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The Results Are In… The SCNPS Team Measured a New State Champion Sassafras Tree!

Posted on by Jesse Freeman (Upstate)

Photo Credit: Clemson Extension

by Dan Whitten

On Feb. 10, 2024, the Upstate chapter of the South Carolina Native Plant Society embarked on a field trip to Silver Steps Falls in Caesar’s

Photo Credit: Jo Ann McCracken-Redding

Head State Park with a special mission: measuring a potential state champion tree. If you missed Jo Ann McCracken-Redding’s humorous report on this field trip, be sure to check it out HERE for all the details. This particular tree had long been a source of intrigue, and after careful examination throughout different seasons, we finally identified it as a sassafras (Sassafras albidum) last October.

Background on Champion Trees

In South Carolina, champion trees are the largest known individuals of their species, determined by a point system. The tree’s score is a sum of three factors: height (in feet), circumference (in inches, measured at breast height), and crown spread (the average of the maximum and minimum crown diameters, divided by four). Champion trees, the largest and often oldest of their species, provide crucial ecological benefits, support conservation efforts through monitoring and protection, and inspire public engagement with nature as living monuments to the forest’s long history and health.

The Discovery

Photo Credit: Clemson Extension

With the current state champion sassafras scoring 129 points, we were curious if this towering specimen might surpass it. We used the triangulation method to measure the tree’s height. This involves placing a two-foot level horizontally at eye level and marking where a two-foot stick aligns vertically to create a right-angled triangle, then using a tape measure and laser light to calculate the tree’s overall height. We found that the tree stood at 109 feet, had a circumference of 60.5 inches at breast height, and a crown computation of 7.5, leading to a total of 177 points. This exceeded the previous champion by 48 points!

Verification Process

After submitting our findings to Clemson University for verification, the team wanted to ensure accurate measurements. On April 4th, I joined park naturalist Tim Lee, Master Naturalist president Carson Johnson, and USFS employees Carolyn Dawson and Mark to re-measure the tree. This time, using a clinometer—a tool used to measure the angle of elevation—we found the height was 119 feet. The circumference was 60 inches, and the crown computation remained 7.5. The final tally reached 186.6 points, eclipsing the old record by 57.5 points!

The Final Result

The new state champion sassafras was officially recognized and added to the Clemson website on April 9, 2024. This extraordinary achievement celebrates the dedication and collaboration of our team. To view the official record of the tree that the SCNPS crew measured as the champ, visit the Clemson website.