Any list of the largest oak trees in the world will be open to debate as there is no universal system of measurement. Circumference of the trunk (known as ‘girth’) is usually taken as an indicator of size and age, but other factors are also cited. Some of the oak trees with significant girth do not reach particularly impressive heights.
Similarly, a relatively short oak with a huge canopy could also lay claim to being the largest oak, with some qualification. Here we present a sample of significant oak trees from America and the UK that each feature a combination of these factors. While no one of them could lay claim to the title of largest on all points, each has a fascinating backstory. Often it is the social and cultural impact on the people around them that truly makes them stand out, not just their impressive dimensions.
To measure the girth of an oak tree, its circumference is measured at a point 1.3 metres up the trunk known as ‘breast height’. This is still done with a tape measure, although obviously for larger trees this will require one of significant length. Special tape measures used by foresters and other professionals are marked to read diameter as well as circumference when wrapped around the trunk.
In the absence of this equipment, dividing the circumference, or girth, by Pi (3.142) will give the trunk diameter. The diameter at this point is known as ‘diameter breast height’ or DBH. This can be used to roughly calculate the volume and weight of wood contained in the tree. An oak tree with a DBH of only 40cm will contain one cubic metre or one tonne of wet wood.
Five Of The Largest Oak Trees Alive
- The Angel Oak – Known by many of the local population simply as ‘The Tree’, the Angel Oak stands in Angel Oak Park on Johns Island, South Carolina. An impressive example of Southern live oak, the Angel Oak stands 65 feet tall with a circumference of 28 feet and is estimated to be 400 years old. Its name is supposedly derived from a slave owner named Julius Angel who previously owned the estate on which it stands. A more romantic local legend claims it is actually named after the ghosts of dead slaves who appeared as angels around the oak. The Angel Oak provides shelter for an area of over 17,200 square feet with branches that unusually penetrate the ground below then re-emerge. The longest of these branches measures 187 feet long. The Angel Oak even survived Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and is currently the site of numerous ‘An Evening Under The Angel Oak’ cultural events hosted by the city of Charleston. A prominent local landmark and source of pride to the city, it was named South Carolina Heritage Tree in 2004 and is registered with The Live Oak Society.
- Wi’aaSal – Sacred to the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, Wi’aaSal has stood on the land now occupied by their reservation for at least 1,000 years. Some estimates place its actual age at 2,000 years which, if true, would make it the oldest oak tree in America. Known as the Great Oak by many, it is deeply embedded in Pechanga culture, seen to embody the ‘strength, wisdom, longevity and determination’ of their people. The branches of Wi’aaSal reach down to the ground, supporting the weight of the tree and creating a natural canopy. This has provided safety and shelter to the indigenous people and their livestock for many generations. Acorns from Wi’aaSal have been an important food source for the Pechanga Band through history and continue to grow today. Saplings growing under this canopy are potted and cultivated until they are strong enough to survive on their own. At this stage they are replanted elsewhere on the reservation, creating a continuing legacy for generations to come. At a height of 100 feet and with a girth of over 20 feet, it is known as the largest naturally grown indigenous coast live oak in the West, if not the world.
- Seven Sisters Oak – Looking at the numerous trunks sprouting from one core, it would be easy to assume the name of this Southern live oak derives from its appearance. In fact, it comes from its first registration by the Live Oak Society as ‘Doby’s Seven Sisters’. The property it stands on was owned at the time by the Doby family and Mrs. Doby was herself one of seven sisters. Although it was speculated that the oak was actually several trees that had grown together, a 1976 inspection proved it was developed from a single root system. With a height of 57 feet, a girth of 39.6 feet and a canopy spreading 153 feet, the Seven Sisters Oak is the largest live oak registered by the Live Oak Society. It has the unique distinction of being the current president of the society itself in honour of this. Located in Mandeville, Louisiana, the Seven Sisters Oak is estimated to be 500 to 1,000 years old.
- The Major Oak – Firmly established as the biggest oak tree in the UK, The Major Oak occupies pride of place among many oak trees in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire. With a girth of 33 feet and a broad canopy reaching a height of 92 feet, it is estimated to weigh 23 tonnes. At 800 to 1,000 years of age, its branches are now supported by a system of scaffolding. Its unusual shape is theorised to be the result of several saplings fusing together to form one tree, but this is unconfirmed at present. Its impressive size is not The Major Oak’s claim to fame though. According to legend the famous Outlaw Robin Hood is said to sheltered under its canopy and even used it as a camp for his band of Merry Men. Whether this is true or not, its place in British culture and myth makes it a prominent tourist attraction year after year.
- The Spooner Tree – At 89 feet tall, The Spooner Tree falls just short of Wi’aaSal for the title of tallest oak tree in the world. However it is the largest live oak tree in Georgia, having been awarded Champion Tree status by The Georgia Forestry Commission. With a girth of 34 feet and a canopy covering over 140 feet, locals believe it to be the largest single trunk live oak tree in the world. A petition was started in 2018 to have this officially confirmed, but this has yet to be officially recognised. Located in Iron City, Georgia, the Spooner Oak has stood for 300 years, even surviving the 115+ mph winds of Hurricane Michael in 2018.
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