Ancient, Big, and Historical Trees of Arkansas

Photograph looking up at a Morris Pine

The Morris Pine, a 300-year-old loblolly pine in the Levi Wilcoxon Demonstration Forest in Ashley County, Arkansas. | Photo by Don C. Bragg, USDA Forest Service

Arkansas, as with much of eastern North America, was once covered by extensive virgin forests with many big, old trees. Logging, land clearing, wildfire, and urbanization, among other causes, have long since eliminated most of these big trees. However, a handful can still be found in the woods of Arkansas, and many others "live" on in historical photographs, explorer and survey accounts, and scientific publications. This web page is dedicated to preserving and presenting these images and other reports. Other institutions specifically dedicated to big trees include American Forests and the Eastern Native Tree Society, and the state of Arkansas also hosts a champion tree list and a program on famous and historic trees.

Logger cutting a large pine

Loggers cutting a large pine near Crossett, Arkansas, in the early 1900s. Cover photo from 1952 edition of Forest Echoes. | Photographer unknown

Historical photographs constitute a valuable record of the nature of Arkansas forests from a time in which we have only poor or incomplete scientific records. Some of these pictures depict logging scenes, while others are incidental glimpses of the historical vegetation captured while recording early views of the life and times of Arkansans.

We know surprisingly little about the potential maximum dimensions of most tree species. Unfortunately, it is likely that the largest individuals of any given species have long since been lost to time. General Land Office surveyor records, explorer accounts, and early technical publications and scientific journals are some of the better sources of information, but few of these records were formally and accurately measured, and may reflect exaggerations or errors (Bragg 2004).

Persimmon tree

A persimmon from Luxora, Arkansas, reported to be 108 inches in circumference and 120 feet tall by a 1915 Arkansas promotional brochure. | Photographer unknown

Not every notable tree or forest in Arkansas and other parts of the Midsouth was a giant. In parts of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and extreme western Arkansas, the "Cross Timbers" woodlands dominated by post and blackjack oak may represent one of the largest, most intact remnants of primary forest in eastern North America. In some cases, ancient post oaks and eastern red cedars from these woodlands are found to be in excess of 400 years old. Efforts to conserve some of these areas are underway, supported by groups like the Ancient Cross Timbers Consortium and agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service.

Old-growth cross timbers remnants

Old-growth Cross Timbers remnants near Fort Smith, Arkansas. | Photo by Don C. Bragg, USDA Forest Service

Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve

The Keystone Ancient Forest Preserve near Tulsa, Oklahoma. | Photo by Don C. Bragg, USDA Forest Service


Author's Note

I will continue to post images of large Arkansas (and Midsouth) trees as they become available. People interested in sending me historical pictures of vegetation conditions (big trees or not) can do so by contacting me at dbragg@fs.fed.us or sending them to:

Dr. Don Bragg
USDA Forest Service
Southern Research Station
P.O. Box 3516 UAM
Monticello, AR 71656