The Hunt for the Eastern White Pine

Pine Point Regional Park


The Eastern White Pine is one of the largest conifers of the northeastern forests. Once reaching heights of over 150′, they now average around 100′ on the tall side (after loggers cut them all down). They mainly range from Eastern Minnesota all the way to the Canadian border of the Atlantic (they are common in the Northeastern part of the United States). They have 5 needles per bunch which makes them distinguishable from other pine trees.

I stumbled upon this beast camping in the Pine Point Regional Park near the Eastern Border of Minnesota. It is by no means a champion tree, but is one of the largest of it’s species that I have ever seen.

Eastern White Pine


Circumference: 120in / 10ft

Height: 1,038in / 86.5ft

Crown spread: 563in / 46.92ft


Points on the National Big Tree Registry: 218.23

Eastern White Pine Rank: 218.23/390 (largest ever recorded): 56/100

Hunter’s Overall Rank: 70/100

Comment on the biggest Eastern White Pines you’ve ever found!

How to Grow a Sugar Maple Tree from Seed

Acer Saccharum

One of my projects this year was to grow enough trees to one day plant my own forest. However, with the current state of my bank account I may be planting these trees on someone else’s property in the dead of night. Is planting a tree in someone else’s yard illegal? Maybe I’ll post about that one later.

While I was driving through the Midwest and into the forests of the Northeast, I couldn’t help but notice that the leaves of the sugar maple (acer saccharum – not to be confused with the Florida maple aka the southern sugar maple) may be the one of nature’s greatest gifts. If you haven’t seen this tree’s leaves turn color in the fall, allow me to show you some examples.

Facts about the tree

Native Americans originally taught settlers how to tap this tree for maple syrup. While all maple trees can be tapped, the sugar maple has the highest concentration of sugar which makes it the best option. Each tree can produce anywhere from 5 to 60 gallons of sap every season which can be boiled down to create maple syrup (conversion rate at about 35 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of maple syrup).

Contrary to popular belief, the Canadian flag is not that of a sugar maple, rather a generic leaf from the maple family.

Rule of 5: The sugar maple leaf has 5 lobes and 5 veins starting from the stem and traveling all the way to the tips of the lobes. It will also change color in the Fall depending on the amount of sunlight it gets; less sun will turn it yellow and more sun will turn it red.

Mast Year

Every few years the sugar maple, along with other tree species, will have what is called a “mast year.” Essentially, this occurs when trees of the same species synchronize to produce thousands and thousands of seeds to safeguard against animals that normally feed off them. It floods the market so to speak and ensures that not every seed will be eaten thus allowing some to be naturally planted every few years to carry on the species. The seed looks like the top of a wine opener and should not be confused with the seeds of the Norwegian Maple. The Norwegian Maple is an invasive species brought over from Europe and due to their fast growth rates, they tend to overcrowd the native sugar maple.

Norwegian maple seeds
sugar maple seeds

This fall (September-October is around the time these “helicopters” will start to fall) was certainly a mast year and I was able to collect hundreds of seeds from multiple states (Collecting seeds from different locations increases genetic diversity which is always a good idea with a species of any sort). I then allowed the seeds a couple of weeks to dry indoors to begin the stratification process

What is Stratification?

Stratification is a process performed on many plant species found in colder climates. It’s a simulation of a winter which activates seeds that would otherwise not grow. Since these seeds fall so close to winter, evolution has allowed them to begin their growing season after the Spring thaw thus lengthening the initial growing season.

Steps to Germinate your Seeds

  1. Collect and dry your seeds for 1-2 weeks
  2. Take your seeds and place them in a plastic container filled with peat moss or damp dirt
  3. Label your container and store it in a temperature-controlled location from 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. A refrigerator is the perfect place for this
  4. Sugar maples need to be stored anywhere from 45-60 days until they are ready to plant
  5. You may notice some of your seeds have germinated in the container which is perfectly fine. After the 45-60 days, transplant your seeds in a location that gets at least 4 hours of sunlight (but no more than 8) and in well-drained soil. Plant each seed roughly ½ inch to an inch into the soil
3 month old sugar maples

If you are planting these trees indoors to start, the materials list is very small:

  • Topsoil
  • Potting mix (mix together with topsoil to create suitable soil conditions)
  • Growing lamp (any type of light will do. I am currently using a shop light and it works great!)
  • Heating pad (this is optional but should only be used for seed germination)

There you have it; in no time you will have a forest of your very own! Comment on what kind of trees you would grow for your own personal forest.

The Lost Forty: A Minnesotan National Treasure

It is a story that sounds almost too good to be true, one that could be the subject of a novel or film. I first heard about this place when I visited the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness a few years back and it lives up to its mysterious name; a place that both naturalists and historians alike will enjoy. Take a step back in time to discover an ancient world immersed in the pine forests of Northern Minnesota.

Eastern White Pine

The eastern white pine is a staple of the coniferous forests ranging from the Appalachians in the Northeast all the way to the Midwestern forests of Northern Minnesota. While dwarfed by California’s Redwoods, the eastern white pine has been measured at heights of upwards to 200ft, sadly, with all such specimens cut down due to logging. While this tree can tolerate most soil conditions, for a tree to grow to that size, however, the soil must be the perfect combination of acidic, moist, and well drained. It is for this reason that the 350-year-old white pines in the “Lost Forty” are only 130ft tall (still a very impressive height) yet some of the oldest of its kind in existence. What is the Lost Forty and why have trees here outlived their cross-country counterparts?

The Lost-Forty

Roughly 70 miles from Itasca State Park, the home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, lies a 40-acre plot of virgin forest among the nation’s largest expanse of natural peatland. In a landscape filled with billions of trees, it is part of only a small percentage that can be dubbed “old-growth” or relatively undisturbed. While much of the landscape was surveyed and auctioned off to logging companies in the late 1800’s, this parcel was left untouched. It is a claim not even the Boundary Waters can boast, so why did this tract of land escape the axe?

When surveying the land to be auctioned off to loggers (each plot measured and sold in 40-acre sections) surveyors mistook this tract of land for one previously recorded. This kept it undiscovered and protected as the rest of the landscape was cut down. Later, settlers tried to drain the wetlands and cut down the forest in the hopes of establishing a farming community. This effort was to no avail and acted as a safeguard until a mid-1900’s survey “discovered” the forest and declared it a public land off limits to logging or mining activities. Today, this old-growth forest contains trees older than the United States that reach heights of up to 130ft. Go check it out yourself and see what it feels like to travel back in time.

I threw a dart at a map and hit Denali, Alaska

Denali National Park

There I stood, 20 feet away from a hole riddled map of the United States; my heart racing as sweat began to form at my brow. Maybe it was the 10 shots of tequila I had taken over the course of the night, or maybe it was the weight of the dart in my hand, and the power it possessed. I was no stranger to this game; it’s one I’ve played many times before as I try to strike the nation’s most desirable destinations and create a make-believe vacation from where the dart lands. Out West is always a safe bet, with national parks and mountains strewn across the region there are lots of options for the outdoor enthusiast in me and lots of room for error. Out East holds a little more risk, but the Appalachian Mountain system serves as a quite desirable target. If I go right, God forbid I have to vacation on the coast in a small resort or Airbnb. The hazards lie most everywhere else, with many exceptions, of course, but all too small to see or too far apart to be worth my while.

Unlike all the times before, this throw was for all the marbles. I had finally saved up enough money to go on a week-long trip anywhere in the country. All the lonely nights throwing darts at my map were about to finally pay off. With one eye twitched half shut and my equilibrium at an all time low, I pulled back and let her fly. Immediately I realized my throw was low and to the left as my middle finger stayed on the dart a millisecond too long. Time slowed down as the dart warped towards the Southwest, cutting through the cigar smoked-air, my mind calculating all the possibilities – “Utah is nice this time of year… Ok I think I have an uncle in Arizona… Am I going to need a passport for this?” And then I saw it. Alaska and Hawaii, chilling in a box overlapping the Pacific Ocean and Mexico, with absolutely no business being in that location.

“Immediately I realized my throw was low and to the left”

As I approached the map, my worst fears were starting to materialize. Not only had I struck the state with the most grizzly (grizzliest?) bears per capita, but I had managed to hit the top of the highest mountain peak in North America. Right on the “E” in “Denali” to be exact.

I started calculating my options. Do I move the dart? Should I just go Yellowstone National Park where I’ve wanted to go my entire life? Is it too late to hit up my ex-girlfriend? Lots of questions, not enough answers. I weighed the pros and the cons. If I decided to play this game again, what would it mean if I splashed Yosemite, or hit a bullseye on Myrtle Beach. It would be a undoubtable rush, but knowing that I’d flaked out on Alaska would surely damage the validity of this accomplishment. On the other hand, if I went through with this trip, I would need to buy some serious gear and do some serious training if I wanted to climb one of the tallest mountains on Earth.

In the end I decided against the entire trip and chalked the events of the night up to booze and 90’s music. I threw out my dartboard map and used the trip money instead to buy myself the pair of high-powered binoculars I’d been eyeing.


Confessions of a big-tree Hunter

Oak Tree in Charleston, SC

My name is Hunter Wilcox, I am 23 years old and I am a self-proclaimed big-tree hunter. Nope, there is no double meaning in that but, in a sense, I wish there were.  

Ever since I found out about the National Big Tree Registry last spring, my life has never been the same. I became obsessed with the idea of finding fame and fortune in our unexplored forests. So, in May of 2020 I quit my job as a self-employed day trader and began a cross-country journey looking for trees that stand above all others. My mission was simple – find, measure, and catalogue the tallest, girthiest and leafiest trees across the country and upload them to an app called Big Trees Near Me. Using GPS technology, this app will allow users to find these documented rare specimens and even upload their own for others to enjoy (more about this app in upcoming blog posts).

What is the National Big Tree Registry and what is a big-tree hunter?

The National Big Tree Registry was created in 1940 by American Forests as a competition to catalogue the largest trees in the United States. This spawned the first wave of big-tree hunters as thousands searched our nation’s forests looking for uncharted beasts of all species. Eventually, it evolved into a detailed list with entrants from all 50 states. Currently accessible on American Forests’ website, the list is separated by species (genus) and is scored on a point system of height, radius, and canopy size. Many states have their own big tree registries which funnel into the national list if deserving of that title. Big-tree hunting is a small part of a much larger conservation effort to preserve and regrow our nation’s forests.

Why become a big-tree hunter?

Some people have never seen a tree before (don’t quote me on this) while others choose to abandon the comforts of human society and wrestle polar bears in Alaska. I think I fall somewhere in the middle but closer to the first guy. At the end of the day, being a big-tree hunter is all about immersing one’s self in nature. Whether or not you find that champion tree, at the very least, you reap the benefits of a walk in the woods. Here are a few benefits of walking in the woods that you wont hear on Dr. Phil:

  • Reduces stress
  • Boosts immune system
  • Improves sleep
  • Lowers blood pressure

Many champion trees require hours if not days of travel through the wilderness to locate, i.e. the white pines in the Boundary Waters (MN) or the western red cedars in the Tongass (AK). The journey is worth the reward; knowing that before you stands a tree older than America or taller than a skyscraper is an immeasurable experience. The best part about this hobby is that it is free! Enjoying nature is free, so go put down the Fortnite sticks, lace up your hiking boots and get after it.

California Redwood

Where do I start if I want to become a big-tree hunter?

The perfect starting point in your quest to land the big one is to choose a specific species of tree. This will lead you to certain regions of the country where climate dictates what grows and what doesn’t. As a rule of thumb, coniferous trees (trees with needles) are found in cold temperate areas, while deciduous trees (trees with leaves) are found most everywhere else. This didn’t narrow down your search in the slightest, however, I am in the midst of creating a detailed interactive map of America’s native trees and where to find them.

You very well may find a champion tree in Timmy’s backyard that survived the 300 years of urbanization, wildfires, disease, and logging, but this is unlikely. Most of the time, the ancient trees will be found in protected areas such as state and national forests or even on old estates (Mount Vernon still boasts trees that were planted by George Washington himself!).

Once I’ve found the tree, how do I measure it?

Minnesota’s DNR page has a much better explanation than I do. Click here for directions on how to properly measure a tree.

Thanks for making it this far in the post! For those still reading, I challenge you to go venture off into the wilderness, whether it be the patch of woods in your backyard, or one of the 154 National Forests spread across the country (state parks are a great place to look as well). What do you have to lose? That Nature Valley Bar isn’t going to crumble in your hand by itself, go out there and find that champion tree!