Hill Country Baldcypress
by Mark Rouw
There is a special baldcypress in Texas that I have visited three times over the last thirty years. My first visit came in early January of 1984 when I was fortunate to be able to accompany a couple of birders on a trip to the State of Sonora, Mexico for a Christmas Bird Count. Although my friends were not particularly interested in big trees, we did visit a few Texas champions.
Traveling from west to east on Interstate 10 in west Texas, I was surprised at how arid it was in that part of Texas. What a contrast to eastern Texas where we visited the state champion American Beech, eastern red cedar and loblolly pine. These were fine trees, but the one that impressed me the most was a baldcypress in Real County which is west of San Antonio in the Hill Country.
This magnificent baldcypress had been the Texas state champion since it was nominated in 1970.
At that time it was reported to have the following dimensions:
|Circumference|| Height ||Spread||Circumference|| Height ||Spread|
|32’10”||111’||111’|| 33’4”|| 110’||100|
I made no attempt to measure the height in 1984, but I did measure the circumference and found it to be 33’6”. Since this tree, like a typical baldcypress, has a considerable basal flare, the circumference can vary greatly depending on where it is measured. At that time I’m certain I would have measured the girth at 4 ½’ above the ground on the uphill side of the slight slope in accordance to the AFA guidelines at that time.
My second visit to this tree came in 1991 or 1992, also in the winter. At that time there was another huge baldcypress in the Big Thicket area of Texas that I made arrangements to see. Because of an injury to the owner shortly before my visit I was unable to view that one. I was, however, able to visit the Real County baldcypress again.
In May of 2015 Rita and I went on vacation to Bandera, Texas which is in the Hill Country. We were primarily on a birding trip to see two endemic species. We were looking for the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. We did find the warbler, but the vireo eluded us.
No one plans for rainy days during their vacation, but it rained all week! Right after we left, the rains intensified which caused major flooding in much of Texas. The day that I planned to visit the tree was a total washout. Would I be able to see the baldcypress at all? But one afternoon it was our good fortune to be about one hour from the tree when the rain stopped. A quick phone call to the owner and we were on our way to the tree! A few hundred yards before reaching “the big one”, there is another large baldcypress. I knew there was not much time, so I only measured the trunk circumference, which was 28’7”. This one is in very good shape and it could be a giant in another century.
It was good to get reacquainted with the old baldcypress. I was sorry to see a few of its’ limbs had broken in the last few decades. Other than a few broken limbs and a hollow in the trunk, which was already there in 1984, it looked to be in good shape. The height is probably not increasing much now for the several hundred year old tree, but the trunk circumference continues to grow. At 4 ½’ above the ground on the uphill side, the trunk measured 36’7”. That is an increase of 37” since 1984. I didn’t have time for the spread measurement, part of which extends over the Frio River. I would estimate the spread was at least 85’. Here are the dimensions of the baldcypress:
- Circumference at 4 ½’ on the uphill side – 36’7”
- Circumference at 4 ½’ on the downhill side – 40’11”
- Circumference averaging the two measurements
above – 38’9”
- Circumference measured midway between the
uphill and downhill points – 39’2”
- Height – 107’
- Crown Spread – 85’ (estimated)
- Total Points – Approximately 593
As long as the mighty “Senator” was alive there wouldn’t be another baldcypress that compared, but now that the ”Senator” is gone, could this one from the Hill Country be a contender for the largest baldcypress? It certainly looks better qualified to me than the National Champion “Cat Island” tree in Louisiana. It also appears to be larger than the National Co-Champion in Mississippi which has a trunk that tapers dramatically.
Oddly, the tree that is the subject of this report is no longer even considered a state champion in Texas! I checked the most recent Texas Big Tree Registry that was updated in May of 2013. It lists a baldcypress with a trunk circumference of 36’9”, a height of 94’, and a crown spread of 115’ for a total of 564 total points as the largest. This is 29 points smaller than the one I measured in May. I will point out this discrepancy to the officials of the Texas Big Tree Registry and hopefully the former champion will regain the title of the largest baldcypress in Texas. Perhaps one day it will even become the national champion.