David Vance first noticed the massive sycamore tree in Hannibal this past summer.
“That sure is a big tree growing out in the middle of this field,” thought Vance, a forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
According to the MDC, the 108-foot American sycamore isn’t just a big tree: It’s a state champion. The tree, which is now one of the largest on record in Missouri, is thought to be more than 300 years old.
After first spotting the tree, Vance hurried back to his office and looked up the measurements of the current state champions.
Then he returned with his tape measure.
The official measurements — a 244-inch circumference, 108-foot height and 146-foot crown spread — confirmed Vance’s suspicions: It’s one of the largest trees in the state.
Besides bragging rights, property owner Linda Coleberd also received an honorary plaque from the MDC. Her family has owned the property where the tree grows for more than a century.
The tree shares the title of “Missouri Champion” with two other American sycamores: one in Perry County, and another in Pacific Palisades Conservation Area in St. Louis.
“Trees are slow-growing, so it’s pretty impressive to see one that massive,” Vance said. “Just think about the centuries of history it’s lived through.”
There’s no way to tell the exact age of the tree without cutting it down and counting the rings. But based on the tree’s diameter and a common forestry formula that accounts for how quickly an American sycamore grows, Vance estimates this particular tree could be more than 300 years old.
Mark Twain, who moved to Hannibal in 1839 at the age of 4, spent his boyhood years exploring the tiny Mississippi river town and surrounding forests.
Based on the age of the sycamore, Vance said it’s “very probable” the tree was standing when Mark Twain explored the area as a child.
“Storms, natural disasters, it’s survived all of those,” he said. “And it’s still standing.”
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