If trees could talk, what a story they would tell. They live for hundreds of years. The Arkansas Famous and Historic Tree Program (AFHTP) started a public awareness campaign recently highlighting some of the more famous trees in the Natural State.
“People love the stories about the trees because it connects them to history, culture, life and nature,” says Lynn Warren, AFHTP Program Coordinator. “All of us have childhood memories with trees and love to hear the stories about those silent witnesses to history. It is fascinating to think about what an old tree has seen in its lifetime, which in some cases spans generations.”
Many of the 44 trees and tree communities represented within the program are also cited in the AFHTP, which is an Arkansas Forestry Commission project designed to maintain a list of the state’s largest and most famous trees. “On the list of registered trees, it will mention if it is a state champion,” says Warren. “You’d be surprised at the stories.”
One of the more famous trees in Arkansas is located in North Little Rock, according to Warren.
The Laman Live Oak in North Little Rock is at this time the only official city tree in the state and even owns its own land.
“Former North Little Rock Mayor William “Casey” Laman was instrumental in saving the oak from two different developments over the years,” she said. “The oak was the site of a first kiss with his girlfriend, who later became his wife of 63 years.”
Warren said when the historic tree program was created in April 1997,the first two trees inducted were two state champion trees that were also national champions. This included the National Champion Loblolly Pine. A forester preserved this large pine on Potlatch property, outside of Warren from being harvested since it was so large. Unfortunately, it was struck by lightning in 2003 and it went down. The other was a National Champion Persimmon, which dwarfs the house next to it, located in Dardanelle, just down the street from the Council Oak.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of the program is assuming that if a person registers a historic tree that they lose their rights to the tree and can’t develop their land in the future — or that the owner will not provide permission to do so.
Warren said a registered tree will gain popularity in some cases and like with the state champion magnolia may affect future development so that the tree is preserved.
“But the owner is still allowed to cut down their tree if they so wish,” Warren said. “Anyone can nominate a tree but must provide the owner’s information and consent.”
For trees on private property, the tree’s address is withheld to protect the owner’s privacy.
“We have tried to make the form as simple and short as possible,” said Warren. “The Nomination Review Committee is made up of people with professional backgrounds in history, horticulture, arboriculture and landscape architecture and are more than willing to help assist with a nomination.”
The Arkansas Famous and Historic Tree Program was developed in 1996 through a cooperative effort between Arkansas State Parks, Arkansas Forestry Commission, Department of Arkansas Heritage (represented by both the Natural Heritage Commission and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program) and the Arkansas Federation of Garden Clubs.