind in the country, she adds.
Ten miles northeast of Beatrice on property owned by Kevin Naber, the giant multi-trunked cottonwood stands 88 feet tall with a 108-foot canopy spread and a total trunk circumference of 36 feet, 9 inches.
"She's a beauty," says Graham Herbst, community forestry specialist with the Nebraska Forest Service, who oversees the Nebraska Champion Tree program. "This tree dwarfs all others around it and is easily seen from far off, poking its multiple trunks above the rest of the forest canopy. The arching and spreading form of its stems is cathedral-like."
The tree stole the crown from a cottonwood in Kansas, which received the title after Nebraska's previous national champion cottonwood southeast of Seward was downed in a 2007 storm.
This brings the current number of national champion trees in Nebraska to three. Two dwarf chinkapin oaks in Salem are co-champions. Although a Scotch pine in Beatrice is still on the books as a national champion, it recently fell and will be replaced by another national champion eventually.
"It's no easy feat for trees to survive disease, pests and natural disasters, and they often are also threatened by human activity," Shannon says. "The national champion eastern cottonwood is an example of what trees can achieve when they are cared for and allowed to live full, healthy lives."
Naber contacted the Nebraska Forest Service after hunters on his property spied the huge cottonwood and urged him to nominate it as a state champion tree. Upon receiving the nomination, Herbst realized the tree had the potential to be a national champ, and he traveled to Naber's property for an official measurement.
The Nebraska Champion Tree Program is administered by the Nebraska Forest Service to promote public awareness of Nebraska's forest and tree resources by identifying the state's largest trees.
To nominate a tree or to see Nebraska's Champion Tree Register, go to the Nebraska Forest Service website at nfs.unl.edu/champions.