One Champion Tree

The Largest . . . Maybe the Oldest?

by Bill Pitts, photos courtesy of the Mississippi Forestry Commission and Jack Herring

Please note that this article was written in the fall of 2004. Since this article was published, a new state champion baldcyrpress was found in 2005. It is in Holmes County and stands 82 feet tall with a trunk circumference of 660 inches or 55 feet. My reach, from fingertip to fingertip, is 5 feet and 10 inches, or 70 inches, and I'm an average sized adult. That translates to about nine and one half me's reaching around the trunk. That's one big tree! The first chance we get, we'll try to get a photograph of that tree for you to see. In the meantime, if anybody has a photo, please send it in to us.

California has its redwoods and sequoias that tower over all other trees in the world, but there’s one tree here in Mississippi that can’t be beat, at least when it comes to measuring up against others of its kind in the state. That tree is Mississippi’s largest baldcypress and it stands in the 773-acre parcel of land known as Sky Lake Wildlife Management Area, located eight miles north of Belzoni in Humphreys County. Sky Lake is a recent purchase by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks and is strategically situated in the Mississippi Flyway.

Jack Herring, retired from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, stands at the base of our state champion baldcypress tree at Sky Lake (right).

Although this tree is about 300 feet shorter than the world’s tallest tree (a California Coast Redwood or more commonly called Giant Sequoia), it’s 70 feet tall with a trunk diameter of about 15 feet and a circumference of almost 47 feet (eight me's). To put it into perspective, there are six houses worth of lumber there.

Now that may not seem like much, but consider the estimated age of the tree—the Mississippi Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s web site tells us that “baldcypress...have the capacity to become some of the oldest and largest trees on earth. They are in the same category in size and age of the giant sequoia and redwood, which live [to be] 2,000 to 3,000 years old.”

The former state champion (left and in the close-up below), just 300 feet away from the new [2004] state champion baldcypress, looms over County Forester Steve Burgess.

According to Rob Ballinger, Field Biologist with the Foundation, “Baldcypress can reach heights of up to 150 feet” with confirmed ages of 1,700 years and “unconfirmed ages reaching 2,000 years.”

Dr. David Stahle, the Director of the Tree Ring Laboratory at the University of Arkansas, told the Foundation, “Based on our field inspections and core samplings, I can state with certainty that Sky Lake contains some of the largest and oldest baldcypress trees that remain on earth....”

He goes on to state that “Baldcypress is a valuable timber commodity, and as a result there are very few ancient cypress forests still in existence, and fewer yet that are accessible to the public.” Stahle and his colleague, Malcolm Cleaveland, believes that “some of the oldest baldcypress at Sky Lake likely lived for 2,000 years.”

Dr. Stahle finds Sky Lake to be “the most significant stand of ancient baldcypress in Mississippi” and praises the efforts that lead to the preservation of the area and its natural assets.


Click here to link to the Mississippi Forestry Commission's Champion Tree page.
Check this page for an explanation of the point system used to determine the largest tree status.
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