LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is asking the public for its help in identifying "Champion Trees," the largest known examples of individual species in Florida.
Photo: One of Port LaBelle's largest oak trees
LaBelle's own local garden club searched a few years ago for Hendry County's largest oak tree and found the largest specimen on Fort Denaud Road and the second largest in the Laurel Oaks community.
For decades, Bronson's Division of Forestry has participated in certifying champion tree records and maintains a list of more than 300 trees. But with National Arbor Day (the last Friday in April), a day set aside each year to promote the benefit of trees, just around the corner, he wants Floridians to help in identifying champion trees.
"What better way of thinking about the benefit of trees than for commercial land owners, homeowners and those hiking in the woods to see if they can identify large specimen trees that we've missed," Bronson said. "Champions are all around us just waiting to be discovered, even in people's yards and neighborhoods."
Procedures used by the Florida Division of Forestry for measuring and scoring champion trees are the same standards used by American Forests, whose procedures can be viewed on that organization's website at http://www.americanforests.org/.
Some of the largest concentrations of champion trees in Florida occur on public lands managed by various state and federal agencies, including Wakulla Springs State Park near Tallahassee and the various National Wildlife Refuges in the Florida Keys.
In fact, a new national champion pyramid magnolia was just discovered this month on Lake Talquin State Forest near Quincy.
Nevertheless, Bronson believes that there are many potential winners just waiting to be discovered all around us.
The Division of Forestry's website http://www.fl-dof.com/ will soon have a champion tree page where the public can find Florida's largest specimen of any tree species. In the meantime, residents can contact Charlie Marcus at (850) 921-0300 or their local county forester for more information about the program or to nominate a tree as a Champion Tree.
If participating in the Champion Tree program is not an option, there are a number of other ways to celebrate National Arbor Day, which falls on April 24 this year. Many local communities conduct celebrations in schools, churches, youth groups, adult organizations and local governments.
And they will all be celebrating trees, something that most people take for granted.
"Trees absorb carbon dioxide and other air pollutants at the same time that they produce oxygen," Bronson said. "They reduce storm water runoff and soil erosion, provide habitat for wildlife, reduce heating and cooling costs, produce more than 5,000 products that Florida residents use in their daily lives and make communities more desirable places in which to live."