National, state champion persimmon tree returns to live another day
Former national champion persimmon finds new life.
Sept. 13, 2021
By Lon Tegels
College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of Arkansas at Monticello
Arkansas Forest Resources Center
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Champion tree finds second life
- Craftsman and son rescue remains of champion tree
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MONTICELLO, Ark. — A craftsman’s regret over an unfulfilled promise has given the remains of a one-time state and national champion persimmon tree a new life at the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources on the University of Arkansas at Monticello campus.
The native persimmon tree, Diospyros virginiana, usually grows from 30 to 70 feet and ranges from Connecticut in the north, Iowa and Texas to the west and south to Florida. Female trees bear sweet edible fruits. Male trees, like Dardanelle’s champion, bear no fruit.
The former state and national champion persimmon tree once graced a residential property in Dardanelle. It stood 96 feet high, with a crown spread of 73 feet and a circumference of 151 inches. It was named state champ in 1987, six years after being nominated, according to Urban Forestry Partnership Coordinator Harold Fisher.
Dardanelle carries the Tree City USA designation and is home to many trees of distinction, including the state champion black hickory, which was the persimmons’ neighbor, as well as the champion northern catalpa, white oak and cottonwood tree.
Craftsman George Rheinhardt of Adona, Arkansas, said he’d heard that the property owner, feared that the rotted-from-the-inside behemoth would fall on her house, or her grandchildren. The city agreed to remove the tree in 2016.
Wayne Shewmake of Dardanelle, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation,
was responsible for getting the city designated as a "Tree City USA" through the Arbor Day Program. When we found out about the tree’s removal, he said, “I was mad, so I quit the Arbor Day program for the city. I called the forest commission and told them what had happened. They came up and grabbed some tree pieces to make bowls and ‘cookies’” which are cross sections of a tree.
“The local forestry people would occasionally drive by to look at it,” said Rheinhardt. “One day, they drove by, and there was a stump; it was gone. They about had a heart attack.”
"Nobody had ever told them about the tree being cut," he said. “Turns out the tree did have a lot of rot in it and actually became a hazard."
The remains of champion persimmon were taken to the refuse center, slated to be ground into mulch.
It wasn’t long before Rheinhardt and his son were in their truck on their way to the dump to find the champion among all of the other discarded trees and shrubs. Rheinhardt said he and his son found the pile of persimmons logs and dragged them out in pieces and to the mill.
A promise made
Over the years, Rheinhardt had developed a reputation for the benches he would craft, using cherry, walnut, catalpa and pine. Some of his benches have sold for thousands of dollars at auction.
About four years ago, Phil Tappe asked him to make a bench. At the time, Tappe was dean of the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources as well as director of the Arkansas Forest Resources center for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. He retired in 2020.
“I told Phil I would make him a bench. I got the idea that if I were going to build one for the School of Forestry, wouldn't it be better if they had one from the national champion persimmon tree," Reinhardt said, adding that in the years since making that promise, he felt bad at never having fulfilled it.
Persimmon isn’t the easiest wood to work with. It’s extremely hard, which made it a popular choice for golf club driver heads, before that job was replaced by today’s metal and composites. And while bench-building is typically a straightforward process, the tree’s rot made his work even more difficult, with Reinhardt having to fit the old tree’s pieces together.
“Had it not been a national champion tree, I would never have used this wood,” he said, adding with laugh, “this wood has character.”
Still, Reinhardt had enough to make not just one bench, but two. One went to UAM, with the university’s green logo carved into the backboard. The bench was created in a way that retains the tree’s natural curves and grain. The other bench went to a charity called Log A Load for kids. The 6-foot bench now sits in the lobby of the George Clippert Annex of the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources building.
The current champion persimmon stands in Fayetteville’s Wilson Park, a mere 69 feet tall, with a 34-foot-wode crown and a trunk circumference of 64 inches.
About the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center
The College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center, a University of Arkansas System Center of Excellence, brings together interdisciplinary expertise through a partnership between the University of Arkansas at Monticello and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. The College and Center are headquartered at the University of Arkansas at Monticello campus, but their programs range statewide with the mission of developing and delivering teaching, research, and extension programs that enhance and ensure the sustainability and productivity of forest-based natural resources and agricultural systems. Academic programs are delivered by the College of Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources through the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Through the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, research is administered by the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, and extension and outreach activities are coordinated by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
The University of Arkansas at Monticello and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offer all of their programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and are Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employers.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices.
Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media contact: Lon Tegels