By Chris Hastings
April 30, 2021
Just in time for Arbor Day, the giant Sugarberry Tree (Celtis laevigata) in Old Town has been officially named the “Florida Challenger” for its species. This means that it is the second largest known Sugarberry in the state of Florida.
The Florida Champion Tree Program is run by the Florida Forest Service. According to Will Liner, Urban Forestry Program Manager with the Florida Forest Service, “The Florida Champion Trees program is open to all tree species that grow in our state except those listed as invasive exotics by the Florida Pest Plant Council. The Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) in Old Town is the second largest tree of its species in the Florida Champion Tree register, earning it the title of Florida Challenger in our program. If you would like to learn more about Florida Champion Trees or nominate a tree of your own, please visit our website at www.FDACS.gov.”
There are important ecological reasons for the Champion Tree search, but sometimes it is just pure fun. In fact, Amelia Island is home to two other Florida Champion Trees: the Tough Bumelia (Sideroxylon tenax) and the Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda). Given the historic nature of the island, there could be other large specimens waiting to be discovered.
The Old Town Sugarberry happens to be on a lot recently purchased by Chris and Amy Hastings. Chris is an arborist and is thrilled to be the new caretaker of this historic tree. According to Chris, “It is particularly fun for an arborist to find a Champion or even a Challenger Tree. It is even more rewarding to have one under your care.” Chris and Amy plan on making the tree a centerpiece of their new garden on Garden Street.
The current Champion Sugarberry in Hamilton County has not been measured in 8 years and was in poor condition at its last measurement. The Old Town Sugarberry could be the new Florida Champion sooner than we think.