Eight new species of trees joined the Louisiana Champion Tree list in 2021, five of which are in the Northwest corner of the state.
Breaking down the list of newcomers, four of them are located in Bossier Parish and two of the trees unseated previous champions — a Nutmeg Hickory in Bossier Parish and a Green Ash in St. Landry Parish.
After marveling at the size of the Sweetgum at the home of his wife’s aunt and uncle, James Hartsell of Shreveport finally contacted the Louisiana Forestry Association about whether the towering tree was big enough to make the list.
“Years ago when I married my wife, Stephanie, I noted how big the Sweetgum tree was,” Hartsell said. “Then (recently) I started wondering just how big is the state’s biggest Sweetgum.”
Although it took 20 years (the Hartsells have been married for 21 years), now he knows it’s large enough to make the Louisiana Champion Tree list as a co-champion in 2021.
“We’re in the process now of buying the land and home,” he said.
Stephanie’s relative, Gale and Doris Robinson had purchased the home in the early 1970s and according to James, family members said the tree was large back then.
“So, we really don’t know how old the tree is,” James Hartsell said.
The other four trees discovered in Northwest Louisiana are all in Bossier Parish and all of them were reported by amateur botanist John Michael Kelley (see feature on Kelley on page 4).
Kelley, whose efforts recorded a few new Champion Trees last year, found three new co-champs — American Holly, Black Hickory and Eastern Hophornbeam — and the Nutmeg Hickory that sits alone on the list for that species.
The other new Champion Tree that holds the top spot for its species is the Green Ash tree that stands among the 10 acres of land just off U.S. Highway 71 in St. Landry Parish. This tree was reported by Douglas Walsh, founder of sanctuaryearth.org and son of Jennie Walsh.
“We had originally thought it was a black walnut,” Jennie Walsh said.
After LFA Champion Tree Chairman Rick Williams, a forester for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, inspected and measured the tree, he told Walsh she didn’t have a Black Walnut, but she did have a Champion Green Ash.
Walsh said before she acquired the land, it was used as pasture. Their goal is to restore the property to the mix of forest and prairie, but it also will be part of Douglas’ project.
“My son has a nonprofit that raises mangrove and wax myrtles,” Jennie Walsh said.
Douglas has formed a nonprofit organization, Sanctuary Earth (sanctuaryearth.org) that has a goal of staving off coastal erosion on Louisiana’s barrier islands and has a unique way of planting the seedlings on the islands and even in water near their shores: By using his bow and arrow.
Jennie Walsh said some areas that are difficult to access can be reached by shooting arrows with seedings affixed to them. When the arrow penetrates the ground, the seeding is planted.
“With his trusty bow and arrow, he can help save the coast,” she said.
The nonprofit was formed about five years ago and Douglas is working diligently to build it into something that will make a bigger impact, but for now he will build a greenhouse facility not far from the Champion Green Ash for trees to help keep the islands along Louisiana’s coast from disappearing.
“We’re city folks, but this has been my son’s dream since he was young,” she said.
Eventually, Jennie Walsh said they will build a house on the St. Landry Parish property and live near their champion tree.