This past May, the Alliance hosted a free, guided tour alongside our partners at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The group visited the grounds of 4 congregations that are home to over 10 Champion Trees – the largest tree of a particular species in a county, state, or the nation. In case you were unable to make the tour, read on to learn more about the trees visited or download our guide at the end of the blog to check out the trees in-person.

Champion Trees

Champion trees are the largest known tree of a given species in a particular geographic area. The size is determined by measuring the height of the tree, the circumference of the trunk, and the crown spread of the branches. Depending on the species, some champions are very large trees, and some champions are rather small. Champions can be recognized on a county, state, or national level. Champion trees are measured and assigned points. The tree with the most points of each species is considered the largest or champion.

The formula for points is:

Trunk Circumference (inches) + Height (feet) + 1/4 Average Crown Spread (feet) = Total Points

The Maryland Big Tree Program (MBTP) manages the Champion trees across the state and is associated with the Department of Natural Resources Forest Service. The MBTP is sponsored by the Maryland Association of Forest Conservancy District Boards. The Harford County Forestry Board is the local sponsor.

The Tour

Our tour started at Bel Air United Methodist Church to marvel at a 114-ft tall black walnut and ended at St. George’s Episcopal Church and its champion northern white cedar. Feel free to explore each site in the order that makes sense for you.

  • Location 1: Bel Air United Methodist Church (221 Linwood Avenue, Bel Air, MD 21014)
  • Location 2: St. Ignatius Church Cemetery (533 E. Jarrettsville Road, Forest Hill, MD 21014)
  • Location 3: Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (2929 Level Road, Churchville, MD 21028)
  • Location 4: St. George’s Episcopal Church (Spesutia Church) (1504 Perryman Road, Perryman, MD 21130)

The Trees

1. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Bel Air United Methodist Church | Harford County Champion – BT-3855

  • Year Nominated: 2021
  • Last Measured: 2021
  • Circumference (in inches): 158
  • Height (in feet): 114
  • Spread (in feet): 89

Black walnut has long been prized by furniture and cabinet makers for its attractive color and exceptional durability.

The Black walnut’s roots, which may extend 50 feet or more from the trunk, exude a natural herbicide known as juglone. It inhibits many plants’ growth under and around the tree, thereby limiting the tree’s competition, leaving more water and nutrients for itself.

The fruit is quite heavy, the size of a baseball and colored lime green. Black Walnuts are nutritious and can be used in a variety of foods, or eaten by themselves.

Directions: 85’ east of the tennis courts near the east edge of the property (GPS: N39.532004 W76.339711).

2. European Larch (Larix decidua)

Bel Air United Methodist Church | Harford County Champion, Maryland State Champion – BT-1202

  • Year Nominated: 1998
  • Last Measured: 2012
  • Circumference (in inches): 115
  • Height (in feet): 91
  • Spread (in feet): 45

This tree has not grown since its 1998 measurements.

This species is native to the mountains of central Europe and is extremely cold-tolerant.

Unlike other conifers (cone-bearing plants), European Larches drop their needles seasonally in autumn and winter. They are popular trees to plant in parks and residential settings.

European Larches are important in European folklore, being traditionally considered to prevent enchantment and ward off evil spirits – infant children sometimes wore collars of larch bark as protection against the evil eye.

Directions: Tree is located at the edge of the parking lot in the SW corner between the mansion house and the church (GPS: N39.53106 W76.34106)

3. Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Bel Air United Methodist Church | Harford County Champion – BT-3856

  • Year Nominated: 2021
  • Last Measured: 2021
  • Circumference (in inches): 136
  • Height (in feet): 88
  • Spread (in feet): 42.5

The Sassafras distinct leaves come in three different shapes – entire, mitten-shaped, and three-lobed leaf. In fall, the leaves turn into beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red.

Sassafras comes from the Lauraceae family, which also includes some popular spices like cinnamon.

It became the second-largest export from America to Europe after tobacco in the early 17th century.

Sassafras leaves have a fragrant citrus-like scent when smashed. All parts of the plant, including the bark and twigs, are very fragrant as well.

Directions: 15’ from Linwood Avenue north of the Mansion House. It is downslope in the midst of several larger trees (GPS: N39.531562 W76.340812)

4. Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra)

St. Ignatius Church Cemetery | Bicentennial Tree, Harford County Champion – BT-2032

  • Year Nominated: 2009
  • Year Last Measured: 2019
  • Circumference (in inches): 79
  • Height (in feet): 55
  • Spread (in feet): 37

This tree is a Maryland Bicentennial Tree, which means it is thought to have been alive since the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776!

This tree is one of six Maryland Bicentennial Trees in Harford County.

There is evidence of bark beetle damage on this tree. Sap is one of the first lines of defense of pines against bark beetles. Released sap or resins can plug bored holes of bark beetles and seal wounds. Resins also trap insect pests making some initial entry by bark beetles unsuccessful.

Directions: Publicly accessible and handicapped viewable. Tree located in the cemetery at the NE corner of the old church 7 feet from the edge of the church with the cornerstone (GPS: N39.573834 W76.354536).

5. Littleleaf Linden (Tilia cordata)

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church | Harford County Champion, Maryland State Champion, National Champion – BT-2634

  • Year Nominated: 2014
  • Last Measured: 2014
  • Circumference (in inches): 223
  • Height (in feet):83
  • Spread (in feet): 74

This tree has been the National Champion(the highest scoring Littleleaf Linden in theUnited States) since 2018.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church was founded in 1867 and the gothic stone building was built in 1877. It is likely this tree began its life around this time.

The leaves are edible and can be brewed as tea or used in salads. Honey from bees who frequent these trees is widely consumed across Europe.

Tilia cordata is the national tree of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Directions: Publicly and handicapped accessible. Tree located in a grassy area 100′ SE of the church parking lot, 120′ from school and 100′ from the road (GPS: N39.561169 W76.246045).

6. American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

St. George’s Episcopal Church | Harford County Champion – BT-2283

  • Year Nominated: 2011
  • Last Measured: 2021
  • Circumference (in inches): 210
  • Height (in feet): 96
  • Spread (in feet): 87.5

This tree is a co-champion, both AmericanBeech trees have 330 points.

Although Beech is now confined to the eastern United States (except for the Mexican population) it once extended as far west as California and probably flourished over most of North America before the glacial period.

Beech seeds are distinctive and are commonly known as beech nuts. This tree is one of the few nut-producing species in the northern hardwood varieties. Birds and other mammals such as squirrels, foxes, porcupines, raccoons, pheasants, black bears and wild turkeys often eat the seeds of the beech tree, as do people.

Directions: The tree is located in the graveyard of St. George’s Parish 140 feet south of the church (GPS: N39.474382 W76.204034).

7. Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

St. George’s Episcopal Church | Harford County Champion – BT-2370

  • Year Nominated: 2012
  • Last Measured: 2012
  • Circumference (in inches): 185
  • Height (in feet): 69
  • Spread (in feet): 83

Sugar Maple is the primary source for maple sugar and syrup.

The fruits of maple trees are double samaras(winged seeds), but you may know them as“spinners” or “helicopters,” due to their characteristic descent to the ground.

The growth capacity and range of sugar maples is being impacted by climate change. The lessening frequency of deep snow in NewEngland is slowing the growth of sugar maple trees, which decreases the sap production needed to make maple syrup.

Directions: Tree located at south entrance to the cemetery off Perryman Road (GPS: N39.47317 W76.20440).

8. Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)

St. George’s Episcopal Church | Harford County Champion – BT-2287

  • Year Nominated: 2011
  • Last Measured: 2021
  • Circumference (in inches): 74
  • Height (in feet): 85
  • Spread (in feet): 27.5

The wood resists decay, which makes it useful for shipbuilding and rough construction, mine props, fencing, and railroad ties.

Pitch Pine cones often remain on the trees unopened for several years or until the heat from a forest fire opens them. Seeds shed in mid-winter are an important source of food for squirrels, quail, and small birds such as the pine warbler, pine grosbeak, and black-capped chickadee. White-tailed deer and rabbits also browse young sprouts and seedlings.

The Iroquois tribes used it for its various healing purposes, including making poultices for wounds, burns, and joint pain.

It was also used for carvings and canoe-making by various indigenous tribes.

Directions: Tree located in NE corner of cemetery 100 feet due west from Spesutia Road and 50 feet due south of the gravel driveway on the property border (GPS: N39.475272 W76.203669).

9. Southern Crabapple (Malus augustifolia)

St. George’s Episcopal Church | Harford County Champion – BT-3836

  • Year Nominated: 2021
  • Last Measured: 2021
  • Circumference (in inches): 56
  • Height (in feet): 34
  • Spread (in feet): 31

Southern crabapple is a deciduous flowering shrub to small tree with showy pink blossoms.

Fruits are yellow-green, apple- to pear-shaped, and grow to about an inch in diameter. They are edible but are astringent and sour when raw due to the presence of malic acid. They are best when made into jelly or jam and are an excellent source of pectin (so no extra pectin is needed when making jelly or jam).

The fruits are a main source of food for whitetail deer, bobwhites, grouse, pheasants, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, skunks, foxes and plenty of small birds.

Directions: Tree is located 80’ northwest of the church on the west line of the cemetery (GPS: N39.475168 W76.204705).

10. Northern White Cedar, Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

St. George’s Episcopal Church | Harford County Champion – BT-3838

  • Year Nominated: 2021
  • Last Measured: 2021
  • Circumference (in inches): 101
  • Height (in feet): 94
  • Spread (in feet): 30

The name Arborvitae or “tree of life” dates from the 16th century when the French explorer Jacques Cartier learned from the indigenous peoples how to use the tree’s foliage to treat scurvy.

Northern white-cedar is usually dominant in rich swamps that have a strong flow of moderately mineral-rich soil water.

It has been traditionally used for construction, crafts, as well as medicine by the Ojibwa people. The twigs were also used for preparing teas to reduce headache and constipation.

In the 1800s, the extracts were topically applied for the removal of thrush, warts, and other skin infections.

Directions: Tree is located 200’ south of the church growing inside a square brick-faced small cemetery area (GPS: N39.474128 W76.204082).

Download the Champion Trees Guide


Want to Learn More or Nominate a Tree?

Visit for listings of Champion trees across Maryland.

Explore more of the Alliance’s website to learn more about the Alliance’s reforestation efforts across Harford County, Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay region.

Are you a part of a faith community and want to be an advocate for clean water? Contact Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake to learn more about how you can make a difference in your community.