Updates & Blog

Arbor Day: Celebrating Iconic Trees of the South

Chisolm Beckham
Reforestation Manager/Stewardship Program Coordinator
South Carolina Forestry Commission
Bottom part of pine tree in the forest.

SGSF highlights some of its member states’ most iconic champion trees this Arbor Day.

The beauty of the South shines brightest in its lush forests and majestic trees – from the sweet scent of white magnolia blossoms to the way a sunrise glitters across the pines. Our trees are pillars of community, conservation and legacy – representing a hope for the future and an appreciation for the past. Many trees have grown strong and healthy under the care of generations, standing witness to history as it carries on.

Communities across the South have come together to recognize and bring awareness to these remarkable trees through American Forests’ Champion Tree program. The program recognizes the largest known tree of each species in the United States and the diverse environments in which they exist. One great thing about the program is that it recognizes champion trees by naturalized species, which gives lesser-known or inherently smaller trees a chance to shine. For example, a humble rusty blackhaw is just as much a champion as a massive live oak, both of which are southern champs. In fact, 47% of all registered champion trees in the United States are located among the Southern Group of State Foresters’ member states. Below is a small sampling of the bounty of champion trees found throughout the Southeast.

South Carolina

  • Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
  • Trunk Circumference: 181 inches
  • Height: 168 feet
  • Crown Spread: 85 feet
  • Photo Credit: Victor Shleburne / American Forests


  • Montezuma Bald Cypress (taxodium mucronatum)
  • Trunk Circumference: 336 inches
  • Height: 70 feet
  • Crown Spread: 90 feet
  • Photo Credit: Sue Griffin / American Forests


  • Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)
  • Trunk Circumference: 313 inches
  • Height: 117 feet
  • Crown Spread: 100.5 feet
  • Photo Credit: Kristy Whitaker / American Forests


  • Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
  • Trunk Circumference: 440 inches
  • Height: 78 feet
  • Crown Spread: 161 feet
  • Photo Credit: Seth Hawkins / American Forest


  • Common Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)
  • Trunk Circumference: 626inches
  • Height: 91 feet
  • Crown Spread: 87 feet
  • Photo Credit: Jeff Hunt, Desmond Clapp, Brian Chandler / American Forests

Over the years, I’ve had the honor to be part of this program’s growth. As a graduate student twenty years ago, I had the distinct pleasure to work with Dr. Vic Shelburne at Clemson University to bring the state’s Champion Tree program to the digital age. While gathering photos and information for a new online platform, I encountered trees (and some people) that hadn’t been visited in over 30 years! To say the least, it was a remarkable experience. Now serving as South Carolina Forestry Commission’s Reforestation Manager and Stewardship Program Coordinator, I’ve continued to appreciate the benefits of the Champion Tree program. In fact, Congaree National Park in South Carolina – which boasts two champion trees for every three square miles – became a national park largely because of its abundance of champion trees. The program also gives individual landowners pride for owning a champion tree and foresters pride for nominating one. This pride translates into advocacy and passion for protecting these natural resources while producing greater awareness and support for land management practices that conserve, protect and enhance the surrounding forest, habitat and communities.

Each champion tree has its own story on how it became a champion and is just waiting on someone to tell it. Will that someone be you? This Arbor Day, learn more about the Champion Tree program’s nomination process, get outdoors and find the next champion tree in your state!