OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — Of all the trees in Jim Vallion’s big yard, the one he sees first as he walks out his front door is his favorite.
“I love this tree,” he says while shuffling through the leaves beneath its branches.
It’s a big Ginkgo that’s grown a little since he moved here in 1962.
Vallion recalls, “It was a very small tree when I first moved here. It was one of the few trees on the property.”
Over the past half-century his family has climbed it, rested in its shade, and raked its leaves.
“I’m so glad it came with the house,” says Jim.
Oklahoma’s Urban Forestry Coordinator Mark Bays has a history with this tree too.
He had his own tree trimming business back in the 80’s.
As a younger man he cared for this Ginkgo.
“It’s good to see that it’s still around,” he jokes.
“I didn’t hurt your tree or anything,” he says to Vallions.
In mid-November, 2013, Vallion and Bays had reason to talk about this particular Ginkgo again.
Bays is updating a list of the state’s biggest trees.
When a friend of Jim’s called his office about this one, Mark didn’t even have to come out and look.
He remembers asking, “Does it happen to be just a little bit north of 39th Street on Portland Avenue? And he goes, ‘How do you know that?’ And I said, ‘Man. I’m a forester. I know all about the trees. I’m friends with the Lorax.”
Jim says of his nomination, “I thought they were kidding me.”
The Ginkgo genus is an ancient one.
Some experts say they grew with the dinosaurs.
This one was planted in the late 1930’s.
The Vallions took good care of this one.
After some measurements, Jim received a certificate that confirms it’s the largest of its kind in Oklahoma.
“You’ve got some bragging rights,” says a first time visitor to the Vallion’s front yard.
“You’re right,” chuckles Jim. “I like to brag.”
It’s asleep for the winter now.
Ginkgo leaves fall off suddenly with the first cold snap of the season.
But it’s still growing, with a solid lead on every other Ginkgo for miles.
Find a complete list of Oklahoma’s largest trees at http://www.forestry.ok.gov/champion-trees