Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Go, Buckeyes! Ohio wants to ax Kentucky's claim to biggest tree

Ohio can brag it has more people than its neighbor, Kentucky. It has more land. It's even home to the reigning national champions in college football.

Still, Ohio has a potentially embarrassing situation on its hands. It suffers from a bad case of tree envy.

The state Department of Natural Resources is aghast that the biggest Ohio buckeye - the beloved state tree - on record in the United States is not even in Ohio. It's south of here, in Kentucky, just out of reach of the Buckeye state.

Now the department is marshaling state residents to search high and low for a bigger buckeye. Kentucky's response: “Bring it on.”

“I would hope it would come to pass that there is one hidden out there, but 148 feet is very tall,” said Kent Hoiles of Bradner, Ohio, who waged an unsuccessful bid to make the buckeye the national tree. “It's an interesting dilemma and thank goodness [the largest buckeye] isn't in Michigan.”

The nation's largest known Ohio buckeye tree now stands in Dunnville, Ky. At 148 feet tall, the tree overshadows the Ohio buckeye that has to date been this state's only hopeful.

“Ours is listed at 82 feet in height and 162 inches in circumference. For any tree, it is very large,” said Dan Balser of the ONDR Division of Forestry “We'd really like to regain the national champion of the Ohio buckeye tree, just for fun.”

The hunt for the buckeye is a part of a statewide program that documents big trees. Throughout the state, the largest variety of each species of trees is measured and documented. Some of those trees even hold national records, Mr. Balser said.

The Ohio buckeye tree is one of three buckeyes - including the yellow buckeye and the horsechestnut - that grow in the state. Generally found along streams and in lowland areas, buckeye trees have a distinctive leaf structure featuring five leaflets growing from one stem.

“The Ohio buckeye is the one we're concerned about because it's our state tree,” Mr. Balser said.

Mr. Hoiles acted as the Ohio buckeye tree campaign manager in 2001 when the National Arbor Day Foundation was running an election to name an official national tree. Mr. Hoiles, who grows hundreds of buckeyes on his Wood County property, was not successful. He hopes the state will have better luck.

Mr. Balser acknowledges that Kentucky has something Ohio is longing for. But he said the door swings both ways.

According to the national register, the home of the biggest Kentucky coffeetree is in Lake County, Ohio. It stands at 92 feet with a 202-inch circumference.

No big deal, said Diana Olszowy with the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources. The Kentucky coffeetree isn't even the state's official tree - the tulip poplar is.

The national Big Tree program was officially begun in 1940 by American Forests, a conservation group in Washington. The organization has documented the biggest and best of 826 species of trees in a national register. Only 99 species of trees aren't represented.

The purpose of the program wasn't just to find “humongous trees,” said Rachel Brittin, American Forests spokeswoman. Instead, the program brings attention to the necessity of trees.

“If you make them a big deal, then the attention is on that tree and whoever owns that tree takes pride in it,” she said.

Mr. Balser said that most big trees are in parks, cemeteries, or on private residences - places where it has little competition from other trees. Residents who think they have a winner should take measurements and send them in to the department along with a nomination form.

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