That, I wanted to see.
So on a foggy afternoon last week I drove out to San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. The champion tree lies at the end of the refuge’s Oak Trail, which lies at the end of a short grassy road, which lies behind an unmarked gate just up the road from the refuge entrance. It’s open to the public, but to get in, you have to stop at the refuge field office for the combination to the gate lock.
When I saw the tree looming at the end of the boardwalk, it was not what I expected.
The “Big Tree” on Goose Island is a showpiece, its massive limbs carefully groomed, supported and reaching symmetrically to the sky. Although younger, the Brazoria oak appears to have lived a much harder life. A couple of its main branches have splintered and broken off and lie decaying nearby. Its trunk is hollowed out in places, and its crown resembles a broken umbrella. Unlike the “Big Tree”, which stands majestically alone, surrounded by a fence that keeps onlookers at bay, the Brazoria oak is encircled by small scrubby trees ready to take their place in the canopy once the aging oak falls.
But there’s something charming about this unpretentious state champion that is bent but unbowed. The tree probably sprouted before the American Revolution and has stood up to the punishing winds of many hurricanes, including the unnamed storm that laid waste to Galveston in 1900.
Its trunk is about as wide as a city bus; its crown three stories tall. When last measured in 2010 its trunk was 32 feet around, its crown spread 109 feet, and its upper branches soared 67 feet above the ground.
The title, though, goes not to the oldest, tallest or widest three, but the one with the highest “index” according to the formula: tree circumference (in inches) + total height (in feet) + ¼ the average crown spread (in feet). By that measure, the San Bernard Oak weighed in at a hefty 477.
The San Bernard Live Oak is not the only local champion. Here are some of the others from the 2013 Texas Big Tree Registry:
|Black Hickory**||San Jacinto||108||107||56||229||2001|
|Southern red cedar||Harris||61||75||26||143||1979|
*Circumference is in inches, the rest are in feet. **National champion ***Pending
And here are a few more highlights from among the Texas champion trees:
- Tallest tree – Nutall Oak, Cass County, 140 feet tall
- Thickest trunk – Bald cypress, Real County, 441 inches in circumference
- Biggest spread – Water oak, Freestone County, 125 feet
- Biggest tree of any species – Bald cypress, Real County, tree index of 564