This autumn, the Alliance’s Forests Program is holding a competition in anticipation of our Halloween Forests for the Bats special: who can find the biggest, baddest wolf tree in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?! In addition to bragging rights, the champions will receive free Forests for the Bay gear!

To enter the competition, send your photo and the following information to by Monday, November 8, 2021: your name, tree species (if you can identify it), photo location (county and state is enough), and photo date.

Note: We will share submissions, so make sure everyone in the picture has given permission for their photo to potentially be shared on the web.

There will be three winners: largest wolf tree found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed between 9/15/21 and 11/8/21, largest wolf tree found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed at any time, and largest wolf tree found any time, anywhere in the eastern US!

What is a “wolf tree”? It’s a tree that is dramatically older than the rest of the forest that surrounds it. Wolf trees grew in the open, when the surrounding habitat was not forest, and thus developed large, spreading crowns characteristic of trees growing in full sun. As the surrounding area (usually a pasture or other agricultural field) reverted to forest, the wolf tree remained, and its large crown inhibited seedlings from establishing beneath it, leaving an opening in midstory vegetation beneath the crown. It is important to note that not every big tree is a wolf tree; they very specifically have the structure of a tree grown in the open but are surrounded by a younger forest.

Ryan Davis, PA Forests Projects Manager, with a white oak (Quercus alba) wolf tree found in Lancaster County, PA. Note the mature yet clearly younger trees that surround it, and the broad canopy which is typical of trees that grow in the open.

They are called “wolf trees” because they were reviled by early foresters at the beginning of the 20th century, who considered them to be bad for the growth of other trees, just like wolves were bad for the growth of populations of game species like deer and elk. We now know that wolves exert invaluable pressure on their prey populations, and function as keystone species in their communities. Wolves mean less deer herbivory, which means more oak seedlings, which means a higher abundance and diversity of other wildlife species can be supported. Similarly, wolf trees mean fewer younger trees with straight trunks, but they are ecologically valuable as sources of seed and both food and cover resources for wildlife, in turn having cascading positive effects on the diversity and health of the forest.