By Jeff Odom
Lutz residents Elaine and Jim Hall knew there was something different about the tree next to their house from the moment they moved to the Windemere subdivision in Lutz 29 years ago.
The gigantic laurel oak stands approximately 75 feet tall with its branches extending outward up to 127 feet.
“It’s always been huge,” Elaine joked.
When Hillsborough County certified arborist and environmental code enforcement officer Lori Moreda discovered the tree’s immense size, she decided to take a measurement. The Halls then found out their giant next-door neighbor could actually be something exceptionally rare and historical.
“(The tree) was pretty spectacular,” said Moreda, who estimated it to be more than 80 years old. “I thought she could absolutely be a champion.”
Moreda, who has worked with the county for 28 years, contacted the Florida Forest Service to nominate it as a candidate to be a Florida Champion Tree.
The champion tree program was created by the American Forests organization in 1940 to recognize the largest known tree of each species in the United States. Florida has the most national champion trees in the nation with 111.
“I was amazed at how big she was, because laurels don’t typically get that big,” Moreda said. “She’s a real beauty, and it’s unbelievable to see she’s survived all of the hurricanes and storms that we’ve had over the years.”
On March 15, Charlie Marcus, an urban forestry coordinator from the state’s forest service, came out to establish the measurements to officially deem the Halls tree a champion.
After an hour of testing its height, circumference, crown spread and other features, Marcus determined the tree was just a few marks shy of being an outright champion.
However, its 320 points, 17 points less than Moreda’s original calculation, made it one of the three largest among two other laurel oaks in the state. It is also the largest of its species in Hillsborough.
While the tree had provided the Halls with plenty of shade for hot summer days, it had become more of a nuisance in recent years with branches dropping from the top and damaging the couple’s fence. Cleaning up moss and acorns had also turned into more work than they had hoped for.
“I had to get out there every day and clean out all of the acorns that had fallen into our old pool,” Jim said. “When the limbs dropped and damaged our old fence, we called the county to come out and clean it up.”
Moreda, along with a team of tree trimmers, came out to the property Jan. 18 to clear out years of fallen branches and heavy brush that had grown up around the base of the trunk. The clutter had made the whole tree nearly invisible from the roadway.
That’s when Moreda first saw the tree and thought it was a candidate for champion status.
One of the Halls’ neighbors, David Scott Banghart, speculated on how many more trees like theirs have gone undiscovered around the community.
“How many more are in people’s cow pastures?” said Banghart. “How many can possibly be around this area?”
For more information on Florida Champion Trees or to nominate a candidate, go to www.floridaforestservice.com/forest_management/champion_trees.html or call (850) 921-0300.
David Banghart says
Due ot new measurements this Laurel Oak is now the sole Florida Champion Laurel Oak. Richard Cervi of Cervi and Associates ascended the monstrous tree on Thursday, 3/28/13. His measurement was 82 feet (for the height). Then Eric Hoyer, long-time certified arborist & forester, visually measured the tree at 84 feet tall with his clinometer. These revised measurements pushed the tree into the solo champion status. http://tlhfor013.doacs.state.fl.us/ChampionTrees.Public/home.mvc/Detail/957