A new champion tree added to this year’s list might be considered somewhat peculiar in that a loose-fitted term for it is the Christmas berry, a cheery reference to a joyful season. The scientific name, however, includes a derivative of the not-so-pleasant word vomit.
So, let’s just focus on Christmas when referring to the yaupon, one of seven new champion trees .
The new champion yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) is located at the home of Kent and Sonie Milton in the Poland community of Rapides Parish. Its nickname of the Christmas berry might be even more poignant as the Miltons were owners of Milton’s Christmas Tree Farm, which grew the Tannenbaum for several years (as a side note, Tannenbaum is used loosely as it often refers to the fir tree, though the Miltons preferred growing Virginia pine).
Kent Milton, a retired soil scientist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), said he helped plant the trees, but it’s Sonie with the expertise.
“Sonie’s the forester,” Kent Milton said.
Indeed, Sonie Milton was the first woman to graduate with a degree in forestry from Louisiana State University in 1969.
Although she worked two stints for the U.S. Forest Service, the last time with the agency’s Pineville office, and the Forestry Department at LSU, it was the Christmas tree business that took most of her time. The Miltons retired in 2007 and the business was passed on to their son Monroe Milton and his wife, Melinda, though Sonie did help a bit after younger Miltons took over.
The Miltons moved to their Poland home in 1976 and planted the yaupon in the mid 1980s. Two trees were planted after being found during a trip to a nursery in Southeast Louisiana. The champion survived.
“I know you think of a record tree (as elsewhere) and not one that I planted in the middle of the yard,” Sonie Milton said.
The champion yaupon is 34 feet tall, with a circumference of 5-foot, 8-inches and an average limb spread of 44 feet, 4 inches. It was good enough to score 108 points.
That yaupon is not the only champion tree on the Miltons’ property. A silverbell that was planted about 1980 was big enough to garner the co-champion spot for that species. The silverbell also measures 34 feet tall with a circumference of 5 feet, 5 inches and a spread of 37 feet, 6 inches for a score of 109 points.
Other new champions added to the list are a black locust, a co-champion in Caddo Parish; American beech, Mexican plum and pignut hickory champions in Evangeline Parish; and a black walnut, co-champion in West Feliciana Parish. The complete listing is included in the next few pages.