Nebraska Cottonwood Tree Takes National Title

cottonwood tree

Oct. 1, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska ranks No. 1 in at least one category this year: A Nebraska native near Beatrice beat out a Kansas rival to be named national champion eastern cottonwood tree by American Forests, a national conservation group.

"Congratulations to Nebraska for adding a new national champion to the National Register of Big Trees," said Sheri Shannon, coordinator of the National Big Tree Program at American Forests. "The eastern cottonwood in Beatrice will be crowned as the largest known species of its kind in the country."

Ten miles northeast of Beatrice on property owned by Kevin Naber, the giant multi-trunked cottonwood stands 88 feet tall with a 108-foot canopy spread and a total trunk circumference of 36 feet, 9 inches.

"She's a beauty," said Graham Herbst, community forestry specialist with the Nebraska Forest Service, who oversees the Nebraska Champion Tree program. "This tree dwarfs all others around it and is easily seen from far off, poking its multiple trunks above the rest of the forest canopy. The arching and spreading form of its stems is cathedral-like."

The tree stole the crown from a cottonwood in Kansas, which received the title after Nebraska's previous national champion cottonwood southeast of Seward was downed in a 2007 storm. This brings the current number of national champion trees in Nebraska to three. Two dwarf chinkapin oaks in Salem, Neb., are co-champions. Although a Scotch pine in Beatrice is still on the books as a national champion, it recently fell and will be replaced by another national champion eventually.

 "It's no easy feat for trees to survive disease, pests and natural disasters, and they often are also threatened by human activity. The national champion eastern cottonwood is an example of what trees can achieve when they are cared for and allowed to live full, healthy lives," said Shannon.

Landowner Naber contacted the Nebraska Forest Service after hunters on his property spied the huge cottonwood and urged him to nominate it as a state champion tree. Upon receiving the nomination, Herbst realized the tree had the potential to be a national champ, and he traveled to Naber's property for an official measurement.

Herbst hopes the tree will retain the title for a while, but that's not certain, he says. "As a floodplain species, cottonwood trees don't have the same long-term strategies for survival as other trees, so their champions come and go with greater frequency than many on the list. The Naber cottonwood has lost a large stem to pipeline clearing work, but also reaps the benefits of the forest edge in this location."

The Nebraska Champion Tree Program is administered by the Nebraska Forest Service to promote public awareness of Nebraska's forest and tree resources by identifying the state's largest trees. To nominate a tree or to see Nebraska's Champion Tree Register, see the Nebraska Forest Service website at

American Forests' National Big Tree program is a conservation movement to locate, recognize and protect the biggest trees in the U.S. For more than 70 years, they have educated the public about the key ecological roles of trees and the conditions a forest ecosystem needs to thrive. Learn more about the National Big Tree program and view the 2013 National Register of Big Trees at

Graham Herbst
Community Forestry Specialist
Nebraska Forest Service

Nancy Evans
Communications Associate
Nebraska Forest Service

Dan Moser
IANR News Service

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