Saturday, August 06, 2005

champion Rio Grande cottonwood

Just north of the little town of Fort Davis, Texas, lives one of the nation's Big Trees. It is the champion Rio Grande cottonwood, Populus deltoides var. wislizeni, listed on the National Register.

Last weekend I was in Fort Davis for a McDonald Observatory shindig for its large group of supporters, known as the BoV, or Board of Visitors. I was there as the guest of some friends who serve on the board. When I was invited to drive to Fort Davis with my friends, I knew this would be my opportunity to see the country's biggest Rio Grande cottonwood. I had been wanting to do it for several years, being a tree hugger of the first degree and one who has gone to a good deal of trouble at times to seek out the company of a Big Tree.

I had a photograph of the champ from American Forests magazine (the photo above, taken by Whit Bronaugh and published in the spring 2002 issue) and a general idea of where it was located from information provided to me by the Texas Forest Service. But once I arrived in Fort Davis, I needed some local help. A real estate office in the hotel where I was staying turned out serendipitously to be the source of exact directions--omigosh, they had the Big Tree up for sale! For only $8000 an acre, I could buy it and its surroundings. I didn't have the money right at the moment to buy it, but the real estate agent was able to tell me how to see it. I couldn't get close enough to the tree for a hug, but I would be able to spot it from the highway, once I knew where to look.

And sure enough, there it was. I pulled off the road just to take a long, admiring look. I could see that it was in excellent company, though it stands off to itself, as a champ might do. Lining Limpia Creek are many Rio Grande cottonwoods, tall and remarkably fine, twinkling, lit up as if from within like green beacons. Fort Davis must have some special environmental quality that contributes to growing exceptional cottonwoods.