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Breglia Expands Impressive Tree Inventory

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 2/23/24 | 2/23/24

By Matthew Avitabile

ESPERANCE — Landis Executive Director Fred Breglia spoke to us about the latest addition to the list of the largest trees in the state. This included four trees Breglia discovered, including one at the arboretum itself.

Two were local, and one was a Mountain Winterberry and Kansas Hawthorn found at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Breglia said that his brain is always seeking unique trees, which included the two found in Brooklyn. The Kansas Hawthorn is an American tree, but not a New York Native. The Mountain Winterberry is a Holly.

The two in Brooklyn may not seem particularly large, but they rank at the top of the state lists. They may also be the largest in the country, said Breglia.

“When you look at the list,” he said, “The trees are so much larger than the national,” but he didn’t want to count them until they were confirmed. That being said, they are far larger than other known trees.

Both trees at the Botanical Garden were planted in 1912.

He said that it was “not too common” for the two to be so old and still be healthy.

The Devil’s Walking Stick was planted in 1951 by Fred Lape, the Arboretum’s founder. Breglia said that he did not notice it at first, but discovered it and found it as “abnormally large,” initially believing that it is another species. They’re often about as wide as a silver dollar.

They look like commonly used walking sticks, he said. His original run-in with the species dates back to 1996, including a “perfectly straight” one found on the ground. The thorns can cause bleeding when picked up. It’s native to the area, is not invasive, and is edible prior to the growth of the spines.

Breglia hasn’t eaten one yet, but he said that it is on his list.

“I try to include something new we haven’t foraged to the menu every year,” he said. “We’ll see how it tastes.”

The northern catalpa in Tribes Hill is a particularly large tree. It was a state co-champion, but another review found it as the largest in the state. Since the last measurement, the Silver Maple grew considerably compared to the previous co-champion, which is located about one mile apart.

The tree itself is not immediately recognizable, but the top is visible through the canopy.

It’s not uncommon for larger trees in the Northeast to be shorter with a large trunk.

The catalpa would require some looking and is a “little bit of a mystery for anyone on a tree hunt.”

A Silver Maple around the same area is also particularly large to the common observer. This one is visible from the road.

“The most accurate we’ve had in a long time,” he said, including the last trees from 2023.

For Breglia it’s rewarding that he and the team have been finding “more and more trees.” He’s been seeking unique trees for more than 20 years “with no off switch.” He said that when he started he believed that most of the largest trees had already been found.

He found the state’s largest tree in 2022 in Schaticoke and will continue to look, including trying to find a larger one in 2024. This includes the third-largest tree in the state, the largest invasive, and the largest non-native tree in the state last year.

He has a plan for 2024 and will be tracking down some “less traveled roads,” including searching using a canoe.

“There’s only a handful of species left,” he said, that could be the largest in the state. This includes black walnuts and cottonwood. While cottonwood is not often used for lumber, they have the unique status of being more likely to be among the largest in the state.

He said that the largest tree in the state is growing in a floodplain. The search would require a difficult search, including through areas with ticks, brambles, and thorns.

“Not many people are looking for those types of trees,” he said. Some people see the cottonwood as a “garbage tree,” but Breglia disagrees. It plays a major role in preventing streambank erosion.

He added that he’s used previous information, tips, and using Google Earth to look through previously unsearched areas to find potential areas. One he’s tracking down in the area is visible on Google Earth and is on his list to track down. He traveled to the farm where it could be located, but no owner was home. While he didn’t get to the tree year, it’s part of his 2024 plans.

“It’s part of my new endeavor to get into these cottonwoods,” he said. A canoe helps him get to the area without trespassing, walking through poisonous plants, or hostile dogs.

Breglia said that looking at the subject now, he believes there are many trees to be found. The situation has “shifted” to also include advocacy of awareness of unique trees, local ecology, and more.

“People like them,” he said. This includes getting word out about the findings and search.

This includes Big Tree Hunters on Instagram, which has 200,000 followers.

“The public has really responded,” he said.

Breglia credits his interest to an old oak tree behind his mother’s house in Richmondville that he discovered at five years old.

When someone observes unique trees, they are more likely to protect them, he said.

Regardless of background, politics, or other factors, Breglia said that people like large trees.

“I like to think we all speak tree,” he said.

The BIG Eastern Cottonwood, NY State's biggest tree!

The spines of a Devil’s Walking Stick up close.

New York State Champion Devil’s Walking Stick at Landis Arboretum, Esperance

New York State Champion Silver Maple, Tribes Hill NY

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