Tennessee Champion Tree Program

In the mid-1970s, Tennessee launched its Champion Tree Program with the intention of identifying and cataloguing the largest native trees in Tennessee. The School of Natural Resources at the University of Tennessee actively administers the state Champion Tree Program in collaboration with the Tennessee Division of Forestry.

There are hundreds of state Champion Trees that cover the state. View the most current list of the champions by species here:

Nominations for 2024 are now open! Click on the button below to submit a nomination for a Tennessee Champion Tree.

If you’d like to be included on our mailing list to keep up with TN Champion Tree news, please click here:

Our mission is to protect, preserve, and keep record of the largest trees in Tennessee through public education and engagement.

Champion Trees of the Month

Champion Tree FAQs

  • Dr. Sharon Jean-Philippe: Faculty Advisor
  • Kayla Stuart: Director
  • Mara Lind: Social Media Manager
  • Sami Underhill, Integrated Systems Specialist
  • McKenzie Owen, GIS Specialist

Contact us at tnchampiontree@tennessee.edu.

Four circles in a row contain the process of crowning a new Champion Tree. The first circle is yellow and contains the silhouette of a person pointing at a large tree, with the caption "FIND". The second tree is light green with an image of an envelope with a dotted line trailing behind it, indicating movement, with the caption "NOMINATE". The third circle is orange and contains a measuring tape above hands typing on a keyboard, with the caption "MEASURE". The final circle is a darker green and contains the silhouette of a large tree with a small trophy in front of the tree, with the caption "AWARD".

First, potential Champion Trees are nominated by members of the public during our nomination season, generally running from mid-winter to late spring. Specific dates are announced each year. The nomination process is simply filling out a form on this website once the nomination season opens – it asks for some basic information about the location of the tree, contact information for the nominator and/or property owners, and a picture of the tree is required.

Over the summer, a team of interns travel across the state to measure each of the nominations. The following measurements are taken: trunk circumference, crown spread, and height. More information on the measurement methods is available below.

After the measurement period closes, calculations are completed. Each tree is awarded points for its specific measurements: one point for each foot of height, one point for each inch of circumference, and 1/4 point for each foot of crown spread. If the candidate tree is awarded a total point value that exceeds that of the current champion by five or more, or there is no current champion for that species, that candidate assumes the title. If the largest trees of a species are under 100 total points, trees will be crowned Co-Champion Trees if they are within 3 total points of each other. If the largest trees of a species are over 100 points, they will be Co-Champions Trees if the differential between them is no more than 3% of the larger tree’s total points.

Finally, the new Champion Trees are recognized at the annual Tennessee Champion Tree Award Ceremony, held in conjunction with the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council Annual Conference.

Trunk Circumference: Circumference is measured at 4.5 feet above the ground directly above the center of the trunk. If the tree trunk splits below 4.5 feet, than the largest of the two forks is measured. If the split occurs at 4.5 feet, then circumference is taken at the narrowest place below the fork. Trunk circumference is measured in inches with a forestry DBH tape (Basic circumference measurement diagram was adapted from American Forest Workshop, University of Tennessee, 2016).

A tape measure can easily be used in place of a DBH tape.

Guidelines for basic tree circumference measurement.

Tree Height: For the purpose of Champion identification, tree height is considered to be the vertical distance from the base of the trunk to the topmost twig. To ensure accuracy of measurement, a laser rangefinder is used. (Tree height definition was adapted from American Forest Workshop, University of Tennessee, 2016).

There are ways to approximate the height of a tree without a laser rangefinder. The stick method is one excellent way to get a ballpark idea of the height of your tree without expensive equipment.

Definition of tree height guide.

Average Crown Spread: Crown spread is measured from the ground, from one side of the canopy to the other. By standing underneath the dripline and measuring in to the center of the tree, we can calculate the crown spread radius (accounting for the diameter of the trunk). Multiplying the crown spread radius by 2 gives us the crown spread diameter. Multiple measurements are taken to ensure accuracy, and the average of these measurements is recorded. Again, to ensure accuracy of measurement, a laser rangefinder is used (Crown spread diagram was adapted from American Forest Workshop, University of Tennessee, 2016).

An approximation of crown spread can be taken by standing beneath the dripline (where water would drip off the end of the branches of the canopy) and measuring in to the center of the trunk. Repeat this measurement several times, add all the measurements together, and then divide by the number of measurements taken to get the average crown radius. Multiply that number by 2 to get the average crown diameter, and add in the diameter of the tree to get the total crown spread of the tree.

Graphic showing crown spread diagram for a tree.

How do we tally the final score?

After measurements are completed, Champion status is determined in the following manner:

  • One (1) point for each inch in circumference
  • One (1) point for each foot in height
  • One-fourth (1/4) point for each foot in average crown spread

Total points = circumference in inches + height in feet + one fourth of the average crown spread in feet