Published on 07/11/06

UGA prof, student recording Georgia's great trees

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Some people see a tree and think shade from the summer sun. Some remember climbing to the top in days gone by. Tim Smalley and his graduate student Sarah Thompson see a rich heritage and want to record it for posterity. And they're asking for your help.

"We're trying to document all the unique and historically significant trees in Georgia," said Smalley, a University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences horticulture professor. "We want Georgians to appreciate the value of trees to their communities."

Smalley and Thompson are using Global Positioning Systems to make accurate maps and video documentation to record their findings. They're visiting communities and talking face-to-face with local tree lovers.

"We're seeking out people in the communities who really know the trees," Smalley said. University experts and community foresters and arborists have nominated many trees already. "But there may be that one tree we might miss somewhere in Georgia."

To make sure they don't miss that tree, Smalley and Thompson have developed the Significant Trees of Georgia Web site ( There, people can nominate trees they find unique in some way or know the history of.

"We're using GPS to locate them so we can make accurate maps," Smalley said. "Some will be private. Others will be available for the public to see. Hopefully, anyone who is a tree lover can visit our Web site in the future and find interesting trees in any region of Georgia."

Smalley and Thompson plan to document only significant trees and groves of trees in the landscapes of Georgia. They don't plan to document Georgia's Champion Trees, which are the state's largest trees and are often found in isolated woodlands.

"Champion Trees have already been documented," Smalley said. "We want to document trees found in landscapes which may be significant for their uniqueness, beauty or role in the community rather than for their size."

Smalley hopes the project will help people be more sensitive to the value of older trees. "Trees unite a community," he said. "When people say, 'What a beautiful neighborhood,' they're really saying, 'What beautiful trees.'"

Some trees already on Smalley's list include Lanier's oak in Brunswick, Ga., and "the tree that owns itself" in Athens, Ga.

Lanier's oak is the tree that Georgia poet Sydney Lanier sat under while he wrote the "Marshes of Glynn." And Thompson has found that the Athens tree was actually a test by the local newspaper for UGA law students to see if a tree could really own itself.

"What we really hope is that this project will raise awareness, document trees and identify those trees that might need help," Smalley said.

If you'd like to nominate a tree in your community or a tree you know about in Georgia, visit the Significant Trees of Georgia Web site.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.