Bonaire tree largest of its kind in Georgia

awoolen@macon.comMay 22, 2013 

BONAIRE -- In 1964, Grady Rufus Trussell planted three sawtooth oak trees on his property.

This year, one of them became a Georgia Champion Tree for being the largest in the state. A champion tree is the largest known tree of a particular species, according to the Georgia Champion Tree Program’s website.

The sawtooth oak tree, measuring 95 feet high with a 126-inch circumference, was nominated by Trussell’s son John.

John Trussell, who founded the Save Oaky Woods group in 2007, was researching tree certifications while at Oaky Woods and realized he might have a champion tree.

The former champion “didn’t appear to be as large as the one we had in our yard,” he said.

It took about six months for the paperwork and measuring of the tree to prove that the Trussells had a winning tree.

The champion tree in Bonaire -- near the corner of Cartwright Road and Feagin Mill Road -- has been cared for by the family for nearly 50 years. Peggy Lobertini, John Trussell’s sister, lives in the house the family built in 1966. Their father died in 1999.

Sawtooth oaks are not native to the U.S. but are fast-growing trees that produce nuts in about seven to eight years, Trussell said. This makes them ideal for wildlife enthusiasts and hunters who plant the trees to attract deer, wild hogs and squirrel.

The oaks were distributed by the Georgia Forestry Commission in the 1960s as year-old seedlings.

Because the tree sits near an electric line as well as close to Feagin Mill Road where road-widening construction is happening, the three brothers and a sister have talked with Flint Energies to preserve the tree by not cutting back the branches.

“Flint has been working with me,” Lobertini said.

Trussell attributes the success of the champion tree to having enough nutrients its entire life, due to the septic system near its roots.

The family plans to erect a plaque near the base once construction is done on Feagin Mill Road. There will be a sidewalk that will help draw attention to the Champion Tree.

Because the species is not native, it is not on the national championship registry, but Trussell is working on submitting a recommendation for the sawtooth oak to be added.

“There is a good chance that our tree might become the new national champion, if the species is added to the national list,” he said.

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