Field Trip: Champion Trees of Greater Kansas City

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Field Trip: Champion Trees of Greater Kansas City

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru, Newsworthy

A list of the Champion Trees of Greater Kansas City has been maintained since 1955. It was originated by Stanley McLane, Landscape Architect for the J. C. Nichols Company. Today Powell Gardens maintains the list and we periodically take a field trip to go measure nominated trees. A nice day in winter is usually a good time to measure trees so myself and Senior Gardener Jesse Stauffer-Baum in charge of Powell Gardens collections scheduled Wednesday, January 28th to measure trees around the metro.  What a great day with a record high temperature over 70F and we confirmed several new champion trees!

Above is the new area champion Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) that was nominated by Matt Bunch. It grows in a ravine behind the old Blue Valley Recreation Center in northeast Kansas City on Kansas City Parks property. Photographs of trees never make them look impressive and you can barely see Jesse just to the left of the trunk in a thicket of honeysuckle that protects the tree from mowers. Jesse is 6-feet tall and has his hands up — you can see a white notebook in his left hand. This bur oak has a 200-inch circumference, is 102-feet tall, and has an average crown spread of 100-feet!

Here is the new champion Little-leaf Linden (Tilia cordata) at Minor Park on the south side of Red Bridge Road in south Kansas City. It has a trunk circumference of 174-inches, is 74 feet tall with an average crown spread of 71-feet. It is simply a spectacular, open-grown tree that I’m sure is honeybee heaven when it is in bloom in early summer.

This is the new champion American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). Beech trees are rare this far west and usually struggle in our environment but this tree looks in great shape and is on the grounds of Villa Guadalupe / St. Paul’s School of Theology just off Van Brunt and south of Truman Road in northeast Kansas City. It has a trunk circumference of 108-inches, is 71-feet tall with an average crown spread of 61-feet.

Here’s Jesse next to the trunk of the new champion Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii variety glauca) in Mount Washington Cemetery. Coastal Douglas-firs get huge in the Pacific Northwest but do not survive in our climate but the natural variety native in the Rocky Mountains will grow here. The new champ Doug-fir is 73-inches in circumference, 80-feet tall with an average crown spread of 32-feet. The tree was once struck by lightning but has healed almost completely which is a rare occurrence. The wonderful loess soils of Mount Washington allow many trees to thrive and Powell Gardens is sponsoring a tree walk there on Sunday afternoon, April 19th — attendees must RSVP to Powell Gardens at (816) 697-2600 X 209 — there is a $5 fee to those who are not members of Powell Gardens.

Here’s the new champion Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) also in Mount Washington Cemetery. It has inspired the nominator of the former champion to go remeasure that tree since it has not been measured since 2006 and is a close second. As you can see, some species of trees do not become huge shade trees and this paperbark maple has a circumference of 35-inches, is 28.5 feet tall with an average crown spread of 18.5 feet.

Not all our nominated trees turn out to be champions. Here Jesse stands besides the runner up Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) in Floral Hills Cemetery (just north of 63rd Street at Blue Ridge Cutoff) . It is just 7 points shy of the champion which is in a private landscape, but the new champion tree list does list runners up which is helpful because Floral Hills Cemetery is open to the public and this tree can be easily observed. This tree is has a circumference of 141-inches, is 76-feet tall and has an average crown spread of 60-feet. There are several other large Lacebark Elms nearby in Floral Hills Cemetery and each has its own character: see below:

This Lacebark elm is the second runner up! It has more colorful lace-bark.

And why not show the third runner up Lacebark Elm which has marvelous fluted bark!

Powell Gardens will get permission to propagate all these unique trees as part of its Legacy Tree program. That way we will protect the special genetic character of all these trees which have withstood the test of time in our climate.

We also visited The Urban Lumber Company on our tree measuring excursion — it’s a new company that salvages the beautiful wood of urban trees that have been cut for any reason from storm damage, to disease and construction projects. Instead of going to the landfill or becoming mulch, the beautiful wood of all sorts of trees may be purchased here for any construction project. Visit the Urban Lumber Company at 7200 Highway 40 in Kansas City, MO — they are open on Wednesday and Friday afternoons or by appointment and can be reached at 816-888-7947.

Here’s a closeup of Jesse next to the new champion bur oak  — it’s a reminder that if you think you know of a champion tree, send us a note at Powell Gardens and we’ll go check it out. Our champion trees are a precious resource worth documenting and protecting for the good of our community. You can view the list of Champion Trees of Greater Kansas City on our website at It is updated periodically.