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New cypress tree added to state champion list

Another cypress tree has joined the ranks of champion trees in Louisiana.

Other changes to this year’s Champion Tree list are the addition of a co-champ — a Blackgum in Caddo Parish — and two state champion trees reported as deceased.

The cypress tree does not unseat the Baldcypress champion at Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge. The new state champion is a Montezuma Cypress that’s located on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.

“The reason I thought of trying to get it on the champion tree listing is that it was next to a cooling tower where they cut down a Cherrybark Oak. I thought the cypress tree was going to be cut down, too,” said Jim Foret, who teaches plant science at UL-Lafayette.

The Montezuma Cypress tree was hemmed in by parking lot and a greenhouse building. After bringing the tree to the attention of the university, Grounds Service Manager Mike Hess said four parking spots were removed to give the root system more room.

Frank Thibodeaux, general manager and vice president of Bob’s Tree Preservation Inc., is charged with caring for the trees on UL-Lafayette’s campus. He said when the concrete from the parking lot was removed, the root system appeared to be in good shape.

The UL-Lafayette cypress tree is considerably smaller than the national champion in San Benito, Texas, but there was no category for Montezuma Cypress on the Louisiana Champion Tree list. So Thibodeaux, of Churchpoint, submitted the Montezuma Cypress.

The Montezuma Cypress measures 70 feet tall with a circumference of 16 feet. The average limb spread is 70.5 feet. Foret estimates the tree is 80 years old.

There is something else of significance, the men said. The tree is believed to have been planted by Dr. Ira Nelson, longtime professor of horticulture at UL-Lafayette, who was killed in a car crash in 1965. Nelson, who is the namesake of the university’s horticulture center near campus, was known to travel Central and South America, Foret said, and return with species of trees he thought would do well in Louisiana’s climate.

Hess said he is pleased the university is taking steps to further improve the Montezuma Cypress’ surroundings, including plans to move a greenhouse that butts against its trunk.

Foret said keeping this particular tree is part of UL-Lafayette’s effort to keep more mature trees when possible as it improves its facilities and expands.

“In Louisiana, we take our trees for granted,” Foret said.

Foret said a plaque is planned to note the tree’s championship status.

One note about the state champion Baldcypress at Cat Island. It has returned atop the National Champion Tree List at after it was remeasured last year and resubmitted.

The state champion Spruce Pine was another tree on the national champion list that needed to be remeasured. Former Louisiana Forestry Association Champion Tree Chairman Brian Chandler remeasured it, showing the circumference increased by about 7 inches.

The owner of the new co-champion Blackgum tree is Don Angle of Caddo Parish. The tree is near Cross Lake.

“This tree really stands out in a beautifully regenerated forest near Cross Lake,” LSU AgCenter forester Ricky Kilpatrick said in his inspection report. “The property was homesteaded by earlier owners and farm rows can still be seen in the woods.”

The Blackgum co-champion is 113 feet tall with a circumference of 13 feet, 11 inches. The average limb spread is 63 feet.

The two trees reported deceased are the eastern hophornbeam and white mulberry, both on federal property at Fort Polk.

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