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"I couldn't keep that tree a secret." Giant U.P. white pine named tallest tree in Michigan

giant white pine
Nick Hansen
Nick Hansen next to the largest tree in Michigan.

Nick Hansen went looking for fish, but what he found was something a lot bigger.

Hansen, a freshwater stream ecologist and second year graduate student at the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability, went hiking in the Upper Peninsula's McCormick Wilderness last May to investigate the area's fisheries.

"It was my second time to that location — the first time was nearly ruined by the insects," Hansen wrote in an email to Michigan Radio. "We vowed to come back in the off-season and explore the area due to the massive trees and seemingly untouched environment we noticed on our first trip. Fish are what brought me to this location, in which I was successful, but the trees are what made me decide to go back."

roots of giant white pine
Nick Hansen
Hansen says, "Standing at the bottom, I knew it was tall but I could not find a good angle to view the top. "

There was one tree in particular that caught his eye: an Eastern white pine that towered above the rest.

He knew it was special — a hunch that was confirmed after a call to the Michigan Botanical Club. Certifier Byron Sailor visited the tree in late September, and found it to be 155 feet tall.

giant white pine vertical
Nick Hansen
The tree was too tall to capture on Hansen's phone camera.

For context, the tree could just about fit under the Mackinac Bridge at its highest point above the water.

According to the Club's Big Tree Registry, the previous record holder was another white pine observed in 2007 - but that clocked in at a measly 143 feet tall.

Although Hansen and the MBC are keeping the exact location of the tree secret for its protection, Hansen says the area itself was as incredible as the tree.

"This location is like no other I've seen in Michigan. It feels like walking back in time into what I would think pre-colonial Michigan would look like. The campsite which we found the tree from seemed ancient, and I know I'm not the first person to lay eyes on that tree," he said.

"I don't like being labeled as the discoverer of this tree, because I know Indigenous communities probably watched it grow."

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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