Main Menu

Campus southern magnolia wins largest tree contest

ISSUED: 4 October 2017
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University is the winner of this year’s largest tree contest sponsored by Delegate John Overington. The winner is a southern magnolia, one of several of this species that are located on the 323-acre campus, was announced last night during the annual Eastern Panhandle Conservation Awards Banquet in Martinsburg.

Each year, Overington sponsors a contest to find the largest tree of a specific species in Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan counties, offering a $500 prize to the tree owners or charity of their choice. This year Overington chose to find the largest magnolia tree and in January put out a call for entries. Elisabeth Staro, a volunteer who heads the garden restoration program at Shepherd’s historic house, Popodicon, entered one of Shepherd’s southern magnolia trees in the contest. Overington will donate the $500 to help with the garden restoration.

“It absolutely is wonderful, it will be well used,” Staro said. “We have a master plan that we are implementing in the gardens and this gives us some money to make some purchases to further that plan.”

Staro and a group of volunteers have spent the past year weeding and making repairs to the historic gardens around Popodicon, which date to 1907-1908 and were designed by Oglesby Paul of Philadelphia. The master plan calls for keeping the basic structure of the gardens, but modernizing them to be friendly for birds, bees, and pollinators. Staro said there will be a monarch way station, rain garden, and plants that promote healthy gardening with three-season interest.

“I think it’s terrific that Shepherd won,” Overington said. “This is a beautiful place, and it’s good to know the tree is in a nice, protected environment so it will be around for a long time.”

Overington’s interest in preserving trees is, in a way, genetic. His grandfather, Fred W. Besley, was the state of Maryland’s first forester.

“He started the largest tree contest in Maryland and the idea went national,” Overington said. “He had created an appreciation for trees and I found a positive way to bring that to West Virginia.”

Herb Peddicord, Chesapeake Bay watershed forester for the West Virginia Division of Forestry, helps Overington select each year’s winner. Peddicord measured the entries, documenting their circumference at 4 1/2 feet above the ground, their height, and crown spread, using a laser range finder. Peddicord said entries this year included both southern and Chinese magnolia trees, but the southern magnolia at Shepherd won out.

“There are a lot of them around here but it’s unusual to find a big one like this,” Peddicord said.

Listen to the interview HERE.

— 30 —