Big Trees

In 1940, the American Forests Organization created the Champion Tree program. The intent was to identify and track the biggest specimen of each species of tree native to the United States. Currently, a revised list is published every other year – “The National Register of Big Trees.” As of 03-09-12, the American Forests website listed 106 Big Trees as located in Florida. Thirty-seven of those are in Monroe County. The link for the American Forests website is:

If you need additional information, contact: Sheri Shannon, Education and Outreach Manager, American Forests, 734 15th Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005; (202) 737-1944 ext. 250; Fax: (202) 737-2457.

A separate listing is also kept by the Florida Forest Service. It contains 79 specimens located in Monroe County, labeled by categories, i.e.: Challengers, Champions, Emeritus National Champions, Florida Champions, National Champions. The link for the Florida Forest Service Website on Champion Trees is:

To learn more about Florida’s program, contact: Charlie Marcus, Urban Forestry Coordinator, Florida Forest Service, 3125 Conner Blvd. Suite R3, Tallahassee, FL 32399; Telephone: 850/ 921-0300, Email:

Anyone is eligible to submit nominations for the Champion / Challenger tree status. Each website contains the specific requirements to do so, as well as the necessary forms. No invasive tree species will be accepted, but native and non-native, naturalized species will be considered. The assignment is based on a point system, with points awarded for characteristics such as circumference at breast height (defined as 4.5 feet), height, and canopy spread.

The status of specific individual Champions and Challengers frequently changes from year to year, due to a number of reasons.
1. Trees may be damaged and/ or destroyed by fires and storms, hurricanes, etc. That has happened to a number of the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden’s previously listed champions / challengers.
2. Our garden does not fertilize and water specimens in order to obtain maximum size, in contrast to most horticultural institutions. Consequently, our specimens tend to be out-grown by those receiving such care.
3. As more people become interested and participate, more specimens get identified (reason for point systems and challengers and even co-challengers).
4. Due to restrictions in personal and time, out-passed challengers and champions don't get re-assessed and measured. Their points might actually have gone up since their initial proposals and submissions and might actually re-qualify if new data was submitted.

During the history of the Garden, there have been at least nine Big Tree Champion or Challenger specimens.
1. Wild Dilly: Western loop behind Pigeon Plum, champion for US & FL
2. Milkbark: Western loop – national champion
3. Pigeon Plum: North Lake before bridge, national champion
4. Saffron Plum: Parking lot, one of three sisters, Challenger
5. Locustberry: Behind Wild Dilly champion, former champion that was topped / cropped after storm damage
6. Black Olive : Challenger (along Boardwalk)
7. Arjun Almond: Former champion (along Boardwalk)
8. Barringtonia: Former champion (along Boardwalk)
9. Cuban Lignum Vitae: State champion (along Boardwalk)

1. Wild Dilly

2. Milkbark: National champion (Western loop)

3. Pigeon Plum: National champion (North Lake before bridge)

4. Saffron Plum: Challenger (Parking lot, one of three sisters with Blolly & Gumbo Limbo

6. Black Olive: Challenger (along Boardwalk)

7. Arjun Almond: Former champion (along Boardwalk)

8. Barringtonia: Former champion (along Boardwalk)

9. Cuban Lignum Vitae: State champion (along Boardwalk)