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Nation's Largest Known Sycamore Found in Santa Barbara County

10 teens hold hands around the largest known Sycamore in Goleta, CA. | Photo: Courtesy Ken Knight/Goleta Valley Beautiful

If you stood in Old Town Goleta, you would only see it towering over a used car lot fence. At over 90 feet, it doesn't sound all that tall, but what you don't see makes this a tree worth bragging about for a ocean side town of 30,000 people.

This week the city of Goleta announced that a California sycamore tree growing near a creek and on closed land slated to be a park is a national champion, a classification given by a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit conservation group to the biggest trees found across the country. With over 50 feet in circumference combined with a large canopy spread and its 94 feet in height, the tree is not only the largest California sycamore: "Of all our champion sycamore trees -- we have three champions -- this one supersedes every [species of] sycamore," said Sheri Shannon, who oversees the big trees program for American Forests, which will officially announce the tree, along with others, as a champion in October.

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The tree is locally called Sister Witness Tree, a reference to the town's more widely known Witness Tree across the street. The term witness is often used to reference that the tree was alive during important events in American history -- in this case, the Revolutionary War, according to Ken Knight, who heads up Goleta Valley Beautiful.

"What's important about this tree is not the fact that it's big; rather it was here before there was European colonization," Knight explained. That means Sister Witness is a true native specimen, one not tainted by hybridization that occurred when non-native trees were brought over by Europeans. With that in mind, Knight's group is using a cloning process to reproduce and plant more of the species around town.

Goleta's other famous big tree, an Australian willow. | Photo: Courtesy Randy Baldwin/San Marcos GrowersKnight said he had been looking at the tree for 10 years, but never knew how big it was until a stimulus-funded California Conservation Corp team cleared cleared two tall palm trees growing out of its base. "We knew it was big, but we didn't know how big," he said.

And Sister Witness isn't the only big famous tree in Goleta. Earlier this year, an Australian willow was entered as a national champion into the Official Registry of California Big Trees, a database maintained by the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The tree, however, is not listed as a champion with American Forests because it is a non-native species.

Nonetheless, the city is proud. "Having not one, but two national champions in our city is quite an honor. It's a testament to the importance of trees in our area and the community's desire to preserve these treasures," said Mayor Ed Easton in a statement. "Goleta is proud to be a Tree City."


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About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCET's Director of News, Region and State, working on digital and on-air news products that relate to Southern California and beyond.
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