The stately white dogwood tree in the side yard of Bruce and Muriel Luedeman, 620 S. Main St., no longer can boast of being a Missouri State Championship Tree by the Missouri Department of Conservation. On Dec. 20, 2018, the 34-foot high tree with its 37-foot spread and 51-inch circumference lost its designation as the reigning state champion.

An arborist, Muriel says, recently informed her that a flowering dogwood tree in Cape Girardeau was larger than hers, but when the Missouri state champion tree died, her prize-winning tree was designated as a Missouri Champion Dogwood Tree.

“It's a fleeting honor,” she says, “but an honor, nonetheless, to know that Independence had been graced by a state champion tree.”

However, the flowering dogwood isn't the only Missouri State Championship Tree in Jackson County. There are at least three others in Independence Muriel knows about, including a smoke tree at the Vaile Mansion and a yellowwood tree on private property.

There is nothing growing in Muriel's yard that receives more tender, loving care than her champion dogwood, which lost a limb this winter because of the heavy snow.

“We have taken care of this tree since moving here in 2003 because of its historical significance, she says. “We have a lawn service and keep it watered and fertilized in the fall.”

As for its age, Muriel doesn't know. Neither does Gary Liebold, a retired Independence arborist and family friend, who Muriel credits with saving the beautiful tree from destruction during the rehabilitation of the Luedeman home some 15 years ago.

When the house was being rehabilitated, Muriel says the building contractor noticed a metal plate Gary had attached to the dogwood about its historical significance, thus saving the tree from being destroyed to make room for a new driveway. The driveway was moved and the tree was saved.

As for who planted the champion tree, Muriel believes it was the grandmother of a neighbor who lived in the same house the Luderemans reside in today.

“We don't know for sure,” she says, recalling a nearby neighbor once told her that the neighbor's grandparents once lived in the same house in which the Luedemans reside in today. That was in the mid-’50s. And it was his grandmother who planted that tree.

“I just have his word on it. And that kind of stands to reason what Gary has told me about the life of dogwood trees: They really don't last.”

“Seventy-five would really be an old dogwood,” Gary says. “They don't have a long life span. I am assuming it's around 70 to 75. However, Muriel believes the tree is probably in its mid-60s.

Describing dogwoods as not resilient to any kind of disease or environmental damage, Gary says, they are a “resilient, strong tree. Neither ice nor storms bother them much because of their structure.”

And no one loves the tree now in full bloom more than Muriel.

“I come out and I praise this tree. I thank the tree for all the years we have had it,” she says. “I am not a tree hugger. But I know trees are valuable. And trees are beautiful. I praise everybody. I thank God I have lived in a house that had a beautiful tree like this one that graces our city. And I want to promote it – not me – but give God respect for what he did for this tree. So I think this tree needs a name. I'll think about that!”

Ask Muriel what the dogwood means to her, and she'll tell you: “A big, huge blessing to our family. I believe that when we take care of nature, we respect all of God's creation and they in turn bless us. And if they are on the right path, nature responds in a positive, overflowing way – more positive than you can ever really imagine.”

Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.