The Biggest Tree in Illinois is now in Ogle County
BYRON – The Byron Forest Preserve District’s new Bald Hill Prairie Preserve is now the home of the biggest tree of any species in the entire state of Illinois.
The Illinois Big Tree Register has recognized the huge eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) growing at the District’s new preserve to be the new Illinois Big Tree Champion. The Illinois Big Tree Register was started by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in 1962 and is administered by the University of Illinois Extension to keep records of big native trees in the state. Every state has a Big Tree Register for notable trees growing on both public and private lands.
The Bald Hill Prairie Preserve’s Big Tree Champion is 28.5 feet in circumference, over nine feet in diameter and 122 feet tall. The Big Tree overall champion is based on a score of the circumference of the tree in inches, total height and ¼ of the width of the tree’s crown. The Bald Hill Prairie Preserve’s eastern cottonwood has a total score of 491 dethroning the previous Illinois Big Tree Champion bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) that is growing at the tip of southern Illinois. This eastern cottonwood is estimated to be 200 years old, which also makes it an Illinois bicentennial tree that started growing about the time Illinois became the 21st state back in 1818.
The giant eastern cottonwood was discovered after the Byron Forest Preserve District purchased the Bald Hill site from the Natural Land Institute back in November 2017 with the help of a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. Byron Forest Preserve District Executive Director, Todd Tucker, and Superintendent of Land Management, Russell Brunner, found the big tree growing at the base of Bald Hill surrounded by a dense thicket of invasive honeysuckle bushes, multiflora rose and small trees.
Since the tree was growing at the base of the big gravel hill, it had been protected for years from lightning strikes and strong winds which often plague eastern cottonwoods. Also, because the tree has been growing at the base of a tall hill, the height of the tree was less noticeable. Once they began to measure the big tree, Tucker and Brunner knew that the tree was something special. Trees over 100 feet tall are pretty rare in the Prairie State.
Eastern cottonwood trees need lots of water and usually grow along streams and ponds. This champion tree is not growing next to a stream but instead gets its water from the run-off of the nearby gravel hill which was deposited there by glacier activity from thousands of years ago. Eastern cottonwoods are also very susceptible to fire damage and this 200-year-old tree probably started thriving after prairie fires in the area began to be suppressed following European settlement.
To celebrate the new Illinois Big Tree Champion, the Byron Forest Preserve District will be hosting a Grand Opening and Arbor Day Celebration of their new Bald Hill Prairie Preserve on Saturday, April 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at their new 160-acre preserve. Bald Hill Prairie Preserve is located in Rockvale Township at 5502 North Silver Creek Road, Mount Morris. The free public event will feature wagon rides, walking tours, free oak tree seedlings giveaways courtesy of Living Lands and Waters, history, geology and ecology stations, photo opportunities with the new Illinois Big tree Champion and much more. Bald Hill Prairie Preserve is a special place, unlike any other preserve that the District currently operates. The big tree and the scenic views are amazing.
For more information contact the Byron Forest Preserve District at 815 234-8535 extension 200 or visit their website at www.byronforestpreserve.com.