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Arboretum is home to championship tree

Connecticut College is home to a new national champion - a large Bebb Willow tree rooted in the Arboretum. This willow is the first tree at the College named to the "National Register of Big Trees," a publication from American Forests, the oldest nonprofit organization in the country committed to conservation. The tree joins 14 other Connecticut trees on the list of 764 champion trees across the nation.

Glenn Dreyer, the Charles and Sarah P. Becker '27 Arboretum Director and adjunct associate professor of botany, nominated the willow for this year's register. As Connecticut's big tree coordinator for American Forests and co-chairman of Connecticut's Notable Trees Committee, Dreyer is excited that the number of state champions this year is more than twice as many as the state has ever had. He also appreciates the recognition of the Arboretum's first inclusion in the register.

"After 25 years of doing this, it's nice to have a National Champion," he said. Dreyer himself collected the willow in 1985 from a wetland in Waterford, Conn., and replanted it in the Arboretum, accompanied by the late William Niering, the Lucretia L. Allyn Professor Emeritus of Botany for whom the College's Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment is named.

Since then, the tree has grown to reach championship size, according to the point system established by American Forests. Using a simple equation, the tree's circumference (in inches) is added to its height (in feet), which is added to one-fourth of the average crown spread of the tree (in feet) to find the total points. With 190 points, the Arboretum's Bebb Willow is one of the largest documented in its species.

Dreyer explained that the increased number of national champions from Connecticut is a reflection of growing involvement with the measurement and documentation of big trees. "Big trees are out there," Dreyer said. "People just need to find them. Recently, a lot of younger people are getting involved in locating these trees and adding to the state's database."

This database of Connecticut's notable trees, maintained by Dreyer and the Notable Trees Committee, contains more than 400 different kinds of trees, and the list is constantly growing. The record helps give each tree significance, allowing Dreyer and others like him to preserve some of the state's most important trees.

"When trees are on the list, it's a reason to keep them around, rather than chopping them down for a construction project," Dreyer explained. "Seeing a tree on Connecticut's list gives people perspective on what they have." Still, there are more than 200 species of trees in the U.S. without any documented champions, meaning there will always be more for conservationists or nature enthusiasts to discover.

"Our organization wants to get people interested in the environment," Dreyer said. "Big trees are often massive and beautiful to look at, and they are something everyone can relate to."

- By Bailey Bennett '14

August 3, 2012