Historic Old Tree Searcy, AR

Cedrus Deodara

Courthouse conifer crowned champion

The Daily Citizen

Standing at the southwest corner of the courthouse lawn, the lone conifer tree has seen better days. Its badly twisted trunk supports gangly, sweeping branches that still hold strands of decades-old Christmas lights too high to reach.

But this tree should not be overlooked.

It is a champion.

The Deodar Cedar, scientifically known as Cedrus Deodara, is the largest of its species in the state according to the Arkansas Forestry Commission. In a letter to White County Judge Bob Parish, the commission determined that the courthouse tree “is currently the largest Deodar Cedar we have on record and is therefore the State Champion Deodar Cedar.”

“I've seen a lot of squirrels go up and down this tree over the years,” Parish said. “I never stopped to think that it might be the biggest.”

The tree's potential to be a champion was first noticed by Reggie Talley of Hazen, Ark. Talley, a retired Monroe County agriculture extension agent and self-described "tree nut," was driving past the courthouse one day last month and noticed the tree.

"I found what was then the largest Cedrus Deodara in England, Ark., years ago," Talley said. "This one looked much bigger, so I had the Forestry Commission come measure it."

Towering 67 feet over the courthouse lawn, the county's Deodar Cedar boasts a 127-inch circumference and a 68-foot crown spread. Using these measurements, the Forestry Commission uses a unique formula to tabulate what it calls a tree's bigness index. The champion cedar has a bigness index of 211.

That Talley would notice a champion tree is no surprise. He has found more than 40 of the state's largest trees since he discovered his first, an olive tree near Clarendon, in 1998.

"This is just a hobby," Talley said. "I guess I just have a passion for trees, and appreciate the Lord's work."

Planted in 1939 by White County Judge Herbert Moody, the tree has seen its share of storms from its spot on the courthouse lawn.

"We've done some work on it here and there," Parish said. "We had to trim a lot off after the ice storm in 2000, some of it fell off into the street. The maintenance workers take care of it along with the rest of the lawn."

With proper care, the tree should continue to grace the corner of Spruce Street and Arch Street, Talley said.

"Imagine how old they get in their habitat," Talley said. "There's no telling how long it can live."

According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, the Deodar Conifer originates in eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Left to grow in the high altitudes of its native Himalayas, it can reach over 250 feet in height. It was introduced to Europe in 1822 and the United States nine years later. The name is derived from the ancient Sanskrit name "devadara," meaning "timber of the gods."