By Adam Armour / Itawamba County Times
MANTACHIE – Thaxton’s Big Oak is a thing of legend.
Widely known as the largest tree of its kind in the county, the monstrous water oak stretches upwards dozens and dozens of feet, its myriad branches stretching wide into a vast, green canopy. Although its owner, Mantachie resident Joe Thaxton, has often speculated that the tree was one of the largest of its kind in the state, he now has official confirmation that the big oak in his backyard is the king of its kind.
Thaxton’s Big Oak has been officially designated a Mississippi Champion Tree by the Mississippi Forestry Commission. It’s the tallest, widest water oak in the state. Along with the designation, Thaxton received a small, metal sign stating his tree as a champion, a confirmation to years of speculation.
“I always thought this had to be one of the largest water oaks in the state,” he said, leaning backward to stare up at the giant. “Now I know.”
Thaxton’s Big Oak, which is what its owner has always called the tree, stands 122 feet tall – about 12 stories – has a circumference of 25.8 feet and a crown of 116.25 feet.
Although it hasn’t yet been designated as such, there’s a good chance the champion tree is also the largest of its kind in the country. Whether or not it will reign as a national champ is currently being determined.
According to Shaun Rogers, service forester for the Mississippi Forestry Commission, the monster tree should be a real source of pride for the people of Itawamba County.
“I’m just happy to have a champion tree right here in Itawamba County,” Rogers said. He added that while several of Itawamba’s surrounding counties have champion trees, Thaxton’s Big Oak is Itawamba County’s first.
“It’s very exciting,” he said.
Although no one really knows for certain, the tree is also reputed to be the oldest in Itawamba County simply on the basis of its size. Thaxton said no one really knows for sure how long the tree’s been standing there.
Rogers said that while the MFC could take a core sample of the tree and try to determine its age, the sheer size of the tree would require special equipment. For certain, he said, the tree had seen more than a century of life.
Rogers said most trees don’t see that many years, having been struck down by man or stormy weather, famine or disease. There’s just no telling how many people have looked up at the sky through the branches of Thaxton’s Big Oak, how many times lightning has lapped at its trunk, or how many days those long arms have reached up toward the Mississippi sun.
The storied tree, and all its unknown history, will always reside in tales as tall as itself.
Contact Adam Armour at (662) 862-314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.