Special Trees

What’s a Special Tree?

All trees, except invasive species and weed trees, are special.  But some, because of size, age, or historical significance have received a special designation.   And as a result, in some cities and counties in Georgia, extra protection.  Here are a few of those designations.

  • Champion Tree
    Champion Tulip Poplar6

    Champion Tulip Poplar in Peachtree Park

    A champion tree is defined as the largest known tree of a particular species in a particular city, region, or country.  Trees are ranked by total points based on the following formula:

Points  =  Circumference (inches)  +  Height (feet)  +  ¼ Crown Spread (feet)     [12]

  • The tree with the most total points is crowned Champion for that region.
  • The Georgia Forestry Commission  (GFC) oversees the Champion Tree Program in Georgia and has good information with diagrams that illustrate how to measure a tree on their page how to score a Champion Tree.  A tree that scores within 5% of a champion will be recognized as a Georgia Co-Champion.
  • Atlanta has its own list of Champion trees.  Trees Atlanta has a page that points you to Atlanta’s Champion Trees, including one right here in Peachtree Park.
  • Champion - link boxWe put together an abbreviated champion tree list which is a mashup of information from the Atlanta champion tree list and the Georgia champion tree list.  It lists 48 species you are likely to see here in Peachtree Park.


The terms Specimen, Heritage, Historic, Landmark, Legacy and a few more are given to trees that are considered important community resources because of unique or noteworthy characteristics or values. [4]   Municipal tree ordinances typically use these terms to confer special protection.

For example, the Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance and Sandy Springs Tree Conservation Ordinance both define some of these terms, although their definitions differ.  Sadly, neither Atlanta nor Sandy Springs offers any special protection even after going to the trouble to define the terms.

Only the term ‘Specimen’ is clearly defined and based solely on the properties of the tree itself.  The rest of the terms are a bit vague or political and currently carry no weight when it comes to giving the tree any protection from removal.

The city of Atlanta lists only five Historic and Landmark Trees. [8]

Here’s generally what they mean:

  • Specimen Tree – Specimen trees are usually really big, really old, or both.  Atlanta’s ordinance defines them, but doesn’t protect them; Sandy Springs doesn’t even define them.  The City of Atlanta bases their definition primarily on size and reads as follows:
  • (1) Large hardwoods (eg. oaks, elms, poplars, etc.) and softwoods (eg. pine sp.) in fair or better condition with a DBH equal to or greater than 30 inches;
  • (2) Smaller understory trees (dogwoods, redbuds, sourwoods, persimmons, etc.) in fair or better condition with a DBH equal to or greater than ten inches; and
  • (3) Lesser-sized trees of rare species, exceptional aesthetic quality, or historical significance as designated by the tree conservation commission.
  • Historic Tree
    68-Inch-lg plaque

    Atlanta Tree Commission: Historic and Landmark Trees

    Almost every tree that has been around for a while has some historical significance, whether it is recognized or not. Determining whether the historical significance of a given tree is sufficiently notable is therefore a subjective matter. Historic tree status is typically granted by a governing body. [4]

  • According to the current City of Atlanta’s Tree Protection Ordinance, Historic Tree is defined as follows:
  • A tree that has been designated by the tree conservation commission, upon application by the city arborist or any other interested person, to be of notable historic value and interest because of its age, size or historic association, in accordance with the city arboricultural specifications and standards of practice.  Such designation may occur only by resolution of the commission, and the city arborist shall maintain and file with the municipal clerk a complete listing of the location of each historic tree.
  • Landmark Tree
    Historic 51-ash

    Atlanta Tree Commission: Historic and Landmark Trees

    The term Landmark Tree does not occur in the current Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance – only in the proposed ordinance that is under review.

  • According to the proposed ordinance a Landmark Tree is:
  • A tree that has been designated by resolution of the Tree Conservation Commission, upon application by a City Arborist or any other interested person, to be of notable value because the tree contributes to a significant view or spatial structure of a setting, the tree is an exemplary representative of a particular genus or species, or the tree possesses exceptional aesthetic quality in accordance with the City’s arboricultural specifications and standards of practice. A complete listing of the location of all landmark trees within the City of Atlanta is maintained by the Tree Conservation Commission and registered with the Municipal Clerk.
  • Hiking Atlanta's Hidden ForestsSentinel TreeJohna McDonald (storyteller, author & adventure guide) coined the term ‘Sentinel Tree’ to refer to a tree that is not necessarily a Champion Tree, but is worth noting because of its size, age, unusual features, or rarity. [2]   Johna’s written an excellent book titled Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests and every hike in his book has at least one Sentinel Tree.

Special Trees in Peachtree Park

Tulip Poplar on Greenview Ave

Tulip Poplar on Greenview Ave

The Peachtree Park neighborhood has been here since a little before 1910.   There is an early plat of Peachtree Highlands (the original name for the north end of Peachtree Park) which includes Highland Drive, Martina Drive, Park Circle and Arc Way that is dated 1913.  [13]    So many of our trees are very old, very large and have many stories to tell.

One of Georgia’s Champion Trees is in a yard on Peachtree Drive (see our blog A True Champion).  It’s a Tulip Poplar with a circumference of over 19 feet (!) which means it has a diameter of 73 inches – that’s more than 6 feet!   The estimated age of this tree according to our charts is between 150 and 220 years old.  This tree scores 388.8 using the formula above for calculating Champion Tree points.

There’s another Tulip Poplar on Greenview Avenue that is over 12 feet in circumference, which makes it between 90 and 140 years old.

We’re compiling a list of special Peachtree Park trees, so if you have one in your yard, let us know.  Remember that size and age are relative to the species;  e.g, a very old Dogwood will be much smaller than a very old Tulip Poplar.

Some Special Trees in Atlanta and Georgia


Again we refer you to Jonah MacDonald’s book Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests [2] which lists many special trees.  Here are just 3 examples from his introduction:

  • The state champion pin oak in Piedmont Park
  • A champion Winged Elm at the Outdoor Activity Center
  • The oldest dated tree in Atlanta, A white Oak in Deep Dene Park

Athens – The Tree that Owns Itself

Tree that Owns Itself

Son of the Tree that Owns Itself – Athens, GA

The Tree That Owns Itself is a White Oak tree that has legal ownership of itself and of all land within eight feet (2.4 m) of its base. The tree, also called the Jackson Oak, is located at the corner of South Finley and Dearing Streets in Athens, Georgia, United States.

The original tree fell in 1942, but a new tree was grown from one of its acorns, and planted in the same location. The current tree is sometimes referred to as the Son of The Tree That Owns Itself.

It is unclear whether the story of the Tree That Owns Itself began with the [Athens] Weekly Banner article, or if it had been an element of local folklore prior to that time. The article’s author writes that, in 1890, there were few people still living who knew the story. [1]

Brunswick – Lover’s Oak

Lover's Oak

Lover’s Oak in Brunswick GA

According to local legend, Native American braves and their maidens met under the majestic spreading limbs of this enormous oak.  This tree is said to be over 900 years old.

900 years!  That means this tree was growing in the year 1200. Wow.  We wonder how the age was calculated and if we find out will update this page.

The trunk of the tree is 13 feet in diameter with limbs over 30 inches in diameter. [11]

References and Additional Information

[1]  Georgia Forestry Commission: Georgia’s Champion Tree Program
[2]  Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden ForestsJonah McDonald
[3]  Trees Atlanta: Atlanta’s Champion Trees
[4]  International Society of Arboriculture: Defining special trees: heritage, historic, and landmark trees
[5]  Atlanta Tree Protection Ordinance
[6]  Sandy Springs Tree Conservation Ordinance
[7]  Georgia Urban Forest Council
[8]  Atlanta Tree Commission: Historic and Landmark Trees
[9]  Trees Atlanta: 50 Atlanta Trees
[10] Wikipedia: The Tree that Owns Itself
[11]  GoldenIsles.com: Lover’s Oak
[12]  American Forests: Nominate a Tree
[13]  Buckhead.net:  Indian territory to early suburbia