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Massachusetts sassafras query

I just saw a post on the New England Native Plants facebook group about a tall sassafras found in the Blue Hills Reservation, Milton, Mass. The reporter suggested a height over 100' but I think that figure represents enthusiasm more than reality, height measurement was an estimate.

I spent way too much time searching the NTS site and internet in general for data on Massachusetts sassafras trees, no luck. Any clues on where to find height and or "state champ" sassafras data for Massachusetts?

by AndrewJoslin
Sun Jul 17, 2016 3:33 pm
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Chautauqua Creek Gorge

Chautauqua Creek Gorge, like the previously reported Canadaway Gorge and of course the unparalleled Zoar Valley, is one of the deep water-worn gashes in the Allegheny Plateau that drain into Lake Erie. Unlike Canadaway Gorge, Chautauqua Creek Gorge is one of three ravines specifically noted in a Watershed Report as containing forests "exceeding 150 years in age and 150 feet in canopy height"- along with Twentymile Creek Gorge and Zoar Valley. It's unclear what methods were used to make that height determination, but we certainly know it to be true for Zoar, so I've been looking forward to getting into Chautauqua Gorge to see how tall its trees might be. Much of its length is private, but Chautauqua Gorge State Forest provides public access to one of the narrow, rugged stretches of its upper reaches.

Friday 10/7/17 I visited the gorge and discovered immediately that I had run down my rangefinder battery and had no replacements. This was disappointing, but gave me time to cover quite a bit of ground to scout out the most promising stands of trees. I returned on Tuesday 10/10/17 to get some trees measured. The numbers:
All of these trees (except the plantation larch) were measured on a terrace just north of the main parking lot, accessed by descending a narrow tree-lined ridge and following it down to the east. There is an additional section of terrace to the west of the ridge that I didn't measure on this occasion. In addition to being very tall, the ecology of the forest on this terrace is remarkably intact. Tree species associated with anthropogenic disturbance are abundant in the immediate surroundings but absent on the terrace. The ground flora is some of the lushest I've seen anywhere and consists entirely of native species, many of which are uncommon or rare.
It's difficult to interpret what the disturbance history here might be. It is entirely possible this stand was never or only lightly logged; access is difficult. In current management plan maps for the State Forest, these terraces are designated "natural area" with no plans for active management. The issue with declaring this forest "old growth" is that many of the trees seem fairly old, but none that I would necessarily put past the 150-200 year age class, and there are many species considered less shade tolerant (white ash, black cherry, northern red oak). Among later-succession species sugar maple is abundant, with hemlock clustering in just one area and beech only present in young understory trees. There is evidence to suggest much larger beech were present, with bark disease likely having killed most of them. There is a significant amount of downed woody material, and it seems to decay very rapidly.
The pattern that does emerge, at least to my eyes, is that the less shade tolerant species tend to follow slope interfaces, both along the main slope of the descending ridgeline and wherever the terrace has "steps" (often steep slopes dropping 5-10 feet in elevation), while sugar maple becomes almost hegemonic on the more stable flats. It may be that this is an old-growth system in which the disturbance regime is chiefly geological, with slope instability (particularly considering how very wet the environment is) maintaining a gap dynamic that both maintains the species mix and accounts for the abundance of old trees but virtual absence of very old trees. The alternative likelihood would be that there might have been a full stand replacement event sometime around 200 years ago (whether anthropogenic or a weather or landslide event) with no meaningful alteration or human uses in the time since, with the species and distributions present simply reflecting inexorable succession headed for a beech-maple-hemlock climax overall.
Heights of many of the species present are similar to the heights those same species achieve in Zoar; further downstream I know that tuliptree, sycamore and cottonwood do join the canopy, and this raises the possibility that trees in the 150' class will be found here as well.
Along with the species measured, yellow birch, ironwood, and hophornbeam are all present as understory trees. Cucumber Magnolia is also somewhat common, mainly in with the hemlocks, and the one mystery encountered was a single Bitternut Hickory sapling in the middle of the terrace. I did not see any other hickories at any stage of life. On this visit I didn't have time to visit the upper slope of the terrace, which has a couple more "steps" and may be better-drained- if that's where the mature hickories are, there will definitely be potential for tall trees and perhaps some additional species diversity. Looking down into part of that slope from the ridge while leaving I did notice the taller basswood that I measured as well as a nice beech that should have a reasonable height.

The Larch (which I believe is Japanese but I didn't look at the characteristics closely) is in a nice plantation just above this terrace, which probably has taller trees but is still a bit of a visual mess right now. All the tallest tops seem to be nested, making it hard to work with the needles on. It's a dense stand. There are a few Norway Spruce but they don't seem to do as well.
There's a lot left to explore and measure in Chautauqua Creek Gorge. Much of the best of it is private land, as is most of the previously mentioned Twentymile Creek Gorge, but I know at least one of the relevant landowners and hope to figure out some options for access.
by Erik Danielsen
Wed Oct 11, 2017 5:16 pm
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Re: Zoar Valley Update

On saturday 12/9/2017 I left the Point Peter Rd parking lot in pursuit of a LiDAR hit suggesting a 165' tree on or above the terrace with the tallest cottonwood. I've posted in the Zoar LiDAR thread discussing the broken white pine that may have been responsible for the reading.

In approaching the terrace, I stayed up on the plateau instead of descending to valentine flats, which took me through forests I had not seen before. This upper slope forest, mostly on a long gently sloped shelf that begins just below the true rim of the plateau, appears to be mostly regrowth with scattered clusters of older trees, mostly near the canyon rim. Tuliptree seems to be structurally dominant, with bitternut hickory, northern red oak, red and sugar maple, bigtooth aspen, and scattered hemlock and beech. There are at least a few small tulip cathedrals in the making. Tulips ranged between 130-140 commonly and other tall hardwoods did get into the 120s and 130s, an excellent showing for regrowth. A 142' tulip in one of the budding cathedrals was the tallest I saw. A 55.5' Striped Maple was also good to see.

Descending to the terrace, I remeasured the big cottonwood. The highest top appears to have two nice leading twigs putting on height, and it has gained a little. The girth increased slightly as well. This may be slightly due to different midslope placement but it also seems likely the trunk is swelling and buckling outwards.

After searching in vain for the LiDAR hit I remeasured the ratty doubletrunked pine, which has been growing steadily since the first post in this thread. I then remeasured two of the tuliptrees from last year (one now joins the 150 club) and then continued south along the narrow part of the terrace, beyond where I had turned back before. In close proximity I measured a beech and a slippery elm that may be remeasures from Elijah's first post.

Not expecting much more, I continued in search of an ascent point, only to find a very vigorous group of tulips. One in particular immediately returned readings suggesting it would be in the 150s, though it was a bad viewpoint and the base was a couple feet above me and obscured. Then a little hole peeking into the back of the canopy suggested a height over 160! Making the best measurement I could from that spot (161.2), I got a tape wrapped at midslope and went uphill to measure from two more viewpoints. Both of the "good" measurements were nearly identical, 161.8 and finally 161.98'. This tree becomes NY's tallest known tuliptree and the tallest in the zoar complex.

161.98' / 8.4'cbh
153.2' / 10.92'cbh remeasure
150.86' / 9.64'cbh remeasure
142' / 8.36'cbh upper plateau
142.2' / 14.96'cbh remeasure
White Pine
127.5' / 7.61'cbh remeasure
American Beech
121.2' / 7.9'cbh
Slippery Elm
118.5' / 4.46'cbh
Striped Maple
55.5' / 1.7'cbh
I'm posting from my phone currently but will add some photos next time I have an internet connection. There's a small backlog of additional visits to report.
by Erik Danielsen
Sat Dec 09, 2017 10:17 pm
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