Local Editorials

SVM EDITORIAL: Champion tree, towering above, is inspirational

Byron Forest Preserve officials are rightly delighted about Illinois’ tallest tree that grows in the recently acquired Bald Hill Prairie Preserve in Ogle County. We’re inspired by it, too.

Russell Brunner (left) Byron Forest Preserve Superintendent of Land Management, and the preserve's executive director, Todd Tucker, stand next to the eastern cottonwood, which was recently designated as the largest tree in Illinois. The tree, estimated to be 200 years old, is 122 feet tall and 28.5 feet in circumference.[]

Trees are known to inspire poets – some who are great, some not so much.

After we learned of the new discovery at the Bald Hill Prairie Preserve in Ogle County, we felt inspired ourselves.

And so, with apologies to Joyce Kilmer:

“We think that we shall never see,

“A tree that’s taller than this tree.”

In Illinois, that is.

We speak, poetically (or maybe not so much), of an extraordinarily tall eastern cottonwood tree that was found at the bottom of a hill in the Byron Forest Preserve’s newly acquired 160-acre Bald Hill Prairie Preserve between Mount Morris and Leaf River.

Not only is this tree a whopper, but it’s the tallest known tree in Illinois.

Before we give you the statistics, let’s look at the tall tree that was dethroned by the Bald Hill eastern cottonwood.

The previous “tallest tree” is in Pulaski County in southern Illinois.

It’s a bald cypress that is 64 feet tall, with a trunk circumference of 34.5 feet.

By comparison, the Bald Hill eastern cottonwood is 122 feet tall, with a trunk circumference of 28.5 feet.

The Bald Hill eastern cottonwood is old, too – an estimated 200 years old, which, coincidentally, is the same age as Illinois.

This two-century-old tree had the good fortune of growing in just the right spot for tree longevity – near a good water source, and sheltered by higher ground nearby that, over the decades, protected it from the vagaries of weather, such as lightning strikes.

Byron Forest Preserve officials are delighted with the find, which initially wasn’t obvious because so much brush had grown up around the tree over time.

“We cleared the brush and said ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a big tree,’” Todd Tucker, the preserve’s executive director, said.

That’s putting it mildly.

Now that the Bald Hill eastern cottonwood has officially been crowned champion of all trees on the Illinois Big Tree Register, attention has rightly been focused on the tree and the region where it grows.

If this big tree, a diamond in the rough for much of its existence, proves to be a big attraction for tourists and nature lovers, what a welcome development that will be.

How long can a 200-year-old tree last? A lot longer, we hope.

And so, our closing poetic salute to the Bald Hill eastern cottonwood will come from George Pope Morris, who wrote a simple plea:

“Woodman, spare that tree. Touch not a single bough.”

And that goes for Mother Nature, too!