Alumni Spotlight: Byron Carmean (Class of 1970)

On the Hunt for Virginia’s Big Trees

Photo of Byron measuring a bald cypress called “Big Mama” taken by Robert Llewellyn.

Byron has been hunting for the largest, most remarkable trees in the state since 1983 and to date, he has more than 270 trees in the Virginia Big Tree Database. He has also contributed over 60 trees to the book, Remarkable Trees of Virginia by Dr. Jeffrey Kirwan and Nancy Ross Hugo.

Byron taught horticulture in the Chesapeake public school system for 21 years and since his retirement his tree hunting efforts have increased. One of his most notable finds was in 2005 when he found a virgin stand of trees while canoeing in Southampton, VA. The stand includes trees over 1000 years old and is also home to several state champions, including the late bald cypress, “Big Mama” (see photo below). When Byron discovered the stand, the site was owned by a paper company and after Byron shared his find with the VA Department of Conservation and Recreation, they bought the land and made it into a state preserve called the Cypress Bridge Swamp Natural Area Preserve.

Byron’s favorite tree species is water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica L.). This tree has a very unique trunk shape due to buttressing (basal flaring). As water tupelo age, this widened trunk base can hollow out and he has found a water tupelo trees with hollowed out bases up to 10-11 feet in diameter on the inside!

In addition to finding Virginia’s big trees, Byron also contributed to the Atlas of Virginia Flora, which maps the distribution of every plant that grows in Virginia. This involved collecting, pressing and submitting plants to herbariums around the state.

Byron’s Favorite Course at VT:

Plant Propagation

Advice to Undergrads:

“You can’t know everything so focus on one to two things and try to do them well.”

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