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Record Boxelder Tree Sparks Climbing Memories

Tom Doumouras and son Jim lay claim to the county’s largest Boxelder Tree. Photo by Roy Lukes.

Trees were very important to my three brothers, my little sister and me during our childhoods in Kewaunee. My dad was very good with planting and maintaining fruit trees on our property, and those whose fruit we thoroughly enjoyed included Montmorency Tart Cherry, Yellow Sweet Cherry, Sekul Pear (a high favorite), Bartlet Pear (two trees), Macintosh Apple (three), and another favorite, Green Gage Plum (two). Other trees dad had planted and did very well were Sugar Maple (four), Norway Spruce, Austrian Pine, Dwarf Mugo Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce, and Norway Spruce (three).

Our dear Irish neighbors to the south, Lou and Louise Flaherty, also had two Horse Chestnut trees whose wonderful nuts we gathered each fall by the boxfuls, and our all-time favorite climbing tree, a large Boxelder. Typical of the species, this tall tree had a short trunk, or bole, and moderately deeply furrowed bark, which made gripping and climbing into the upper branches of its crown very convenient. Ivan, oldest and tallest of us four brothers, always beat us in climbing the highest. This was our great exercise and “challenge” tree that helped build stronger legs, hands and arms as well as confidence.

I don’t remember that tree ever producing seeds, so in that respect it was a fairly clean male tree. Boxelders are dioecious (die-EE-shus) in that they are either male or female. Naturally it’s the females that produce the seeds and also have the bad reputation of attracting many Boxelder Bugs. These trees are also known for their fast growth, especially in their early years, which in turn causes the wood to be quite weak and to break fairly easily. Plenty of people who have Boxelders growing on their property claim they are downright trashy trees.

Door County’s second biggest Boxelder grows along Rileys Bay Road in Southern Door. Photo by Roy Lukes.

On the other hand, travel into the wide open Great Plains and you’ll find these trees commonly planted, along with various conifers, to reduce erosion and serve as shelter belts to protect homesteads from high winds. They are also tolerant of drought and cold weather.

Canadians call them Manitoba Maples while some U.S. foresters refer to them as Ash-leafed Maples. Yes, they belong to the same genus, Acer (A-sir) along with the Sugar, Red, Silver and Mountain Maples in Wisconsin. I didn’t mention the Norway Maple because it is not native to North America, and I also consider it to be an invasive species to be avoided. What makes the Boxelder different than the other maples is that its leaves are compound, usually having five leaflets, or occasionally three or seven. Like all other maples, its leaves and twigs are opposite. Its species name, negundo, is from the Bengali name for the Chaste Tree which has similar leaves.

The Boxelder, with its good and bad points, grows from coast to coast in North America but is rather spotty in its distribution west of the Great Plains. Few native tree species grow from ocean to ocean in our country, and the Boxelder is one of them. It’s especially abundant in the southern half of Wisconsin with Door County being about its northern limits.

During the late 1950s I helped with the Two Rivers Christmas Bird Count and one of the places we visited was the village of Mishicot. A young man, Bernie Brouchoud, who later developed the very successful Woodland Dunes Nature Center west of Two Rivers, became a good friend of mine and still volunteers there, was banding many Evening Grosbeaks that were attracted to the seeds of Boxelder Trees growing along the East Twin River. These trees favor sites near rivers and streams.

Though I’ve driven down Main Street in Fish Creek for many years, it wasn’t until recently that I finally noticed the very large Boxelder Tree growing within several feet of the highway at Barringer Crossing, virtually begging to be measured. In a sense it was so close to us through the years that it was hiding. What a pleasant surprise it was to learn that it has become Door County’s record Boxelder, measuring 153 inches (12 feet 9 inches) in circumference (measured at 18 inches above the ground due to a heavily outward-tapering bole), 50 feet in height and having an average crown spread of 66 feet. Its record point number is obtained by adding the circumference in inches (153), its height to the nearest foot (50), and one quarter of its 66-foot average crown spread to the nearest foot (16.5). The record number is 219.5.

The enormous trunk and wide crown are evident from across the street. Photo by Roy Lukes.

The former record Boxelder in the county is located along Rileys Bay Rd. in Southern Door and has a record number of 203.1. There is another large Boxelder growing at 9408 Hill Street in Fish Creek with a record number of 192. The champion in the state, in Waukesha, has a record point total of 260, followed by the second-place specimen in Appleton with a total of 251 points. It turns out that the Main Street Boxelder in Fish Creek, the new county champion, is the third largest in the state!

Tom Doumouras, who owns the property on which the new record tree grows, and his son Jim watched Nick Anderson and me with great interest as we conducted the measuring. No doubt, having one of the largest trees of its kind in the state growing on the Doumouras’ property will bring special attention and deserving care to this fine specimen.

Having measured the tree, how I wished I would have had the strength and flexibility and endurance of my childhood days to be able to climb this imposing Boxelder, and to be able to re-live some wonderful boyhood memories.

Please email me if you know of a big tree you think should be measured. We’ll be glad to do so, hopefully before the snow flies.