Mount Auburn Celebrates the New Year with a New Major Tree

March 25, 2014

Kentucky Coffeetree-2

We have a new tallest tree in 2014!  That’s what the Plant Records staff, helped by volunteers, have just determined. This winter they measured the growth of the trees appearing on our brochure map entitled “Big Trees at Mount Auburn Cemetery.”  The height of the tree, the diameter of the trunk and the length of the canopy were all recorded.  These measurements help us both to understand the dynamic of the growth of the trees and to identify the potential declining trees.  They are also used in a formula for determining state champions trees for each species.Kentucky Coffeetree-1

The symbolic milestone of 100 feet high broken
The tallest “Big Tree” is now a Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocaldus dioicus) standing 104 feet (32 meters) high. You can see it North of Halcyon Lake, between Viburnum Avenue and Althaea Path. The tree is number 46 on the Unuusal Trees map, available at the Visitor Center. It passes the former tallest tree, a Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), which was measured at exactly 100 feet (30 meters).

Kentucky Coffeetree-3The Kentucky Coffeetree, from the legume family Fabaceae, was named for its seeds – found inside the large peapods – that where used as a substitute for coffee during the civil war. This use has later been revealed as dangerous, since unroasted seeds are toxic.

Other  big specimens
The tallest tree doesn’t always have the largest trunk.  That distinction goes to a Purple European Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’).  Its trunk diameter is 78 inches (6.5 feet), having gained 1 inch in the past seven years!   This tree is well ahead of any other in trunk size, and is number 25 in the Big Trees map.

The now-former tallest tree, a Sugar Maple located near Vesper Path, actually remains the “champion tree” of the cemetery by definition of the American Forests organization. It received the most points according to their formula : height (F) + diameter (I) + ¼ Canopy Spread (F). Its impressive size makes this tree worth a visit on the west side of the cemetery. It’s  number 11 on the Big Trees map.

Different growth dynamics        
Among the 48 trees from the last edition of the Big Trees map which are still alive  (3 where removed in the last 3 years), two thirds have grown in height.  Even if they have stopped growing in height, most of them have larger trunks, a sign of the healthy annual renewal of their vascular system.

The Unusual Trees map and the Big Trees map are currently in print production and will have the updated information on diameter, height as well as any additions and removals that occurred in 2013.

~ Thibaut Collin, Plant Records Volunteer


  1. Janet in Cambridge MA says:

    I love visiting the trees at MAC because I know they won’t be cut down simply to make way for something else. They are appreciated in their own right.

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