Champion tree

Randolph County has been home to multiple state champions in a variety of different competitions, most notably on the football field.

But it's perhaps a lesser-known fact that the county is also home to state champions of a completely different kind - trees.

The Alabama Forestry Commission scours the state for the largest trees in 143 different species, and when it finds them it names them as part of their Champion Tree Program.

Four of these champion tress can be found in Randolph County, the most recent being a pignut hickory on the Roanoke property of Gerry Knight on Doublehead Road, which named a champion just last year.

Wedowee mayor Tim Coe has the state's largest Pawpaw tree and has since 1997.

Randolph County also has the state's largest Carolina silverbell and Witch-hazel trees.

The size is measured by a combination of the tree's trunk circumference, overall height and canopy breadth, and all of those numbers are compiled into an aggregate score. Highest score gets the title of state champion, with a plaque to make it official.

The Knights' pignut hickory tree is 119 inches in circumference, 100 feet tall and has a canopy spread that measures 70 feet for a score of 236.

Knight recently had another hickory tree removed from his property, and he said they counted about 120 rings on that one. That tree had a about a foot less of circumference, so Knight's assumption is that his champion tree is well over 120 years old. He remembers it being a full-grown tree when his family first moved to the house in the 1950s when he was a child.

The pignut hickory, named for the little "tail" that resembles a pigtail on the nuts it produces, is one of 10 hickory species listed among the Forestry Commission's 143 champions.

Knight said he never would have known about the champion tree program had he not had that other tree removed. The trained eye of the owner of the tree removal service spotted the massive pignut hickory and recommended that Knight get it measured.

Knight said the tree may qualify as a national champion as well. There is currently no pignut hickory listed among the nation's largest, so the Alabama state champion may also be the largest in the country. Knight said he plans to submit his tree for that distinction when applications open on November 1.

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