NLI’s Legacy Tree Program has discovered another tree that, pending verification, will become state champion. It’s a Northern Red Oak growing on private property near Roscoe and is the featured Tree of the Month for June”, said Alan Branhagen, Executive Director, Natural Land Institute.

The June Tree of the Month, a Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) was submitted by Thom Shelow and re-measured by Howard Knodle, Natural Land Institute Trustee: Height: 99 feet, Crown Spread: 51 feet -3 inches, Circumference: 213” (17 feet-9 inches around!).

Thom and Teresa stand next to their Northern Red Oak

In 2019 Thom and his wife, Teresa Beach-Shelow, moved to the woods. They said, “It has been exciting to walk and come upon a few distinctively large trees. This one, the Northern Red Oak especially, has drawn us to show many of our guests. We gather at its base and record our time together. We knew it was special, but are so surprised that it may be a State Champion.”

Northern Red Oaks become the largest oaks in northeastern North America and are keystone species supporting an impressive array of biodiversity. The trees are usually found in more sheltered slopes and river/stream terraces in moist soil — unlike the county’s most common tree, bur oak, that often grows in the open and on sites that are very dry. The trees can have impressive trunks, and when grown in a forest, often clear of any side branches until high up. This tree obviously grew in a more open woodland as it has impressive old limbs branching lower.

Northern Red Oaks are in the red oak group of oaks whose acorns take 2 years to mature and whose wood does not hold water (barrels are made from white oak group oaks that do hold water). They have our largest acorns with a cap just covering basically the top of the nut. The leaves are shallowly lobed with sharp points at the tips and turn various shades from burnt red to brownish red in late fall.

Yes, this is the tree that makes the fine lumber used in everything from flooring to cabinetry and trim. It is currently “out of style” but much loved by many. Competition from more aggressive trees like hackberry and black walnut, along with invasive shrubs like honeysuckle and buckthorn have caused the species to be in decline with very few new trees to replace the existing stock – a statement that covers virtually all our native oaks. Finding a towering northern red oak with a great buttressed root flair is always a thrill when out hiking in our remnant forests.

This legacy tree is past its prime but the saying goes: oaks can grow for one hundred years, thrive for another 100 years, decline for another hundred years and take one hundred more years to die. Branhagen, said, “This tree is in decline with dead limbs and ‘cavities’, but as it’s not a hazard in its location, this grand tree can be allowed to serve as an important home for wildlife (those cavities provide places for all sorts of wildlife to find shelter and food!). 25% of our biodiversity is said to be tied to recycling the wood in the forest so allowing the tree just to be and return to the soil is important.”

Background and For More Information:

Natural Land Institute launched the Legacy Tree Program in January of this year. It includes recognition of one tree a month that may be the largest of its kind, or have historical or cultural significance. Anyone may nominate a tree on private or public land from NLI’s 12 county region. Other components of the program, a list of the 12 counties, the online nomination form, and the tree of the month since January can be found at:, call 815/964-6666 or email

Teresa Beach-Shelow stands next to a Northern Red Oak on her property.



Close up of the base of the trunk of the Northern Red Oak


Northern Red Oak


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