LAFAYETTE TWP. — Sometimes the winner of the annual Medina County Big Tree Contest is right in your own backyard.
Or front yard. Or both.
Each year, the contest highlights a selected species of tree found in Medina County. The public is invited to nominate the biggest examples they can find. Staff from the Medina County Soil and Water Conservation District measure the trees to determine the winner.
The species selected for the 2011 competition is the northern catalpa — an easily identified tree due to its giant heart-shaped leaves, long seed pods that look like green beans, and fragrant bouquets of early summer flowers.
The SWCD received two dozen entries from all over the county. After measuring each for crown spread, height and circumference, this year’s champ is a grand northern catalpa is in the backyard of the Medina County Home. And the county home’s backyard is straight out the front door of the SWCD office.
That makes you, the Medina County taxpayer, the winner of this year’s big tree contest. Congratulations!
The purpose of the competition is to draw attention to the role trees play in our lives — providing everything from lumber for our houses to shade and wind protection, from animal habitat to the beauty they add to the landscape.
Catalpa trees are rare in forests, said Jim Dieter, SWCD technician.
Instead, they were often planted around old farmsteads — and the Medina County Home is a former farm. There are several catalpas on the property — from saplings to a stump sculpted into an eagle by a woodcarver.
The species is naturally rot-resistant, which is why farmers favored the lightweight lumber for fence posts and rails.
Another catalpa at the county home draws more attention than the champion tree, due to its dramatic V-shaped trunk. It leans toward the bigger tree like an old friend.
“It’s an easy climber,” said county home administrative assistant Christine Sullivan.
Recently retired county home superintendent Lynn Remington, who all but grew up there when her mother served as superintendent before her, used to play on the catalpas when she was little, Sullivan said.
County home resident Jeffry Eichelberger, who enjoys walking the grounds and doing yard work, helped Sullivan measure the tree when it was nominated.
At 59 feet, it was not the tallest tree in the competition, but it had the greatest circumference at 202 inches and the widest crown at 67 feet.
Each tree receives a score based on the three measurements. The winner came in at 278 points — 38 points higher than the runner-up.
“It looks pretty healthy, so it should stick around for a while yet,” Dieter said.
If you’d like to visit the 2011 champion northern catalpa tree and its neighbors, you can do so noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 8 and 9 when the Medina County Home will be a point of interest on this year’s Fall Foliage Tour, said SWCD education specialist Beth Schnabel. Details and a tourmap are available at www.medinaswcd.org.
At the SWCD annual meeting on Oct. 22, representatives of the Medina County Home will be presented with a plaque and a gift certificate for tree seedlings.
The Big Tree Contest, in its ninth year, is co-sponsored by the SWCD and The Gazette.
Contact John Gladden at email@example.com or on Twitter @thatjohngladden.