Chilton’s champion tree

Published 10:52 pm Saturday, October 4, 2008

Don’t even try to put your arms around it. The Bitternut Hickory tree in Ovid Merchant’s backyard in Maplesville was named the Alabama Champion Tree of its species by the Alabama Forestry Commission.

A Champion Tree is recognized as the largest tree of its species and is given a permanent marker at its base. The owner and nominator of each tree receive certificates from the state.

This particular tree is 100 feet tall and has a circumference (distance around the trunk) of 42 inches. The tree’s canopy measures 66 feet from end to end. Needless to say, that’s plenty of shade.

Merchant, a native of Randolph, has owned the property for about five years but estimates that the hickory is well over 100 years old.

“I think the tree was here whenever the house was built because the house was [apparently] built around the tree,” he said.

The historic home was reportedly built by Noah Foshee in either the late 1800s or early 1900s. The earliest known documented date in connection with the home is 1907, according to a historical book on the Town of Maplesville. Some, however, date the home’s construction as far back as 1873.

Two outside walls of the home surround the tree, leading Merchant to believe the tree is older than the structure.

Merchant’s sister, Doris Smitherman, contacted the Chilton County Office of the Alabama Forestry Commission about their find.

“It was just such a big tree. I thought it needed some attention,” Smitherman said.

Ranger Specialist Glenn Burnett and Chilton County Manager Brian Smith submitted the nomination and awarded the title in August. Friday was the first day they were able to meet with the family at their home.

Smith said the hickory’s location is what contributed to its size, because most such trees would be cut in a forest.

For more information on the Alabama Champion Tree Program, visit