Skip to main content

Big trees in the Vanderbilt Arboretum

What’s a big tree?
What does it mean to be a “big” tree? The National Register of Big Trees and Tennessee Champion Trees list use a point system based on three charactistics that make a tree “big”: the circumference in inches + the height in feet + 1/4 the average crown spread in feet.

The biggest trees
Based on this kind of “score”, the library’s willow oak (2-1030) has a slight edge in the contest for largest tree on campus. However, the margin of error in measurement is great enough that there is essentially a four-way tie.

  • If you park in the Wesley Place garage and walk to main campus, you pass the winning willow oak between the central library and Benson Chapel. It is on your left as you ascend the steps up to Library Lawn.  [Note in 2018: last year this tree lost one of it’s major branches in a big crash that destroyed the railing of the stairs below.  It has not been re-measured, but the loss of this branch may have reduced its crown spread to the point where it is no longer tied for first place.]
  • Not surprisingly, one of the four is the most famous tree on campus, the Bicentennial Oak, which is also possibly the only tree in the arboretum that predates the campus. The Bicentennial Oak has a massive girth and is actually wider than it is tall, with a single branch that stretches 21 meters (69 feet).
  • Another is the only southern red oak on campus, which stands in front of Godchaux Hall. It is well known to those who walk from Peabody to Main Campus across the 21st Ave.S. bridge. It is one of the tallest trees on campus.
  • The big sugarberry is in the Divinity School courtyard.

Seeing the big trees
“Trail of Giants” tree tour is under construction. You can take the tour now, although the descriptive text for each tree isn’t finished.

About this list
The primary criterion for inclusion in this list is that the tree has a diameter of 1 meter (40 inches) or more. The list also includes individual trees that are the largest known examples of their species, regardless of their diameter. Those trees are listed on bold type. If the tree has a web page, it is linked to the tree’s ID code. To see the location of the tree, click on the “location” link. In cases where the tree is near a road, Google Street View can be used to view the tree.

The list below includes many of the largest trees on campus, and will be extended as more trees are measured. In particular, there are probably some large hackberries that need to be added. We are still collecting data on the height and crown spread and will update the list as we obtain that information. The list is ordered by points where available; otherwise the trees are listed in order of diameter.

A more extensive public database is at https://github.com/vanderbilt-arboretum.

If you interested in knowing how old the trees might be, see How old are trees in the Vanderbilt Arboretum?

ID code species dia. (cm) dia. (in.) height (m) height (ft.) ave. crown spread (m) ave. crown spread (ft.) points* location notes
2-1030 Quercus phellos(willow oak) 135 53 31.7 104** 29.3 96 295 between the central library and Benson Chapel
2-691 Quercus macrocarpa(bur oak) 149 59 25 82 30 98 291 between Rand and Garland Halls the Bicentennial Oak
2-244 Celtis laevigata(sugarberry) 146 57 28.5 94 21 69 291 Divinity School courtyard
2-123 Quercus falcata(southern red oak) 132 52 32 105 27.5 90 291 between Godchaux Hall and 21st Ave.S.
3-589 Ulmus americana(American elm) 125 49 31 102 30 98 281 by the Beta Omicron Pi house on 24th Ave.S.
9-379 Quercus phellos (willow oak) 154 61 23 75 18 59 281 between 1114 19th Ave.S. and Edgehill
2-795 Quercus phellos (willow oak) 117 46 32 105 26 85 271 near library loading dock and 21st Ave.S. crosswalk
2-1021 Quercus shumardii(Shumard oak) 128 50 27 89 28 92 270 south of Furman Hall
2-161 Quercus alba (white oak) 117 46 28 92 34.5 113 265 between Kirkland Hall and Curry Field
4-487 Magnolia grandiflora(southern magnolia) 134.5 53 25 82 17.8 58 263 in front of Buttrick Hall second magnolia north of entry walk
4-855 Celtis laevigata(sugarberry) 123 48 29 95 17.5 57 262 west of Community Partnership House
1-683 Quercus rubra (red oak) 118 46 29.5 97 20.5 67 260 in front of Payne building on Peabody Esplanade
2-437 Quercus imbricaria(shingle oak) 114 45 30.2 99** 20 66 256 against the south side of the central library
2-253 Celtis laevigata(sugarberry) 126 50 22 72 27.8 91 251 between the Law School and Calhoun Hall
1-625 Quercus palustris (pin oak) 113 44 27.5 90 22.5 84 251 northeast part of Magnolia Lawn
2-638 Fraxinus americana(white ash) 111 44 28 92 24.5 80 249 west of Furman and north of Benson Halls
2-402 Liriodendron tulipifera(tulip tree) 118 46 26*** 86 21 69 249 northwest corner of Furman Hall
N/A Quercus rubra (red oak) 115.5 46 26 85 24 79 248 in front of the University School of Nashville located on USN property but included for historical reasons
4-522 Celtis laevigata(sugarberry) 131 52 20 66 22.5 74 246 south of Community Partnership House
3-419 Quercus rubra (red oak) 106 42 28 92*** 26 85 245 north end of Alumni Lawn
3-62 Populus deltoides(eastern cottonwood) 110 43 27 89 20 66 241 Kensington and 24th Ave.S.
3-327 Quercus shumardii(Shumard oak) 104 41 27 90*** 25.5 84 239 south side of sidewalk in front of Cole Hall Big Al’s twin
9-4 Tilia americana(American basswood) 124.5 49 21 69 19.3 63 239 in front of 1110 19th Ave.S.
1-730 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 122.5 48 22.5 74 15 49 238 center magnolia along Magnolia Circle on south side of Magnolia Lawn
2-209 Quercus nigra (water oak) 120 47 20.5 67 21.8 71 234 north of Benson Hall
3-52 Platanus occidentalis(American sycamore) 103 41 25 82 27.5 90 232 south of Cole Hall
4-702 Platanus occidentalis(American sycamore) 94 37 27 89 29 95 229 largest tree in Stevenson Courtyard
1-429 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 120 47 20 66 17.5 57 228 Magnolia Lawn east of Kennedy Center
2-411 Maclura pomifera(Osage orange) 124 49 17 56 20.8 68 226 east of Calhoun Hall
2-1036 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 114 45 21 69 18.5 61 225 east of Kirkland Hall; third tree north of curve in drive
2-319 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 118 46 20 66 16.5 54 225 between Rand and Old Central has second 59 cm diameter stem
4-943 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 109 43 22 72*** 19 62 223 in front of Buttrick Hall south of the entry walk
2-528 Ulmus serotina(September elm) 83 33 28.6 94** 20.5 67 218 between Benson and Garland Halls
2-247 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 110 43 18.5 61 18 58 211 in front of the central library veering north
2-182 Catalpa speciosa(northern catalpa) 111 44 18 60*** 16 52 211 between Garland Hall and the Divinity School
2-663 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 109 43 18.5 61 16 52 209 northeast of Bishop McTyeire’s tomb trunk splits just above measured height
2-1002 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 106 42 19 62 17 57 208 between Kissam dorms and Curry Field Trunk splits into two at head height.
2-185 Ginkgo biloba (ginkgo) 100 39 18 59 23.5 77 202 between Kirkland and Barnard Halls “Galloway’s ginkgo”
2-461 Magnolia grandiflora(southern Magnolia) 107 42 15 49 15 50 194 east of Kirkland Hall; second tree north of curve in drive
3-140 Quercus muhlenbergii(chinkapin oak) 97 38 14*** 44 22.5 74 183 by the Station B post office entrance
2-584 Quercus velutina (black oak) 115 45 east of Rand and north of Bicentennial Oak only black oak on campus
1-672 Quercus phellos (willow oak) 106 42 by entrance to Susan Gray playground on Magnolia Circle
1-298 Quercus rubra (red oak) 105 41 between the Susan Gray playground and 21st Ave.S.
2-780 Liriodendron tulipifera(tulip tree) 104 41 between Kirkland and Furman Halls
2-499 Quercus nigra (water oak) 101 40 west of Calhoun Hall
1-68 Quercus alba (white oak) 100.5 40 on the Peabody Esplanade by the library
4-891 Carya illinoinensis(pecan) 98 39 between McTyeire and the Round Wing
1-1278 Ulmus pumila (Siberian elm) 83 33 southwest of Peabody Administration Building mistagged as Ulmus serotina
4-208 Sophora japonica(Chinese scholar tree) 75.5 30 20*** 64 16 52 171 east of Buttrick Hall former state champion
3-99 Fraxinus pennsylvanica(green ash) 74 29 between Phi Delta Theta and Zeta Beta Tau houses
4-616 Juglans nigra (black walnut) 72 28 18*** 58 19 62 163 between McTyeire Hall and the Round Wing
2-791 Magnolia grandiflora(southern magnolia) 58 23 19 62 17.8 58 149 east of the drive near Kirkland Hall Trunk splits three ways just below breast height; would be over 200 points if measured below the split.
2-845 Zelkova serrata(Japanese zelkova) 60 24 west of the Owen School state champion tree, planted by Bishop McTyeire
4-474 Aesculus glabra (Ohio buckeye) 54.5 21 Between McTyeire Hall and the Round Wing former state champion tree
1-81 Aesculus flava (yellow buckeye) 51 21 southwest of Peabody Administration Building
2-70 Magnolia virginiana(sweetbay) 34 13 against the south wall of Kirkland Hall, on the right former state champion tree
1-375 Cornus florida(dogwood) 32 12 6.6 22 8.9 29 68 west side of Magnolia Lawn on north side of the sidewalk This tree is probably over 100 years old.

* Points are calculated according to the criteria used in the National Register of Big Trees: the circumference in inches + the height in feet + 1/4 the average crown spread in feet.

** Measured in feet by the Civil Engineering CE-161 class in April 2014.

*** Measured students from the Vanderbilt School for Science and Math. Measured value has asterisks.

Except as noted, English values are rounded conversions of the SI units. The diameter measurements should be quite accurate. The height and crown spread measurements are crude estimates and will hopefully be improved over time. Therefore, differences among trees of only a few points are probably not significant due to measurement error.