Tallest Post Oak Tree In U.S. Identified In Chattanooga

Wednesday, August 22, 2018 - by Bob Geier
This Post Oak tree near the old Quarry Golf Course is considered to be the tallest of its kind in the U.S.
This Post Oak tree near the old Quarry Golf Course is considered to be the tallest of its kind in the U.S.

After closing as an operating golf course, the Quarry Golf Course at Reads Lake Road and Mountain Creek Road in Chattanooga and its former clubhouse were maintained by the owner for many years for his own purposes. The clubhouse was used and today remains in use as a business office. The space was enjoyed by many, including apartment dwellers along Mountain Creek Road, as a beautiful accessible open space especially after hours by hikers and dog walkers. It is about the only area available nearby for that purpose. Over the years it also attracted people who have built homes in the area. The property was sold to developer James Pratt at the end of April and development plans have been proposed for the property. 

The area behind the clubhouse is a densely forested knoll. In that area, a magnificent Post Oak (quercus stellatta) was identified and nominated for recognition to the State of Tennessee’s Forestry Department. Arborists from the Nashville office visited the tree in April, confirmed its dimensions, and recognized the tree as the Runner-Up to the State Champion Post Oak early in August.  

Champion trees are scored by adding the circumference (in inches at 4 ½ feet above the ground) to the height (feet) and adding the average crown spread (feet divided by four). The current Champion Post Oak in Madison County has a score of 305 points. The Chattanooga Post Oak, although its score is less at 270 points, is remarkable in that it is much taller than the Madison County Tennessee Champion tree (112 vs. 76 feet); almost half again as tall. Upon reviewing dimensions for the champion trees in most every eastern and southern state, only one other tree was identified to be close to as tall (100 feet, South Carolina), making the Chattanooga tree the tallest recorded in the United States among champions. Since this tree is native to this area, it is likely to be the tallest in the world. Some states do not list a Post Oak tree (i.e.; OH) and some do not provide dimensions (i.e.; MS) or location information. The Post Oak is a white oak eastern forests. In terms of points, the largest are found in Alabama and Georgia and generally become smaller to the north and west. There is not a nationally recognized Champion Post Oak.

The arborist who measured this tree noted that Post Oak trees can live to 400 years and evaluated this specimen to be in excellent health. According to Brian Rucker from the Tennessee Department of Forestry in Nashville, the age of this tree cannot be determined accurately without harming it.

In a letter addressed to Mr. Pratt, Mr. Rucker officially recognized the tree’s status as the runner-up and expressed his desire to preserve the tree as the backup Champion.  Tom Stebbins, the UT Ag Extension agent for Hamilton County similarly expressed an interest in preserving the tree to the developer in a presentation at the third Chip Henderson facilitated neighborhood meeting with the Friends of Mountain Creek held on Aug. 8. A panel of seven residents was appointed by Mr. Henderson to find common ground with Mr. Pratt. Negotiations are still underway. Ninety five neighbors of the subject property were in attendance at this meeting.

A petition opposing the high density development of this property as originally proposed by Mr. Pratt in March has now gathered 1,400 signatures. The Friends of Mountain Creek petition seeks a more positive outcome for the use of this land than initially proposed and lists a number of technical concerns centered around density. The FOMC hope is that the developer will preserve the natural features of this property including spring fed streams and ponds (including Morrison Springs and Read’s Lake) as well as incorporate this tree into his plans for the development. The tree is a Chattanooga, and potentially during the next two hundred years, a national treasure. 


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