The grounds of The Commodore Condominiums, at the intersection of Bonnycastle and Cowling avenues, is home to a majestic old tulip poplar, or more correctly, a yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). We have always admired and cherished her as our grand old lady, but never knew just how special she might be. This spring, a visiting arborist was so impressed when he saw her, that he thought she just might be the biggest yellow-poplar he had ever seen, and suggested we nominate her for the National Register of Big Trees.
We speculate the tree has grown so large for two reasons. One is a natural water source that runs right under the Commodore building and out to a spring cave, maybe 500 feet down Spring Drive. She has also been protected from lightening strikes and high winds by our building for the last 81 years.
I found the website www.americanforests.org
, made a few phone calls and found our forest rangers for this region – Forester Sean GodBold and Chief Forester Robert Bean, from the Central District in Elizabethtown. Sean and Robert came to officially measure our tree to see if she might be a contender for the State Register of Champion Trees or even the National Register of Big Trees.
The rankings are based on trunk circumference (measured in inches), vertical tree height (measured to the nearest foot), and average crown spread (measured to the nearest foot). The numbers are added for a total point score. A nominee will replace a registered champion if it has more points. When two trees have scores that fall within five points of each other, they are listed as Co-Champions.
Each state may or may not have a reigning candidate for each species native to that state. Kentucky has 10 species listed on the national register: sassafras, yellowwood, blue ash, chinkapin oak, pignut hickory
, shellbark hickory, pin oak, shining sumac and slippery elm. They are the largest examples of these species found in the United States, and one is right here in Jefferson County – a yellowwood that stands in Cave Hill Cemetery
On the state level they are called Champion Trees. We have 10 State Champions: Carolina silverbell, yellow-poplar, willow oak, shingle oak, swamp chestnut oak, southern magnolia, black locust, Kentucky coffeetree, blue ash and white ash.
Nearby champs include the white ash (355.50 points) at Grinstead and South Peterson, just up the Peterson Hill across from Barret Traditional Middle School; the southern magnolia (229.50 points), standing between the Long and Kerr headstones in Cave Hill Cemetery; the shingle oak (312.75 points), also in Cave Hill, as is the willow oak (361.50 points) and the yellowwood (303.75 points).
The Commodore’s wonderful yellow-poplar measures 191 inches in circumference, is 115 feet high, and has an 84-foot spread – a total of 326.75 points. Alas, we did not surpass the reigning giant in McCreary County – the State Champion yellow-poplar had a total of 419.75 points. The reigning yellow-poplar in the entire United States, measured in 2007 in Chesapeake, VA, totalled a whopping 495 points.
The biggest champ in all the United States is a giant sequoia, “General Sherman,” which stands in Sequoia National Park, CA, at 1,321 points!
Our yellow-poplar may not be the biggest, but she just might be the most admired by all who live here in The Commodore. I have the pleasure of watching her grow and bloom and turn colors every year, because she stands right outside my bedroom window. I wake up to her and say good night to her. I hope she grows and thrives for many, many years to come. And who knows, she might indeed one day make the prestigious National Register of Big Trees.