Esperance arborist finds potentially largest tree in New York State – in Schaghticoke

Arborist and executive director of Landis Arboretum in Esperance Fred Breglia who is also the, stands with an Eastern Cottonwood tree in Schaghticoke. (Photo by Erin Breglia)

Arborist and executive director of Landis Arboretum in Esperance Fred Breglia who is also the, stands with an Eastern Cottonwood tree in Schaghticoke. (Photo by Erin Breglia)

SCHAGHTICOKE – Fred Breglia is a treasure hunter of sorts, though his treasure lies in trees.

The arborist has spent more than two decades finding and documenting some of the largest trees in the country and believes he’s found a winning Eastern Cottonwood in Schaghticoke.

“I do think it’s potentially the largest Eastern Cottonwood in the world right here in New York State, which is amazing,” said Breglia, who is the executive director of Landis Arboretum in Esperance.

The tree, which is situated on the border of a few private properties, comes in at 108 feet tall, with an average canopy spread of more than 100 feet. Its trunk is approximately 34 feet in circumference.

That beats out the other champions listed in the New York State Big Tree Register, run by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Breglia, of Esperance, has found several state and national champions over the years. He discovered the Schaghticoke tree after coming across another large Eastern Cottonwood in Coeymans earlier this year. He started doing some research to see if it might be the largest in the state.

“I was pretty confident that the one that I found was probably going to beat the other ones in our state. I started to do some archival work, looking back into some old paper clippings [from] back in the ‘90s,” Breglia said on Monday.

The clippings mentioned a massive tree in Schaghticoke that big tree hunters and others had been buzzing about since the 1950s. Breglia posted about it in Big Tree Seekers, a Facebook group that he started years ago that has amassed more than 192,000 members. Some in the community let him know that the tree was still standing, though they mentioned part of it had split.

“When I went to verify it, it wasn’t like the tree split apart. It actually just lost a big chunk of its top but the trunk is still completely intact, and it has these main branches coming up out of it,” Breglia said.

The tree’s size is thanks to its water-rich environment.

“It’s in a floodplain. It’s a perfect growing environment. That’s what it likes and it’s right next to a river and then there’s a small creek that feeds right next to it. So it’s probably never undergone a drought stress in its life,” Breglia said.

When it comes to getting on the state’s Big Tree Register or the National Register of Big Trees, the latter of which is run by the nonprofit American Forests, it’s not only the tree’s height that matters. The size is calculated using a point system that factors in the circumference of the trunk in inches, plus the height in feet and a quarter of the average crown spread in feet. The formula is the national standard and has been since the inception of the big tree registry that started back in the 1940s.

Breglia has reached out to the coordinator of the NYS’ big tree program and plans to nominate the Eastern Cottonwood for the register. On the national level, the Eastern Cottonwoods that currently hold the first and second-place records are in Nebraska and Kansas. Breglia is working to get updated measurements on those trees.

“I do think it’s going to take a little bit of time but it will end up being the national champion,” Breglia said.

When it comes to the tree’s age, Breglia believes it’s around 300 years old, which is triple the average lifespan of an Eastern Cottonwood. It’ll take more research to finalize that number and Breglia hopes to use a coring device to get a sample from one of the tree’s original branches, which he can use to get a ring count.

Big tree hunting involves a certain amount of competition.

“That’s definitely a big part of it, but the main reason is not that. The main reason is to actually foster the appreciation of the big trees and the old forests, and that they’re important in our environment,” Breglia said. “I always believe that if you can get somebody to like a tree, they’d be more apt to want to protect the tree. This is really just creating a tremendous amount of awareness.”

He’s also worked to foster an appreciation of big trees through social media, including on Facebook and Instagram, and through his work at Landis.

“There’s no better way to get people involved or interested, or at least in tune with what nature is about than a big old tree. Everybody, it doesn’t matter what political party you’re in, it doesn’t matter what walk of life you are [from], it doesn’t even matter what language you speak, we all speak big tree,” Breglia said.

Next year, Landis Arboretum, a not-for-profit that supports hundreds of acres in Schoharie and Montgomery Counties and includes old-growth forests and other natural areas, will host a big tree hunt competition to try and find the largest tree in the state.

Landis has held these competitions in the past but perhaps none as far-reaching.

“A lot of times we’re looking for a specific species like an oak hunt or a maple hunt. But this is going to be a search for the biggest tree in New York. We usually limit it to the Capital Region. But this time, we’re actually going across the whole state with this one,” Breglia said.

“We’re trying to see if we can beat these two cottonwoods because we do believe that there’s potential out there,” he added.

For updates on that and more information, visit or

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, News, Schenectady County

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