Notable Trees Program




In the history of our region, since prehistoric times, Virginia Beach was covered by a dense Maritime Forest. The closest analog today to what our entire city once looked like would be First Landing State Park…dense, multispecies with both broadleaf and evergreen types, moist, deeply mulched. Our historical Maritime Forests featured tens of thousands of Old Growth trees, some of which may have been over 1,000 years old.

The earliest humans in the region were Native Americans who populated the area very sparsely and had very little impact on the trees of the Old Growth Maritime forests. Their semi-nomadic, agrarian lifestyle, supplemented by sustainable hunting and fishing, was quite compatible with the natural flora of the region.

When the early European settlers arrived on our shores, their historical lifestyle and ever-increasing numbers began to have a greater impact on our native Old Growth Maritime forests. The Virginia Company of London, financial sponsor of Captain John Smith’s Jamestown colony in 1607, was interested in monetizing the abundant natural resources the settlers had found in Coastal Virginia. Much of England’s prime forest area had been cut for housing, fuel, and shipbuilding so when Captain Smith’s explorations discovered the vast forests of Virginia, there was impetus to begin harvesting the prime Old Growth trees. At first, as with the Natives, the sparse population had little impact. But as the colonization continued into the 18th century, prime timber became one of the largest exports from Virginia. This trend of population growth and associated deforestation for both agricultural purposes as well as prime timber export, continued and gained impetus throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. By the mid-20th century, in excess of 95% of the Old Growth forests in our area were gone. An Old Growth Forest typically has great biodiversity, with numerous tree specimens between 150-500 years old. So, once cut, it takes a minimum of 5 human generations of undisturbed tree growth to regenerate such a forest, and more often as many as 10-15 human generations.

All we now have left in the City of Virginia Beach are widely scattered remnants of our once omnipresent Old Growth Maritime forests. Most of our residents, while out and about within VB, have seen an oversized tree that stands out from the rest. Some folks notice and admire such trees, while many others drive or walk by them daily and hardly notice their presence.

The purpose of the Virginia Beach Notable Tree program is to identify, catalogue, memorialize, and publicize those largest Old Growth trees that are the hardy survivors of our Old Growth Maritime forests so that our children and children’s children will recognize and appreciate the multiple generations that these trees have survived every challenge they have faced. They are the oldest living things in our city, and as such should be highlighted and revered by our residents and visitors alike.

These Old Growth specimens may be found on either public or private property. Everyone is welcome to identify and report candidate trees anywhere in Virginia Beach for evaluation and measurement for inclusion in the Virginia Beach Notable Tree program.


Captain Brent S. James, Founder

Program Metrics

The Virginia Beach Notable Trees Program is an outgrowth of the United States National Big Tree Program and the Virginia Big Tree Program. The process of measuring the subject trees is exactly the same for the VBNT program as it is for the National and State programs. That process involves three measurements of each candidate tree as described below:
Trees are qualified for the Virginia Beach Notable Tree Program using a scoring system that is based on measurements of their physical dimensions:

• Trunk circumference measured in inches at 4.5 feet above ground level
• Total height measured in feet
• Average crown spread measured in feet

The basic tool needed to measure a tree is a 100’ measuring tape. (Trees with abnormal growth habit or on steep terrain will require specialized tools and techniques to obtain accurate measurements.)
Once tree measurements have been taken, the Notable Tree score can be calculated using this formula:
Score (Total points) = trunk circumference (in.) + tree height (ft.) + ¼ average crown spread* (ft.)
(*Note that only one-quarter point is award for each foot of average crown spread.)
The most difficult of the three measurements is ascertaining the height of the tree accurately. The best way to do this is to use a clinometer, but lacking that instrument, the next best way is to gauge the height versus an object of known height (such as a 2-story house…usually 25-30’ tall, a 10’ basketball hoop, etc). For purposes of nominating a tree, do your best to estimate the height. It will be measured accurately by us once you nominate it.
To be included in the Virginia Beach Notable Tree program as a “Tier 1” tree, a candidate tree must be at least 75% of the size of the smallest tree on the Virginia Big Tree list for that species ( For inclusion as a “Tier 2” tree, the candidate tree must be in the 60-74% range of the smallest on the Virginia Big Tree list for that species. For inclusion as a “Special Category” tree, the candidate tree must have some unique cultural, historical, or community interest properties that distinguish it.

All Tier 1 and Special Category trees will be awarded a suitable-for-framing certificate and a small sign identifying it as a Virginia Beach Notable Tree, which will be affixed to the tree by program personnel. All Tier 2 trees will receive the certificate only (but take heart…your Tier 2 tree could very well ascend into Tier 1 status as you continue to protect it and it grows more magnificent over the years! And you will still have bragging rights via the certificate displayed prominently in your home or business.)