FAYETTE, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) recently crowned a new state champion river birch tree in Howard County. MDC Forester A.J. Campbell presented the Missouri Champion Tree plaque to Andrew Robinson, who nominated the tree, and Larry and Brenda Potterfield, who own the land where the tree stands on private property near Moniteau Creek in Howard County.
River birch (Betula nigra) is a typically medium-sized tree with a broad, irregular, spreading crown. Its distinctive reddish-gray, peeling, papery skin turns to a thicker, solid, protective bark as the tree reaches maturity.
A pioneer species, river birch rapidly colonizes exposed streambanks and gravel bars, stabilizing the soil and developing a forest for other trees to succeed. River birch provides important food sources for songbirds and deer, and beavers often use this species to construct dens.
Robinson, who works as a forester on the property, noticed the giant birch tree while working on the farm and took some preliminary measurements that led him to believe the tree could be a contender for the state champion.
“I knew the tree was special, when I saw it, due to its size,” said Robinson. “I immediately looked up the current record and knew we had something substantial.”
Robinson invited MDC foresters A.J. Campbell and Ann Koenig to visit the property and take an official measurement of the tree. To measure the tree, MDC foresters use a formula that accounts for the tree’s height, crown spread, and trunk size. The Howard County river birch scored 238 points, with a 157-inch circumference, 63-foot height, and 72-foot crown-spread, beating out the previous state champion, located on Coon Island Conservation Area in Butler County, by 27 points.
The Potterfield family bought the farm that holds the new state champion a few years ago, consisting of 270-acres with Moniteau Creek defining the entire east boundary.
“We had all the deferred maintenance tended to, and restored the productivity of the farmland, leaving all the sloughs and wooded wetlands intact,” said Larry Potterfield. “Our family is keenly interested in land and wildlife conservation, and we use this property for productive farmland and hunting.”
The success of conservation efforts in Missouri depends on private landowners taking measures to protect healthy ecosystems with sustainable management practices. That’s why MDC works with landowners to sustain healthy forests, fish and wildlife.
“It’s a pleasure to recognize people who take care of their land with good farming and forestry practices,” said Campbell.
In an effort to help generate awareness and appreciation for our state’s trees and forests, MDC invites everyone to join in the search for Missouri’s champion trees.
To learn more about MDC’s State Champion Tree Program visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Z4i.