What are Champion Trees?

Ariel shot of Vizcaya's Main House and gardens

Around the world, people are hunting for the largest living trees. In the United States, American Forests, the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the US, has been leading this effort since 1940.  Their Big Tree Program maintains a national register of the largest living specimens of American trees. Florida runs a similar program for large trees in the state.

Largest of its kind

When someone finds a tree that they suspect is the largest of its kind, they take specific measurements and submit them to the National Big Tree Program, where the measurements are verified. If the tree is indeed the largest one found on record, measured by a point system, it’s crowned a “Champion Tree.” There can be more than one champion tree of a species – if trees are found that are within a few points of the reigning champion, they are also considered champion trees

Pigeon Plum located in the cascade infront of Vizcaya's Main House

Vizcaya’s forests: a glimpse into pre-1880s Miami

Vizcaya is home to forests that were never completely cleared or cut. As a result, Vizcaya’s forests are very old, providing a glimpse into what Miami looked like prior to the 1800s. These now endangered forests are full of both young and old trees; some of the old trees are so old they’re as big as they get – Champion Trees! As of 2020, Vizcaya is home to 7 national or state Champion Trees.

These title-holders at Vizcaya have to be tough to have lived so long. They have survived growing on little soil, endured countless hurricanes, droughts, insects, and development. Some trees, like the Pigeon Plum tree growing in the Cascades or the Redberry Stopper growing in the Rockland Hammock forest that surrounds the parking lot, have thrived for almost 400 years. In this harsh environment, these trees grow slowly, and even though they can be quite old, often aren’t that large. But, you don’t have to be big to be the champion, just the biggest of its kind!


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