Name: Captain Tony
Species: bur oak
Height: 50 ft
Trunk Diameter: 3ft 2in
Spread of Branches (tip-to-tip): 55 ft
Approximate Age: 100-150 yrs
It seems every time I visit this tree I am treated to a wonderful encounter.
Approaching this tree in the morning provides the opportunity to watch the foggy mist rolling across the lake. The soft wisps have a calming effect on my mood. I often take pause during my morning climb preparation to appreciate the beauty and song of a pair of loons on the water.
As the sun begins to rise, I am energized by the rays of light shining through the mist and their wonderful reflections in the branches above.
One particular summer day, I climbed into this wonderful oak to take time for myself. I went up there to enjoy the view across the water and lay back on a branch shaded from the leaves above.
Being a rather warm and humid day, a song came into mind; “I went down to Captain Tony’s to get out of the heat.” You may recognize the lyric from a Jimmy Buffett song where he sings of the man and saloon in Key West. For a brief moment, I was back in the Keys heading in for a break from the sun and heat.
It was at that moment this tree became known to me as, Captain Tony. Trees are living beings and I am often moved to formally recognize certain individuals by name. The name is not so much a tribute to a person or place; but, to the emotion, feelings and reflections I experience when in the presence of this tree.
With over 50 species of oak in North America, bur oaks are known for their impressive branch spread and trunk diameter. Living in Wisconsin provides us the opportunity to appreciate large bur oaks on a regular basis.
The largest bur oaks have branches reaching 100 feet across and trunks close to 9 feet wide! Wisconsin’s largest known bur oak has a trunk over 7 feet in diameter and is located in Waukesha County.
Walking around Fox Brook Park you are able to appreciate a number of large and majestic bur oaks. Each has their own presence about them and worthy of taking time out of my day to stop and appreciate.
Captain Tony is a little more modest in size yet extra special as I have spent time in his branches. Those of you who have climbed Captain Tony may know what I am talking about as you have your own memories and connection to the tree.
This tree touches people in different ways, so I am excited to offer a variety of experiences this year. Should you like us to introduce you, we will visit the tree on numerous occasions in the year ahead: Adult Tree-Time, Rec Climbs, Open Climbs, Girl Scout Adventure Climbs.
Our climbing club will also have the opportunity to explore the canopy and enjoy hammocking!
Name: Georgia Oak-eeffe
Trunk Diameter: 34”
Spread of Branches: 65’
Approximate Age: 50-70 years
About the Tree
At one time, the world’s largest known pin oak was right here in Wisconsin.
It was growing on the campus of UW Stevens Point since 1894, but was removed in 2017 after being infected with the lethal oak wilt disease. During its 123 years of life, it had reached 92 feet in height with the trunk being over 4 feet wide.
Pin oak is somewhat unique in its tendency to exhibit a strong central trunk rather than the sprawling nature of other oaks. This form, paired with a relatively fast growth rate, leads them to attain impressive heights within their short lifespans compared to other oaks.
Our climbing tree in Sun Prairie is the only pin oak in our current line-up of climbing trees. This tree is surrounded by a handful of other impressive pin oaks and I encourage you to come out and meet them during one of our climbs.
The scientific name (Quercus palustris) comes from the Latin word for marsh, palus, indicative of the habitat where it is typically found in nature. The species tends to grow in lowland areas of the Midwest states, however, it can be grown across the continental U.S.
Having the ability to tolerate pollution and compacted soils, pin oak has been one of the most widely planted oaks in urban landscapes. Before you decide to plant this tree however, beware that the tree can face nutritional issues when growing in clay soils.
Starting my career in Missouri, I was fortunate to work with pin oaks that reached 100 feet in height. Since the species tends to hold on to its dead branches and twigs, I spent a lot of time in these magnificent trees.
Trunk Diameter: 34”
Spread of Branches: 55’
Approximate Age: 60-90 years old
About the Tree
You are likely familiar with black walnut on some level. It produces a high-quality wood with beautiful coloring and grain patterns.
You might not know that it has the ability to use chemical warfare to hinder nearby plants from competing for valuable soil resources. The husks can be used to make a brown dye for fabric.
The largest known walnut in Wisconsin is near Dousman. This tree has been crowned current champion, in part due to reaching 100 feet towards the sky and sporting a trunk of 34" in diameter.
My appreciation for eastern black walnut trees really took hold while living in Des Moines, Iowa. Walnut Woods State Park is home to one of the largest natural stands of black walnut. I spent time camping and hiking amongst these glorious trees. I would spend afternoons sitting on the bank of the river, watching the water flow by as I snacked on freshly fallen walnuts.
Walnut’s strong wood and branching structure make them a fun tree to climb. Our climbing tree in Cutler park in Waukesha has a tall trunk with the crown sitting high above the park. As you ascend alongside its trunk, you can enjoy an open view across the park and appreciate the changing perspective that comes with height.
This tree hosts one of the highest climbing routes of all of our climbing trees. While most trees enable climbers to reach 30-40’ regularly, climbing to the top of this tree’s high route will have you sitting 50 feet above the ground.
This tree stands tall and proud, observing silently from a distance, the many social gatherings taking place in this park at the heart of the downtown. Live music is enjoyed through the summer months, including one special weekend in June.
One Sunday in June, the Carl Zach Cycling Classic rolls into town. Waukesha is one of the 11 stops in 11 days of the Tour of America’s Dairyland, the largest competitive road cycling series in the U.S. With a day full of races and a climbing tree situated along the course, climbers have the best view of the bikers racing by!
With many reasons to appreciate this tree, it is a real pleasure to be able to greet it daily as it stands across the street from our new office location. This location provides the foundation for great things to come, including our tree health classroom and tree climbing gym/training center. Stay tuned for more announcements!
Height: 85’ - Trunk Diameter: 34” (just under 3’) - Spread of Branches: 75’
State Champion: The largest known silver maple in the state may only have height and crown spread dimensions slightly larger than this tree, but its trunk diameter measures over 5 feet!
About the Tree
In the center of Firemen’s Park in Germantown, this tall silver maple grows amongst an assortment of other maples. Like many silver maples, the tree has developed a vase-shape form with large limbs reaching towards the sky.
This form is what makes this a fun tree to climb. It has few leaves throughout the center of the crown, which means you have a wonderful view beyond the tree when sitting high in the branches. The open structure can make you more aware of the height above the ground as well.
For most people, looking down to the ground feels like you are sitting higher than when standing on the ground looking up. Because of this, the energizing sensations associated with heights is enhanced.
Once on rope, this tree entices most climbers to try swinging from branches and flipping upside down!
About the species
The common name refers to both the silver color on the underside of the leaves as well as the characteristic bark. Saccharinum, the scientific name of the species, is derived from the Latin word for sugar.
The sap can be used to make maple syrup. Before you try it however, know that its sugar content is about ½ that of the sugar maple. You will need far more sap to produce reasonable quantities of syrup for your pancake breakfast.
If you have experience with silver maples in your own landscape, you may not think very highly of the tree because of the numerous ‘helicopter’ seeds and twigs that fall throughout the year. Their growth rate allows them to provide shade in relatively short period of time, but can also lead to outgrowing their space in most landscape situations. Silver maples get large, some reaching over 100 feet tall and nearly 100 feet from tip to tip.
They grow impressively below ground as well, developing a root system that reaches 2-3 times the height of the tree! It can utilize distant water sources to sustain growth even when growing in drier soils away from their native habitats near rivers and streams.
When you consider the spatial needs of silver maple above and below ground, you quickly realize that many urban and suburban landscapes do not provide adequate space for the species.
Despite the negative stigmas associated with the species, I am not afraid to say that I like silver maples. Then again, there aren’t many tree species I will proclaim as to not like!
Our climbing tree in Germantown has taken advantage of the room it has been provided, and therefore is developing into a mature tree that can be appreciated and enjoyed for many years to come.
Height: 55 ft
Trunk Diameter: 46”
Spread of Branches: 85 ft
175-225 years old
About the Tree
This tree stands alone in a remote area of the park. With the spread of its branches a lot wider than the tree is tall, its long, swooping branches are like embracing arms. A few of these branches swoop to within feet of the ground, so it is easy to climb onto the lowest branches even without rope.
Climbing into the branches is how I really connect with a tree. It’s like the “heart center” of the tree. When I stand back and look towards the crown of a tall tree, I see a quiet retreat. Rope and saddle allow me to span the gap between the ground and the crown. It can feel like visiting another world -- one that very few people will ever visit.
In the case of this beautiful oak in Woodfield Park, the crown begins near the ground. Walking up to this tree and under its sheltering branches, you can feel its energy radiating. It is peaceful to simply lay beneath the tree and stare up through its branches. I can spend hours sitting at its base and reading a book.
We pass by numerous trees during our day. Most of them seldom receive a second glance from the people walking by. Other trees stand out and might even seem like a good acquaintance. This tree is one of those trees that has a character all its own. For me, this tree is a personal friend.
I use the tree often in my 2-day learn-to-climb classes. I enjoy aerial yoga in silks suspended from the branches. I offer a Rec Climb in this tree once per year. Basically, I love every opportunity to introduce others to the beauty of this tree.
We will climb this tree on Sunday, September 23rd. I hope you can join us. (Register through Waukesha Parks, Recreation & Forestry, or visit our website for the link).
Height: 50 feet
Trunk Diameter: 33 inches
Spread of Branches: 70 feet
Approximate Age: 100-150 years old
About the Tree
Pearl is a beautiful white oak standing in the transition area between the forest and prairie. With plenty of sunlight, it has formed a full canopy with numerous branches for us to play in!
Pearl is an enjoyable tree to climb for a few reasons. With the large number of branches, there are many places to sit, stand, lay back on, and one of my favorite places to enjoy the sunset.
Whenever you climb a tree on a slope, it enhances your height perspective. You feel even higher than you are as the landscape stretches off beneath you. With Pearl, the view southwest across the prairie is particularly enjoyable as the suns sets lower during our late afternoon climbs.
Located in Mukwonago Park, Pearl is a popular selection for our private climbs for scout groups and family adventure weekends. The park has a lot to offer… a lake for fishing, an archery range, a dog park, camping and hiking. As one of the Waukesha County Parks on the outskirts of Metro Milwaukee, It’s a great place get-away without having to drive too far.
State Champ for the species: The largest known white oak in Wisconsin at this time also grows in Waukesha County. This current champion stands 115’ tall, has a crown spread of 85’, and trunk about 66” (almost 5½ feet wide!).
The vigorous growth of the tree indicates it is still in its prime, especially when you consider bur oaks can reach 300-400 years of age.
The size of this tree makes it a stand out when looking at bur oaks. Having its upper branches reaching over 70 feet high and spreading over 90 feet across puts this tree in a unique class of the largest bur oaks in Wisconsin. However, with a trunk that measures about 4 feet wide, it is rather slender if you compare it to the champions that have trunks 6-7 feet wide!
This large tree and its smaller hickory companion, stand prominently in the City of Waukesha’s Fox River Parkway north park. It is a photogenic tree that dwarfs climbers amongst its branches. It is an incredible experience to spend time in its branches.
Once you climb over 20 feet, you are able to peer over the shrubs and small trees that border the park and obscure the distant views for people back on the ground.
The park is surrounded by the Fox River wetlands, with fields of reeds and grasses stretching to the south. While you enjoy a quiet and peaceful rest in the branches, you can watch the river flow gently by on its way to the Illinois River, 200 miles away.
Being able to climb over 60 feet is a neat experience for seasoned climbers. There are also plenty of large branches to lay your head on and stare skyward.
Often times when we climb trees, we look down to appreciate the height we are sitting at. But it’s also really cool to look UP, and really appreciate the scope of the tree. It’s structure and size. It’s sprawling branches forming somewhat randomly. Knowing that this large, living thing grew from just a tiny acorn.
This is one of the largest trees we climb in our Rec Climb programs. We’ll return to its branches on Friday, July 13th. You can join us by registering through the Waukesha Recreation Department.
State Bur Oak Champ:
The current known champion bur oak in Wisconsin grows outside of Dousman. Standing nearly 65 feet tall, it is just shy of the Fox River Parkway oak’s height. However, the tree’s double forked trunk measures an impressive 7 feet across!
Two of the most amazing trees you could ever hope to meet are General Sherman and Methuselah. In the same day, you can visit both the largest tree and the oldest tree on the planet.
The General Sherman tree stands prominently in the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park. Methuselah grows about 70 miles to the north, in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
General Sherman is a 2,000 year old sequoia that reaches 275’ towards the sky.. It is the largest known tree on the planet, measured by volume. You may find it difficult to reach the first branch, given it emerges at 130’ above the ground.
To put this in perspective, there are only a few trees in Wisconsin which surpass 150’ in height. It is very likely every tree you have come across in Wisconsin would not even reach the General Sherman tree’s lowest branch.
With a trunk diameter of 36' across, the footprint of its trunk covers almost 1,000 square feet. How does that compare to the size of your house?
Methuselah is about 4,850 years old, yet stands less than 50’ tall. The other measurements don’t mean much when you allow its age to sink in. The Pyramids of Giza were built around the time Methuselah was turning 500 years old.
What’s more, there is another bristlecone pine recently found to be about 5,060 years old.
I have spent most my life visiting and interacting with trees, but the time I spent in the midst of particular trees is an experience I will never forget. These trees are in a class all to themselves. It’s as if they come from a different world and another time.
There are other impressive trees to meet around the world, but we are fortunate to have incredible trees that are a little more accessible to us.
Trees of Wisconsin
The trees and forests of Wisconsin were cleared for agriculture or heavily logged in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Trees and forests are also removed for development and growing population. This means that the vast majority of the trees we come across today are less than 150 years old.
For that reason, it is a pleasure to enjoy trees which pre-date European settlement. Some of our more notable trees reach heights over 150’ and ages near 450 years.
Ancient and big trees tend to capture the imagination of many people. Because of this, the Department of Natural Resources keeps a list of Wisconsin Champion Trees, keeping track of the largest trees in our state. The list is searchable by species or County.
I enjoy searching out these large trees. Calling attention to large and notable trees is important and plays a role in helping raise awareness and appreciation for the value of trees. In the end however, a tree’s measurements are only one aspect of its overall personality.
What Makes a Tree Great?
What is your favorite tree? Is there a tree that holds significance to you? Picture this tree in your mind.
Is it a sugar maple your grandparents planted in their backyard? Do you pass this tree on your daily commute? Does it shade your house? Did you plant the tree in honor of a loved one?
When I travel around Wisconsin, I consider the changes a tree has witnessed over the years. Some of the oaks we climb have been growing for 250-300 years. These trees were friends of the Menominee, Sauk, Ojibwe and other Native American tribes. They witnessed population growth as European immigrants continued to move into the area, and saw the territory achieve statehood in 1848.
Do you enjoy any one of the numerous lone bur oaks across Wisconsin, with sprawling branches and rising from a field of corn? Have you looked up the trunk of an eastern cottonwood shooting towards the clouds like skyscraper?
There are many majestic trees in the forests, fields and cities throughout Wisconsin.
Connecting with trees gives me a feeling of place within history and time. With the future in mind, I plant trees to celebrate certain people and events in my life. They are a symbol of future growth and prosperity. They are a tribute to the legacy of my loved ones and connect me to future generations.
Most trees will keep their stories to themselves. Those who take time to listen and observe, can draw upon the wisdom a tree has gathered during its time rooted in soil.
We may not be able to run out to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest this weekend, nor stroll through the Giant Forest after lunch; but, we have plenty of amazing trees in our Wisconsin landscapes that are awaiting your visit.
I encourage you to spend time in a tree’s shade, whether during a hike or pausing beneath on a sunny day, and take time to listen and imagine the tales it could tell.
At Treetop Explorer, we are fortunate to get up close and personal with some amazing trees. Check out our climb schedule and we’d love to introduce you!
Have you been enjoying the winter? I am fortunate as I have to get out and about each week in order to look at trees.
This month I decided to take you along for a glimpse into tree inspections, and to share a couple of issues that may be of interest for anyone who owns property with trees.
It has been rather chilly, but I think I was able to finally get my ideas across before frostbite set in!
As an I.S.A. Board Certified Master Arborist, T.C.I.A. Certified Treecare Safety Professional, T.C.I.A. Tree Care Specialist, and G.O.T.C. Recognized Senior Instructor, Curt has spent over 30 years dedicated to the study and care of trees.