Willow oak rooted in Wake County holds potential as future Champion Tree

By on September 17, 2020

Since 1928, the North Carolina State Fairgrounds complex in Raleigh, North Carolina has been the backdrop for the crowning of numerous champions and ribbon winners. The latest contender is unique in that the Fairgrounds complex serves as more than just a backdrop. It’s home.

Located just inside the Gate 11 entrance along Blue Ridge Road, a massive willow oak (Quercus phellos), towers over a landscaped traffic island near the Kerr Scott Building. Recently, the tree was nominated for designation as a North Carolina Champion Tree for Wake County.

Jennifer Rall, urban forestry specialist and North Carolina Champion Tree Program coordinator with the N.C. Forest Service (NCFS), and NCFS Wake County Ranger Chris Frey stand in the shade of the State Fairgrounds willow oak.

In North Carolina, a tree achieves “champion” status as a species native to North Carolina and based on a point system that assigns value to a tree’s circumference, height and average crown spread. Who keeps score?

The N.C. Forest Service (NCFS) administers the North Carolina Champion Tree Program, which has recognized and celebrated the state’s largest trees since the 1970s. To nominate a tree for the North Carolina Champion Tree Program, the tree’s circumference, height and average crown spread must all be measured. Here’s a look at how that was done for the willow oak (Quercus phellos) at the Fairgrounds complex:

The circumference of a tree is measured in inches at 4.5’ (breast height, or BH) above the center of the base of the tree
Total height to the nearest foot is measured with a clinometer, an instrument used for measuring angles of slope (or tilt), elevation, or depression of an object with respect to gravity’s direction.
Average crown spread is measured to the nearest foot with a tape measure. Two measurements are taken in perpendicular directions, accounting for the widest and narrowest diameter of the crown, and averaged.

Do we have a new champion willow oak in North Carolina? No. The tree scored 335 points after measuring at 220” in circumference, 87’ in height and 133’ in average crown spread. The reigning North Carolina champion willow oak, located in Union County, holds a score of 461 points and measures at 337” in circumference, 90’ in height and 135’ in average crown spread. While Union County is still home to our state’s champion willow oak tree, the one rooted in a landscaped traffic island at the State Fairgrounds complex is one to behold as a contender indeed. Ranking as the second largest willow oak in Wake County and the 11th largest in North Carolina, it’s fair to say that those who catch a glimpse of the third tree from the Gate 11 entrance at the State Fairgrounds complex in Raleigh have caught a glimpse of a future champion.

For more information about the North Carolina Champion Tree program, visit the program’s website. To nominate a tree for the North Carolina Champion Tree Program, contact your local NCFS county ranger’s office for assistance with measuring a tree. Contact information is available at the N.C. Forest Service website.

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