Many of Indiana’s “champion” trees are located in Vanderburgh County

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) needs the public’s help to update the Large Tree Registry, a list of the largest known specimen of every native tree species in Indiana.

“The tallest tree currently recorded in Indiana is a hickory tree at 152 feet tall, and the widest circumference of our tree is a silver maple tree at more than 361 inches tall,” said Jacob Ross, DNR urban forestry manager. “We need help getting out across the state to find our new record-breaking trees.”

Of the 89 tree species tracked by the DNR, 28 state champions are in Vanderburgh County, the most in Indiana. Two state champions can be found in Posey County (Bur Oak and Sassafras) and one in Gibson County (Northern Red Oak).

The title-holder trees in Vanderburgh County are: green ash, American beech, river birch, boxelder, northern catalpa, bald cypress, flowering dogwood, red elm, prickly hawthorn, eastern hemlock, walnut, hickory, hickory, red walnut, and black walnut. Maple, red maple, red mulberry, blackjack oak, cherry oak, chincupin oak, trailing oak, postal oak, southern red oak, pecan, American persimmon, service, sweetgum, water locust and black willow.

There’s nothing special in the soil or magical in the air in Vanderburgh County, which is what brought so much distinction to the trees here, said Shawn Dickerson, an arborist for the city of Evansville. It’s Thomas Westphal.

Westphal — an arborist, tree researcher, bird watcher and nature lover who died in 2018 — nominated most of the local trees for The Big Tree Registry himself, Dickerson said.

“I don’t think we necessarily have the tallest trees in the state,” the veteran arborist said. “I think we have the majority of the largest trees listed in the state, because we are quite possibly the most actively nominated county in the state of Indiana.”

Of all the state champion trees in Vanderburgh County, Dickerson estimated the most important tree is probably the cherry oak tree at Evansville State Hospital. It grows 94 feet tall and 20 feet tall, with a canopy more than 100 feet wide, according to arboriculture records.

But it’s not the tallest tree in Vanderburgh County, at least not the tallest Dickerson knows of. That distinction belongs to the tulip poplar tree at Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, which stands 166 feet tall. It is not a state champion tree and is not on the DNR’s list of registered trees.

There is folklore, of course. There is often folklore related to trees.

“I’ve read in many books that pioneers, before our forests were cleared, said that in some cases they could find tulip poplar trees about 300 feet tall in some areas,” Dickerson said. “We don’t know how accurate that actually is, but there are a lot of stories where they said that.”

The DNR asks Indiana tree enthusiasts to review their recently updated list of champions and begin searching for new candidates to nominate.

Three measurements are required:

• Torso circumference, in inches, at 4-1/2 feet above the ground; • Overall height, in feet; • Average crown spread, in feet.

The total size of each candidate tree is calculated by adding the circumference and height to one-quarter of the average crown spread.

The individual tree for each native tree species in Indiana that receives the highest total score will be the Big Tree Champion for that species. All nominations are reviewed, but only those with the highest scores will be verified.

To review the updated Big Tree record, see detailed measurement and filtering instructions, see

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