Connie and Richard Shiple, of Fleitz Street in Oregon, often thought about cutting down a large, ornamental tree in their yard because pods that fell from its branches littered the lawn.
“Every time the wind blows, the pods fall, and it’s a nuisance when I mow the lawn,” said Richard. “We had already made plans a couple years ago to have the tree trimmed or cut down, and we didn’t do it.”
Connie said one of the reasons they never got around to it is because the tree, over 85 feet tall, provided considerable shade for their house, which they bought in 2000.
“It produces so much shade for us, and the house stays cooler. If you were a kid, you’d love it because you could climb it at the base. It’s a tempting tree to climb,” said Connie.
Recently, Don Charlton, of the Oregon Tree Commission, informed the Shiples that the tree they once thought about tearing down could be a state champion big tree.
“We just figured we had an ordinary tree,” said Richard. “We didn’t even know what type it was. “
Charlton, who doesn’t live far from the Shiples, told The Press that the tree is a Golden Raintree, a non-native species that is approximately 50-years-old, about the age of the Shiple’s house.
Charlton did a little research and found an aerial photo of the property from the 1960s, which showed the tree, about a quarter of its current size, as one of a pair of Golden Raintrees. The other tree later perished after getting struck by lightning, he said.
The Golden Raintree is considered a high quality ornamental tree, said Charlton. “While not rare, it is not a common tree,” said Charlton.
Connie said she had tried to identify the type of tree for years. “People would tell me it’s a locust tree, or something else. I had gone to Kingwood Center Gardens in Mansfield, Ohio, and they have a library. I looked in every tree book there and could not find this tree. Then someone knocks on our door and gives us this information,” she laughed.
“Few persons have even heard of this species, let alone knowing they have seen one,” said Charlton. Two smaller Golden Raintrees are in Willow Cemetery, the only other location that the species has been found in Oregon.
The tree usually grows to an average size, approximately 25-30 feet high, but can become exceptionally large for an ornamental tree, said Charlton.
The tree has many transformations throughout the year, with golden cascades of flowers in the summer then green seed pods that turn to beige that last throughout the winter.
“It has golden color blooms in June, which likely give the tree part of its name,” said Charlton. In late summer and early fall, the tree develops a distinctive rusty color and unusual shaped pods, which resemble oriental lanterns. Each pod contains three seeds.
“This year, like most blooming trees, the Golden Raintrees have produced a phenomenal amount of blooms and seed pods making them easy to identify,” said Charlton.
The tree is considered drought tolerant, resistant to pests and air pollution.
The Ohio Department of Forestry, which runs the Ohio Big Tree Program, will send a representative to the Shiple’s home, at Fleitz and Flo streets, to measure the tree to determine if it is a state champion, according to Charlton.
A total point score is determined based on the trunk’s circumference, height and average distance across the crown of the tree, according to Charlton. The current state champion Golden Raintree is in Cincinnati, and has a score of 167. The runner-up is in Dayton, which has a score of 164. Charlton said he measured the Shiple’s tree and came up with a total point score of 163, which he considers a rough estimate.
“I’m sure my score will differ to some degree when it is measured by the forestry department representative,” said Charlton.
If it falls short of being named a state champion, Charlton said the Shiple’s tree, nonetheless, is a “true giant” among Golden Raintrees.
Charlton has invited the fifth grade class from nearby Coy Elementary School to participate in the biology and official measurements of the tree.
There is also a National Big Tree Program. Details of the program, along with a listing of Ohio’s champion trees, are detailed on its Web site.