Michiganders invited to enter state’s Big Tree Hunt contest

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published August 20, 2019

 Quinn and Grace Gould, of Rochester Hills, show off a black walnut tree found in Rochester Hills.

Quinn and Grace Gould, of Rochester Hills, show off a black walnut tree found in Rochester Hills.

Photo provided by ReLeaf Michigan

ROCHESTER HILLS — Families and individuals across the state can head outside to explore the great outdoors as part of the Michigan Big Tree Hunt contest.

“This contest is an invitation for Michiganders to get out and find these amazing big trees that truly surround us everywhere. Whether we are living on a farm and we have that old farm tree or we are riding a bus to school and we pass the same big tree on the way to school every day, whether we live in a city or we are lucky enough to live in a wooded area, we can probably all think of one big tree,” said Michigan Big Tree Hunt Coordinator Lara Edwards.

ReLeaf Michigan, a statewide tree planting and education nonprofit, started the Michigan Big Tree Hunt in 1993 to gather information about Michigan’s biggest trees.

“The Big Tree Hunt is our big outreach effort that we run every two to three years as a way to celebrate Michigan’s beauty, Michigan’s trees, and also to track these really amazing living landmarks in our state,” Edwards explained.

Outdoor explorers across the state have until Sept. 3 to submit their tree findings — which need to include a photo of the tree, its estimated species, its location and a circumference measurement around the trunk 4.5 feet up from the ground — at www.bigtreehunt.com for a chance to win.

There is no limit to the number of entries, and the contest is free and open to anyone in the state. Certificates and prizes will be awarded for the largest tree submitted from each Michigan county, the largest tree found by a youth hunter age 15 or younger, the largest tree found by an adult hunter age 16 or older, and the largest eastern white pine found in the state.

“This is our invitation to get out, spend some time in nature and enjoy these trees,” Edwards said.

By the beginning of August, people had already entered hundreds of trees from 67 of Michigan’s 83 counties, including a willow that measures over 30 feet in circumference, according to Edwards.

“The most surprising thing to me about this contest is that I’m finding that people are not necessarily hiking into the backwoods and finding a tree. … For the most part, the trees are in people’s grandma’s backyard or their uncle’s yard,” she said. “I have been charmed by how attached people feel to the trees in their own yard and how it really creates a sense of home and place for people.”

The contest, Edwards said, is a wonderful opportunity for people of all age groups to help track vital, historical, living landmarks, since they are all potential state champion trees that could be added to Michigan’s Big Tree Registry, as well as the National Register of Big Trees.

“By running this contest, we are taking our entries and using them to help update this statewide registry of big trees,” she said.

In Rochester Hills, Lead Arborist Gerry Pink said the city is home to a large oak at Livernois and Auburn roads that the city’s Forestry Division staff identified as a bebb oak, a hybrid between white and bur oaks, due to the shape of the tree’s leaves and the appearance of its acorns.

At the time, back in 1998, another bebb oak, located near Kalamazoo, was already listed on both the state and national registers as a “champion tree,” but since the city’s tree measured slightly larger overall than the Kalamazoo tree — based on the formula used for the National Register of Big Trees — the city contacted Dr. Elwood Ehrle, of Western Michigan University, the president of the Michigan Botanical Club and the coordinator of the state champion tree records. Ehrle suggested that the city send leaf, twig and acorn samples to Dr. Warren Wagner, of the University of Michigan, who confirmed the species of the tree as a bebb hybrid oak.

Ehrle then submitted the tree’s measurements to the National Register of Big Trees, but the group had unfortunately decided to no longer include hybrid trees in its listing.

The tree is, however, currently listed as a state champion in the Michigan Big Tree List, maintained by the Michigan Botanical Club, and identified with a sign placed by the city in 2015. The giant bebb oak is also a symbol in Rochester Hills’ city logo.

“As far as we know, our bebb hybrid oak is the largest of its kind in the entire country,” Pink said.

Because the tree is already listed as a state champion in the Michigan Big Tree List, Edwards said it is not eligible for this contest.

“We do have a rule that if a tree has already won or is currently a state champion, you can’t submit it,” Edwards said.

However, she encourages Rochester Hills residents to submit any other species of tree they might find outdoors.

“The dog days of summer are upon us, and this is a free way to spend time with your kids,” Edwards said.

For more information or to enter, visit www.bigtreehunt.com, email info@ReLeafMichigan.org or call (800) 642-7353.