Without fanfare, tree grows into championship status
ZACHARY — Darrel Walton called LSU to get some help for his ailing live oak tree, but the forester who responded also was interested in another tree in the yard.
Walton learned that the American holly growing beside his home on La. 964 is a new state co-champion on the Louisiana Champion Tree list maintained by the Louisiana Forestry Association.
“I call it the Buddy Holly,” Walton said, explaining that he and his wife, Pat, purchased the property about 10 years ago from the late Buddy Heaslip and Heaslip’s wife, Bette Jo.
The Waltons’ tree is 58 feet tall and has a 49-foot spread. With a circumference of 7 feet, 1 inch, the tree was awarded 155 points on the grading scale used to determine state and national champions.
In contrast, the national champion baldcypress in West Feliciana Parish has 720 points and the national champion live oak, in St. Tammany Parish, has 570 points.
The tree was measured by LSU AgCenter forester Brian Chandler, of Clinton, who also is the champion tree coordinator for the state.
The Waltons’ tree shares state champion honors with a slightly smaller American holly in Beauregard Parish that earned 148 points, according to the forestry association’s list for 2012.
“Mine’s a little bigger, but it’s still the co-champ because less than 10 points separate them,” Walton said.
Chandler visited the Waltons to examine a live oak that was near a large magnolia tree that snapped during a storm and hit his house.
Darrel Walton suspected the live oak might be dying because of damage caused by the heavy equipment needed to remove the magnolia.
“He gave me some advice on what to do,” Walton said, adding that the live oak seems to be doing better.
When Walton pointed out the holly during Chandler’s visit, the forester took one look and got busy with a measuring tape and an instrument to measure the height, Walton said.
“He said it might take a year to get it certified, but he thought it might be a champion,” Walton said.
Walton said the holly might be even bigger if it did not have to compete for sunlight with two neighboring live oaks.
“The soil around here is so fertile, it’s unreal,” Walton said, describing the annual output of a small garden in his side yard.
He said rainfall also drains between his house and the holly.
“It gets a lot of moisture,” he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish has one other co-champion tree, a silverbell.
In addition to the national champion baldcypress, West Feliciana Parish has the co-champion silverbell and the champion yellow poplar and sugarberry trees.
East Feliciana Parish can claim the champion spruce pine, black cherry, honeylocust and winged elm and the co-champion Carolina laurelcherry.
The winged elm, owned by Dr. G. Tipton McKnight, was added to the list this year.