By Indiana Nash
When Ed Miller planted a few pin oak saplings in his Rexford yard 62 years ago, he had no idea he was raising a champion.
But the results of the Great Oak Hunt are in, and one of Miller’s pin oaks has won, with a circumference of 11 feet, 10 inches, and a height of 80.5 feet, with a crown of 93 feet by 81 feet, all adding up to 244.25 points.
“There’s got to be bigger ones out there, but it’s nice to bask in the light,” Miller said.
The Great Oak Hunt, organized by Landis Arboretum Director Fred Breglia, began in the spring. The arboretum collected entries for the greatest red and white oaks, along with other types, from 10 counties — Schoharie, Montgomery, Saratoga, Fulton, Otsego, Herkimer, Delaware, Greene, Albany and Schenectady. There were first-, second- and third-place winners for the red and white oak categories.
The area with the highest density of large trees was Schoharie County, said Breglia, who recently finished confirming the measurements of the entries. He’s been a big-tree hunter for years and a member of the Big Tree Cadre, a national group of big-tree hunters, and often works with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to verify tree measurements.
According to Breglia, the soil in Schoharie County is very fertile and allows for larger trees.
But Miller’s pin oak in Rexford has gotten Breglia wondering whether Rexford has fertile soil as well. Or, Breglia joked, maybe Miller has got some sort of great fertilizer recipe.
Miller, a retired General Electric engineer, said there’s no secret, though the nonagenarian has had plenty of tree experience through the arboretum; he’s volunteered with the organization for years and is the curator of the arboretum’s native plant collection, which includes more than 200 plants. Miller, who became a botanist shortly after retiring, keeps the collection growing in the hopes it will help students and scientists with research when it comes to trees.
Although Miller’s pin oak is not the largest in New York state, it’s by far the largest in the region. According to the DEC, there is a pin oak in Monroe County that comes in at 277 points.
When they receive entries like this, the DEC will often have Breglia or another big-tree hunter go out and confirm the measurements.
Trees are measured using trunk circumference, maximum height and canopy spread. The sum of the height, the trunk circumference (at 4.5 feet from the ground) and one-quarter of the tree’s average crown spread equal the total point score.
The white oak winner was measured at 349.75 points, and the winner of the red oak came in at 324 points.
But Breglia also included second- and third-place winners in the contest because that information can be just as important to collect as details about the largest trees.
The odds of all the greatest trees not splitting or being felled by storms get slimmer and slimmer every year, said Breglia.
“[The Great Oak Hunt] started another question: where’s the biggest tree?” Breglia said.
The idea for the hunt came after the largest white oak on the arboretum’s property was destroyed several years ago during Tropical Storm Irene.
“That was our logo for years. A lot of people got married under the oak tree, including me,” Breglia said. “We still leave it there … the big carcass of a tree.”
But people began asking where the new greatest white oaks in the area are located, and there wasn’t really a good answer. Because of the competition, the arboretum can now answer that question.
However, now people want to know about more than just oak trees, Breglia added.
At the start of 2018, the Arboretum plans to hold a similar hunt with a focus on finding the biggest tree overall, rather than the biggest oak.
One of the greatest benefits of the hunt is not only finding the trees but getting people involved and interested in the trees around them.
It gives people a reason to spend a bit more time outside, which is one of the goals of the Arboretum.
To find out more, visit landisarboretum.org.
Great Oak Hunt
White Oak (Quercus alba)
– First Place: Royal Oak. Point total: 349.75. Nominated by Bob and Peggy Wilson. Owners: Bob and Peggy Wilson. Town of North Blenheim, Schoharie County.
u Second Place: Pano Oak. Point total: 332.2. Nominated by Freddy Breglia III. Owner: Anonymous. Town of Middleburgh, Schoharie County.
– Tied for Third Place (Trees that are within 5 points of one another are considered a tie):
— Point total: 317.38. Nominated by Clarence Putman. Owner: NY Power Authority. Town of North Blenheim, Schoharie County.
– Point total: 314.38. Nominated and owned by Rosemary Christoff Dolan. Town of Central Bridge, Schoharie County.
Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
– First Place: Lyndon Oak. Point total: 324. Nominated by Lyndon Cornell. Owned by Lyndon and Marie Cornell. Town of North Blenheim, Schoharie County.
– Second Place: McConnelee Oak. Point total: 309.6. Nominated by Andrea McConnelee. Owned by John McConnelee. Town of Carlisle, Schoharie County.
– Third Place: Red Oak. Point total: 291.25. Nominated by Peter Rumora. Owned by City of Schenectady, Central Park, Schenectady County.
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
– Point total: 244.25. Nominated by Ed Miller. Owners: Scott and Wendy Miller. Town of Clifton Park, Saratoga County.