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Re: Wildflowers in Pretty Hollow Gap, Cataloochee Valley

James,

You have a meadow-rue (Thalictrum), and elderberry (either Sambucus candensis or S. racemosa), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), and either speckled wood lily or blue bead lily (Clintonia umbellulata or C. borealis). The photographs are definitely the best aid to identification, but other information, like elevation or whether the habitat was relatively dry or moist, can be very helpful also.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Sat Apr 24, 2010 12:28 am
 
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Re: Eastern OLDLIST - new URL

Bob,

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that anyone has kept track of which old pine out at Nelson Swamp is the oldest one. I helped resample that site last year as part of some research one of my office-mates is doing. We got cores dating back to only the early 1700’s, but all of the trees were partially rotten.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Thu May 27, 2010 11:28 pm
 
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Re: Tree ID Booklet - Beech

Jenny,

You might want to use Little's range maps (http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/little/) instead of those from USDA plants. His maps show range boundaries rather than just state lines, and they don't include areas where the species as only naturalized; contrary to the UDSA map, beech is not native anywhere near Utah.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:36 am
 
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Re: Photographs of Large Trees (1915)

Here is a photo of the tuliptree on Ekaneetlee Branch that Will mentioned. I am barely visible at the base of the tree.
by Jess Riddle
Wed Aug 25, 2010 11:20 pm
 
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Black Duck Hole, Adirondacks, New York

Cranberry Lake sprawls along the northwestern edge of the Adirondack Park. Despite most of the lake being less than 20 feet deep, the main body of the lake is 2.5 miles across, and broad fingers extending away give a total length of over eight miles. Those dimensions lead to the lake being the third largest in the Adirondacks and connect areas of contrasting topography and human settlement. A series of small mountains runs from the eastern shore toward the High Peaks of the northeastern Adirondacks while a rolling terrain of gentle slopes and few prominent high points extends to the southwest. One finger stretches north to the small town of Cranberry Lake while another stretches southwest towards the extensive, by eastern standards, Five Ponds Wilderness Area. Forest extends across the wilderness area, occasionally broken by ponds and beaver meadows, but the wilderness area is best known for how the forests stretch back in time. Five Ponds is often touted as home to the largest tract of old-growth forest in the northeast with the total acreage uncertain but generally put in the vicinity of 50,000 acres. While many parts of the Adirondacks were logged for only the most valuable species, white pine and red spruce, the heart of Five Ponds escaped even that invasion due to the construction of Stillwater Reservoir, which now forms the wilderness area’s southern boundary, blocking access. Loggers extensively high-graded the more accessible northern portion of the wilderness area for softwoods, but some slopes were largely hardwood dominated and remained relatively little disturbed.

In late September, I accompanied a group of college students on a canoeing/camping trip, and had opportunity to briefly explore the forests in the vicinity of Black Duck Hole, a cove of Cranberry Lake in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area. Like most of the Adirondacks, relatively few species form the overstory, but different substrates force them to assemble into remarkably distinct communities. Low elevation well drained areas, ranging from flats to ridges and often with an abundance of thinly veiled boulders, support white pine forests, which appear to be late 1800’s in origin. Red maple and bigtooth aspen fill the spaces between the pine crowns along with smaller yellow birch and beech. Lycopods, wild sarsaparilla and smaller numbers of goldthread and wintergreen grow amongst wood ferns on the forest floor. In between those canopy layers, a patchy midstory of hardwood saplings, striped maple, witch hobble and red spruce grows in the shade.

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Conifers also dominate the area’s most poorly drained forests, but their structure contrasts with the pine forests open, lofty form. Dark belts of balsam fir and red spruce densely cover flat areas along small, low-gradient streams. Occasional red spruce may reach two feet in diameter, but a multitude of arrow straight stems less than a foot in diameter and growing close together form the forest. Mosses and liverworts thrive on the dim, wet forest floor and cinnamon fern fills some more open areas. On the stream side, where these forests grade into wetland sedge meadows, black spruce and larch join the conifer mix.

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On some low slopes, the white pine forests gradually give way to the associated hardwoods, but on the larger slopes they quickly transition to the area’s most extensive forest type, a mixture of sugar maple, beech, and yellow birch with woodfern groudcover. Upland concave landforms within that forest sometimes support white ash while hemlocks and bigtooth aspen grow scattered in some areas, but sugar maple, beech and birch truly dominate the slopes. The rarity of white pine and red spruce in these communities means they were little impacted by logging, and locating trees over 200 years old doe not require searching.

That the white pine forests have recovered much of their pre-logging stature seems remarkable given how brief the growing season is. Pines are commonly seven or eight feet in circumference and stretch 110’ above the ground. The largest are over 10’ around and 130’ tall. The adjacent hardwood forests retain much of their original stature, sugar maples on sheltered sites reach 10’ in girth and along with white ash just eclipse 100’ in height, but they currently face disturbances that will be more difficult to recover from. Beech bark disease has been decimating beech for decades, and small groves of nearly pure beech have been reduced to miniaturized versions of there former selves; the stands often remain almost exclusively beech, although striped maples have exploited gaps on some sites, but a multitude of sprouts and small beech up to about a foot in diameter comprise the canopy. Areas with lower concentrations of beech have faired somewhat better, but acid deposition now adds sugar maple mortality to beech mortality. Many, but not all, of the largest sugar maples are snags, and dead branches outnumber live in the crowns of many other overstory sugar maples. However, the yellow birch and smaller sugar maples and do not show obvious signs of decline.

One hopeful, and surprising, reminder amidst the battered hardwood forests is a solitary, apparently health American elm, 12’4” circumference and 104.0’ tall. The tree’s classic vase shaped crown with large, sinuous, ascending branches flaring out into a broad dome makes clear why the species was once beloved as a street tree. The tree’s isolation with few or no other elms in the surrounding hundreds of acres may have helped the tree escape Dutch elm disease, and the site appears ideal for elm growth. The tree grows in a small flat area at the base of a gentle slope. Ephemeral streams run down the slope to either side providing ample moisture, and they deposit nutrient rich sediments in the flat, as indicated by the presence of the otherwise uncommon herb plantain leaved sedge. Those features make the site surprisingly like an upland version of a floodplain, where American elms typically thrive.

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I only took time to measure a few trees. A pair of red spruce within sight of each other and on a hardwood slope adjacent to a spruce flat were 5’8” cbh x 100.3’ and 7’4” x 102.5’. A sugar maple on the ephemeral stream above the elm was 8’3” x 103.7’, and the largest white pine encountered was 12’8” x 131.0’.

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Jess
by Jess Riddle
Wed Oct 13, 2010 11:35 pm
 
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Saddle Gap

Topography is well known to be one of the primary drivers of plant composition in mountainous areas. Gradients in temperature, soil nutrients, and especially moisture allow different species to survive and compete near streams versus on ridge tops or on north facing slopes versus south facing slopes. A casual perusal of ENTS trip reports reveals topography influences not only species composition but also the sizes species can obtain. The vast majority of tall trees occur on lower slope positions with higher ground to the south or west that casts shade and reduces solar drying. The LiDAR data for the mountains of western North Carolina bolsters that pattern; high canopies consistently occur on north or east facing slopes and never form on ridge tops. However, LiDAR also identifies a few areas that would otherwise be dismissed as too dry to support tall trees where tall forest grows in south facing coves. Productive forests on such sites usually correlate with uncommon bedrock types that produce soils unusually rich in certain nutrients.

LiDAR points to the coves on the west side of Saddle Gap as on such area. Saddle Gap, a low point on a large ridge that descends from the Great Balsam Mountains towards Brevard, NC, lays a little below 3400’ elevation in one of the wettest parts of the southern Appalachians. A fan of coves, ranging from almost due south to northwest facing, drains the western side of the gap. LiDAR shows canopy heights up to 163’ in the southwest facing portion of the fan, slightly lower heights in the west facing section, and unremarkable heights in the northwest aspect coves. That information promised fairly tall tuliptrees, and the potential for tall individuals of species typically found on drier sites.

The forest along the narrow, straight stream that drains the coves is unexceptional. Basswoods and beeches grow scattered amongst thin 130’ tall tuliptrees, and the scattered patches of rhododendron and dog-hobble do not suggest unusual soil chemistry. Some benches on a southeast facing slope support mixed oak forest and hint at greater productivity, but the base of the fan marks the transition to taller forests. Rapidly growing tuliptrees dominate the central parts of the southwest and west facing coves over a well developed understory of small silverbells, mostly less than 15’ tall. Like most rich coves along the edge of the mountains in the Carolinas, hickories, in this case red and mockernut, are a common associate, and red and chestnut oaks also fringe the cove bottoms. Near the top of the west facing cove, a small grove of walnuts testifies to unusually rich soils. Above a series of small rock ledges at the coves’ upper edges, the forest dramatically changes to near heath bald conditions. Scattered pitch pines and a few oaks grow out of a dense thicket of either mountain laurel or dwarf rhododendron.

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Jess Riddle & Michael Davie
by Jess Riddle
Fri Jan 07, 2011 12:16 pm
 
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Return to Cliff Creek

Cliff Creek, near the edge of the Appalachians in Georgia’s northeastern corner, supports a handful of state height records and an exceptional grove of white pines that includes the two tallest known trees in the state. We returned to Cliff Creek to update measurements from 2005 of the tallest white pines and to explore the section of creek upstream of a waterfall that marks the upper end of the white pine grove. The tallest pines grow in a large, perhaps 200’ wide in places, alluvial flat in a bend of Cliff Creek. A slope to the south that exceeds 40 degrees in places, contributes water, nutrients, shade, and shelter to the pines growing at the edge of the flat. The stand is vaguely reminiscent of a floodplain since lianas (woody vines) cling to the trunk of every mature tree, but the species mix is different from any floodplain. Climbing hydrangea is the abundant vine, but cross vine, a frequenter of floodplains is also common. The winter herb layer is dominated by Christmas fern, and silverbell, dwarf rhododendron, and rosebay rhododendron occur in patches in the sparse understory. Hemlocks, with thick conical upper crowns showing their vigor but sparse lower crowns showing damage by hemlock woolly adelgid, form a dense midstory. Pitch pines, tuliptrees, black birch, and red maple grow amongst the more abundant white pines, but it is difficult to call them overstory trees since the white pines tower above them.

The stand has changed conspicuously since our last visit; limbless white pine snags, perhaps victims of recent droughts, are abundant throughout the flat. However, the roughly 40% of the pines that have died do not include any of the three tallest trees. Previous measurements were apparently made with a rangefinder that shot long, so no growth is apparent in the measurements. The revisit did yield a few new finds including a hickory, more pignut than red based on bark and fruit characteristics, that is a new height record.

Above the falls, gentler slopes afford less protection and shade to the flats along Cliff Creek and an unnamed tributary. Consequently, while white pine is still common, the likely slightly drier conditions in the upper flats favor dominance by shortleaf pine. The tallest shortleaf pines grow as scattered trees along the lower creek, but the dense stands in the upper flats include several individuals with heights seldom obtained elsewhere in the state.

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The Rucker Index is now the highest in the state.

Jess Riddle & Will Blozan
by Jess Riddle
Fri Jan 07, 2011 5:16 pm
 
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East Barkers Creek

Probably best known as a source of gemstones, the Cowee Mountains are small section of the crumpled mass of earth’s crust that makes up western North Carolina. They lie south and west of larger, higher mountain ranges, the Great Smokies and the Great Balsams. The higher peaks range between 4000 and 5000’ elevation with a degree of ruggedness typical of the southern Appalachians.

LiDAR indicates most cove forests of the Cowees are smaller in stature than those of the Smokies and some other nearby mountain ranges. Sites with canopies peaking above 150’ are unusual, and the aerial data identifies only three sites with hits exceeding 160’. However, one of those, a small, northeast facing cove in the East Barkers Creek watershed, has a continuous high canopy with one 176’ cell. The anomalously high LiDAR model suggests that, for the Cowees, the cove is some combination of unusually rich and unusually old. Those qualities made the site a high priority for groundtruthing.

After a call to the Forest Service dispelled their fears that recent timber sales in the watershed had included the target cove, Will Blozan, Michael Davie, Josh Kelly, and Jess Riddle set out on a cool, gray, New Year’s eve to visit the cove. We coaxed a compact car up a steep dirt road, saturated by melting snow, that wound through the recent housing development bordering Forest Service land. As we neared our destination, the forests lining the road appeared rich but young, less than 60 years old, and we were surprised by the steepness of the slopes. After asking permission to park, we ascended a cove that Forest Service records identified as originating in 1870 and laid adjacent to our target cove. Old logging roads criss-crossed the cove, and while obviously much younger than hoped for, the forest showed signs of high growth potential. We noted an abundance of sweet cicely, an herb typical of rich sites, and were further encouraged by several bitternut hickories, again typical of sites with good moisture and nutrient supply. At the cove’s upper end, several well formed northern red oaks already reached approximately 3’ in diameter and about 130’ tall.

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An old road crossed a steep ridge into our target cove and put us in position to measure our way down through the high canopy area. Above the road, a mix of tuliptree, white ash, basswood, and black cherry, often draped with dutchmans pipe vine, grew out of the rocky upper cove. Below the road, the cove descended at a moderate slope, and steep side slopes nearly meet each other to make the cove ravine like. Tuliptrees dominated the cove to such an extent that few trees of other species had been able to survive, and those that had leaned, twisted, and contorted their way towards old canopy gaps. The understory and shrub layers also showed little variety, only yellow buckeye and wild hydrangea were common, but the herbaceous layer likely contributes substantial diversity. What we could see of the herb layer was a mix of widely distributed mesic site species like Christmas fern and intermediate wood fern, and rich site species like sweet cicely and large bellflower. Among those grows at least one uncommon species characteristic of very rich soils, goldies fern, which also occurs under the 180’ tuliptree on Bradley Fork in the Smokies and in the exceptional second growth tuliptree stand at Joyce Kilmer.

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From the road bed in the upper cove, the tuliptrees did not strike us as looking especially tall. Their tops were just starting to gnarl, and the grove was not particularly dense. Given their somewhat exposed position and the relatively open stand, they seemed to suggest that more sheltered parts of the cove might support exceptional trees, but that the most productive parts of the cove were still below us. Starting to measure them, however, we quickly realized that the trees were taller than they appeared, and that we had already reached the upper end of the prime area. The first measurements came in at over 170’. Seeing a denser forest of tall tulips farther down the center of the cove, we divided up tasks: Will and Mike did most of the measuring, while Josh collected coordinates and Jess measured circumferences and provided targets on the bases. The goal quickly became to measure all the 170’ tuliptrees. By the time we reached the boundary of private land, which coincided with younger forest and the end of the tall trees, we had seen 16 tuliptrees over 170’, including three over 180’.

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The unprecedented density of tall tuliptrees left us all slightly stunned. The LiDAR data promised an impressive cove, but this stand exceeded our expectations. Of all known sites, this cove contains the second most tuliptrees over 170’ tall (Baxter Creek has 22) and as many 180’ trees as any known site in eastern North America. All of those trees grow in a narrow strip less than two acres in area. More accurate measurements of the Deep Creek tuliptrees will determine where the site’s tallest tree ranks among tuliptrees and among all eastern hardwoods. Second tallest seems likely, and the tree is certainly the tallest known second growth hardwood in eastern North America. We do not know what the stand’s eventual limits will be. Based on crown structure and bark, the even aged tuliptrees appear to be between 85 and 120 years old. Some of the trees have densely branched upper limbs and somewhat rounded crowns indicating they continue upward only slowly. However, the tallest tree does not fork until about 30’ below the top, and maintains strong apical dominance. This remarkable stand would have remained unknown to us without LiDAR data; adjacent private land discourages casually poking around in the area, and the more visible young forest that surround the stand only hint at the area’s potential. To better understand this grove’s productivity, we feel the trees, surrounding plants, and soils deserve further research.

Jess Riddle, Will Blozan, Michael Davie, and Josh Kelly
by Jess Riddle
Sat Jan 08, 2011 6:56 pm
 
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Re: The tallest tree in the east is probably in Tennessee

Ian,

This map is wonderful, and I think the approach you’ve taken is great. I’ve been trying for years for get ENTS to focus more on understanding why large/tall trees grow where they do, rather than simply documenting where they are and making a few observations. I’m smacking myself now for not seeing how MaxEnt, or ecological niche modeling in general, could help.

Even though LiDAR is great base data, I’m not optimistic that the Tennessee side of the Smokies will match the NC side. I think there are climatic differences between the sides of the mountain range that significantly affect tree height. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to figure out what the key climatic variables are.

One way to validate the model before the TN LiDAR data comes out would be to look at predicted sites versus LiDAR heights for other regions of the NC mountains. The Nanthala Mountains and Joyce Kilmer might be good test areas.

I’m not familiar with your topographic moisture variable. How is it derived? The terrain variable I’ve seen more often is topographic convergence index.

To some extent, topography will collect nutrients in the same way it does water. Perhaps that nutrient concentrating effect of topography is mitigating some of the differences between different geology/soil types. I’m assuming the soils weren’t mapped on that fine a scale. Another reason that pH and base cations may not be showing up in the final model is that tuliptrees are apparently more sensitive texture than to soil nutrients (Silvics Manual). However, as Josh has noted, some herbs restricted to very nutrient rich soils usually occur at the tallest tuliptree sites.

Even if the model isn’t fully generalizable, it seems like the relative values would hold up well. It’s fantastic to see some predictive work on tall trees. I’m looking forward to taking a more careful look at your map, and seeing what this approach can do with other data sets.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Fri May 13, 2011 5:37 pm
 
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Re: Gnarly pine on Stone Mountain

Ents,

I am almost positive this tree is a Virginia pine ( P. virginiana ). The leaves, cones, crown structure, and habitat are all consistent with that species. The leaves and cones look too small for either P. pungens , or P. rigida , and the crown structure doesn't seem quite right.

I also have vague memories of small statured P. taeda on Stone Mountain Georgia. It's kind of a strectch to call those montane though since Stone Mountain is a monadnock well out into the Piedmont.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Tue Sep 13, 2011 11:09 pm
 
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Georgia canopy heights from LiDAR

In terms of tree heights, North Georgia has long taken a back seat to the mountains of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and northwestern South Carolina. Out of dozens of overstory species that reach their maximum height in the southern Appalachians, the Georgia mountains support the height records for only four species, and three of those are pines growing in the Chattooga River watershed. That lack of records has endured despite extensive searching, rainfall comparable to more record rich regions of the Southern Appalachians, and long growing seasons. However, that pattern is poised to change thanks to LiDAR.

LiDAR data is currently available for only about half of north Georgia’s mountains, but a plethora of extremely promising sites are already apparent. LiDAR indicates literally hundreds of groves with trees over 150’, and 160’s are common in some watersheds. Many of these areas have been little or not at all previously searched, but others are known tall tree sites. Many of the latter appear more extensive or have a wider range of productive habitat types than previously thought.

The apparent lack of tall trees in Georgia was partly a product of the types of sites that are most productive in Georgia. Coves dominated by a mix of tall hardwoods, by far the most abundant and productive tall tree sites in western North Carolina, are relatively predictable based on topography and the records of uncommon rich site species. Georgia has few cove forests that are the same caliber as those found in western North Carolina in terms of productivity. Instead, LiDAR indicates Georgia has an abundance of sites where white pine grows well. Such sites are less predictable from topography, and the tall trees are often scattered rather than densely packed in discrete groves. Consequently, most of the records from north Georgia will be species that grow well in association with white pines or on similar site types, but there is also some potential for rich site hardwoods that grow best at low elevations.

This holiday season I will be visiting a few of the most promising sites. Overestimation of tree heights due to leaning trees on steep slopes is much more common with white pine than tuliptree, so it is hard to say just how tall the trees will turn out to be. The data is dense enough to see a strong lean, so the largest errors can be avoided. The tallest hits that look reliable are around 190’, so the Boogerman Pine’s reign as the tallest known conifer in the east may not last much longer.

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Jess
by Jess Riddle
Wed Dec 21, 2011 8:40 pm
 
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Panther Creek, GA

The recently flown LiDAR data for north Georgia indicates the Panther Creek area has one of the greatest concentrations of tall trees in the state. That suggestion is not surprising given that a previous tree measuring trip to the area yielded not only several state height records but also the highest Rucker index in the state at that time. However, all of those previous finds were hardwoods growing in three small coves where the carbonate rich rocks of the Brevard Fault Zone approached the surface to produce circum-neutral soils and the appropriate habitat for several rare plant species. LiDAR indicates that tall trees are not restricted to that small area, but grow over a much broader area of narrow, low-elevation ravines and tributaries. That distribution pattern suggests many of the high hits are white pine rather than hardwoods, and aerial photographs confirm that interpretation. Other tall tree sites in the Brevard Fault Zone, such as Tamassee Knob, lack tall white pines, possibly as a consequence of the relatively gentle topography away from the carbonate rich rocks.

On this trip, our primary objects were to check 185.3’ and 190.2’ LiDAR hits and adjacent northeast facing slopes with hardwood canopies to around 160’. We followed the Panther Creek Falls Trail to the vicinity of the highest hit and found ourselves looking up a rhododendron filled ravine typical of the area. The highest points were actually up a tributary ravine, which turned out to better described as a crevice in the earth’s surface with a vertical cliff on one side and steeply sloping rock on the other. That topography, rather than the height of the trees, seems to have been the source of the high lidar hits. I roughed out the white pines on the steep slopes to the 130’s and a hemlock to the 120’s, though some trees may have been slightly taller. Similarly, the other conspicuously high hit turned out to be an emergent white pine with a swept over top growing directly above a rock outcrop on a very steep slope; that form and positioning meant the distance from the top of the tree to the ground beneath it was about 40’ greater than the vertical distance from the top to the base.

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Despite those disappointments, a few tall white pines on nearby slopes still suggest that at least some of the other high LiDAR hits accurately reflect tree heights. Additionally, the data led to the exploration of additional productive hardwood areas. Those coves lack some of the rich site species found in the previously measured and better botanically known coves, such as black walnut, but tuliptrees reaching around 150’ tall typically dominate near the center of the ravines with a mixture of beech, basswood, sweetgum, hemlock and other species occurring on adjacent slopes. An unusually diverse collection of rich site species including paw paw, spicebush, buckeye, and redbud dominate the understory on relatively gentle slopes, but give way to rosebay rhododendron on steeper moist slopes and dwarf rhododendron in the drier ravines. Trees that approached or exceeded state height records established elsewhere at Panther Creek were found in both the overstory and understory, and a few state height records for other species were also encountered.

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Overall, 8 state height records now reside at Panther Creek, and the site has Georgia’s highest Rucker index at 143.9’.

Jess Riddle
by Jess Riddle
Thu Dec 29, 2011 1:04 am
 
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Re: Barker's Creek Middle Branch, NC

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by Jess Riddle
Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:12 pm
 
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Spoilcane Creek, GA

Multiple unusual topographic features make Spoilcane Creek one of the most visually striking watersheds in north Georgia. The stream starts at a deep gap on a major watershed divide, and flows due south along an unusually straight path to meet the upper Chattahoochee River, Atlanta’s water supply. Spoilcane Creek also lies at the western end of the Warwoman Cleft, a major fault cutting across multiple mountain watersheds. Perhaps more strikingly, the watershed is one sided; on the west side, a few small tributaries extend only a fraction of a mile to a low ridge.

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A few previously known trees hinted that the watershed might have potential to grow significantly tall trees; the state height record sycamore grows there, surprisingly in a small south facing coves, and a cursory survey of a smaller adjacent stream revealed both tuliptree and white pine to around 150’. However, LiDAR data indicated the area deserved a more thorough investigation since most of the lower watershed appears to support tall white pines. Of particular interest was one small, unnamed tributary with hits to 185’ and, upslope, the only concentration of tall hardwoods in the watershed.

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The target tributary had cut deeply into the landscape with little flat land along the stream, none along the smaller forks, and slopes exceeding 40 degrees in places. Unusually, that ravine like quality even extended into one of the upper coves. Throughout the lower reaches, rosebay rhododendron flanks the stream and covers the slopes under a mixed canopy that includes hemlock, northern red oak, fraser magnolia, tuliptree, black birch and other hardwoods. White pines are concentrated on the west facing slopes, and the ends of the ridges that separate the smaller forks. A lack of conifers or evergreen understory gives the upper, northeast facing coves a very different feel. Tuliptree dominates a narrow corridor along the middle of the coves rather than being widespread and abundant all across the north facing slopes as they commonly are on rich sites slightly farther north. Instead, a mix of northern red oak, chestnut oak, and lesser numbers of other hardwoods form the overstory. Silverbell dominates the understory, but rarely obtains tree size.

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Those measurements yield a Rucker index of 138.5’ for the unnamed tributary, the third highest for a site in Georgia.

The high proportion of oaks and relatively low abundance of tuliptrees in the upper coves surprised me. LiDAR showed a generally high canopy in the coves, and that canopy structure combined with the topographic setting suggested a moist, tuliptree dominated cove. Given that white pine often grows in sandy soil, I wonder if the soils were fairly nutrient rich but slightly too coarse for optimal tuliptree growth. Conversely, the white pines look quite young and appear to still be growing rapidly.

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Jess
by Jess Riddle
Fri Jan 06, 2012 8:22 pm
 
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King Creek, NC

King Creek is a moderate sized stream with unremarkable topography that does little to suggest the area as a tree hunting destination. However, 2005 LiDAR data shows hits up 169’ in somewhat surprising spots. The highest hits are in a northeast facing cove, but one so small that it registers on the topo maps as only a slight swerve of the contours. The largest concentration of tall trees grows in a small tributary that drains due south into King Creek.

The setting of the watershed makes the heights less surprising. King Creek lies just outside of Brevard, NC, which averages about 72” of precipitation annually, and just over a ridge from Horse Cove and its 140’ Rucker Index. Additionally, much of the watershed resides between 2500’ and 3500’ elevation, the same range as most of the known 170’ tuliptrees.

Productive forests dominated by tall, slim tuliptrees and smaller numbers of black birch and other hardwoods line sheltered reaches of the stream. An understory or rhododendron and dog-hobble help create an impression of abundant moisture, but those shrubs generally do not extend far up the north facing slopes. The small, south facing tributary is also lined with tuliptree dominated forests, but oaks are the most abundant species on the surrounding slopes.

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Unfortunately, the little cove with the tallest trees has been hit by an ice storm since the LiDAR data was flown. The crowns of several of the straightest and most symmetrical trees growing in the center of the cove now end in four inch diameter broken off stubs. However, many adjacent trees passed through the storm with little damage.

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Jess Riddle & Michael Davie
by Jess Riddle
Tue Jan 10, 2012 4:42 pm
 
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Sand Branch, GA

I recently explored some privately owned coves in an area I’ll call Sand Branch. Sand Branch is not a place you inadvertently stumble upon. Several miles of dirt road separate the small watershed, only about a mile long, from the nearest highway, but the stream does not lie near any wilderness area either. Judging from a topo map, the surrounding mountains do not stand out as remarkable for north Georgia. From a base at Lake Rabun, elevation 1690’, the highest peaks in the area rise to only around 3000’.

The fog on the day I visited added to the feeling of a secluded and forgotten area. Water dripped from the dark green leaves of the rhododendrons that line much of the quiet road that bisects the watershed. On the slopes above and away from the road, the understory remains dark and evergreen, but the species composition changes to mountain laurel and dwarf rhododendron. In a few north facing coves and adjacent northeast facing slopes, the locations that likely retain the most nutrients and moisture, the color switches to the tan of dead leaves, and the understory transitions to a deciduous mix of buckeye and silverbell. On the most sheltered of these sites, only two coves, tuliptree excludes all other species from the overstory, but on slightly less productive sites that species is a minor component of forests dominated by white, northern red, and black oaks, pignut and mockernut hickory, many of them well formed and 120’ tall. Moving downstream black birch, eastern hemlock, and eventually white pine enter the canopy, and moving towards drier positions upslope chestnut oak dominates the overstory with a few pitch pines mixed in on the larger ridges.

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I think I made an error when recording my angles and distances for the mockernut history, but the listed height is consistent with what I obtained by shooting vertically from beneath the tree. A taller pignut hickory is known from the Smokies, but the identification on that tree needs to be double checked. I didn’t recognize the largest pignut hickory at first, because the bark was much lighter than I am accustomed to; in general, the tree closely resembles a bitternut, but lacks the yellow buds. Other pignuts in the area had darker bark and fruits with a pronounced neck. Since I could not find any fruits from the largest hickory, there is still some possibility that this tree is actually a sand hickory.

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At 140.8’, the site has the second highest Rucker index in Georgia, just surpassing Cliff Creek, even though black birch is the tenth species. More searching of the lower reaches would likely substantially improve the index. Basswood, present in the Rucker index for most montane hardwood sites and almost always present, appears to be completely absent from this watershed. Overall, this site struck me as one of the finest oak-hickory forests in north Georgia, and probably has more tall mockernut hickories than another other site I have visited.

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Jess
by Jess Riddle
Tue Jan 17, 2012 12:18 am
 
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Re: S. Peachtree Creek tributary, Atlanta, GA

Eli,

I've measured two bitternuts in GA at 133.1' and one at 131.5'. All three of those measurements are from 2005, and one is from the Piedmont. I think we should eventually turn up a 140' one either near the Chattooga/Tugaloo, or around the Cohuttas.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Fri Feb 03, 2012 9:43 pm
 
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Re: Cooper Creek WMA, GA

Eli, Brian;

Definitely a sourwood. All the subtle bark characteristics are right for sourwood, and very straight sprouts, as seen at the base of this tree, are also characteristic of sourwood.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:03 pm
 
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Re: Cooper Creek WMA, GA

Eli,

Glad you made it to the "Valley of the Giants". My dad and I nominated that tallest tuliptree as a state co-champion in the late 90's, so I'm glad to see it has weathered the storms well over the past few years. That sourwood is exceptional for north GA, and that's a cool birch (and tall for GA).

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:48 pm
 
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Re: Paper birch on Mount Mitchell- Native???

Will,

I remember Josh telling me that he ran into paper birch on landslide scars in the Blacks. Based on that, I'd say the trees you saw are likely native.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Sun Jun 24, 2012 9:22 pm
 
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Re: Winding Stairs Trail, Cherry Hill Campground, SC

Brian,

Persimmons over 100' are scare in the mountains, and I have seen any over ~110'. I'm looking forward to seeing the photos.

Will, Mike,

Persimmon wilt was found in TN in 1936 and TX in 1939. By 1979 it had killed almost all persimmons in the central basin of TN. The fungus is from Asia and Asian persimmon species are resistant. Given how long its been in the US, seems like it must need the right climate conditions, spread very slowly under forest conditions, or some other factor to devistate persimmons.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Tue Jan 22, 2013 6:46 pm
 
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Re: Whitewater River NC

Patrick,

Ron Lance’s “Woody plants of the southeastern United States: a winter guide” is somewhat technical but a nice resource for winter ID. If you want to be able to identify trees at a glance though, the only real solution is to spend a lot of time in the woods during all seasons.

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Wed Jan 23, 2013 3:56 pm
 
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Re: American Chestnut maximum heights?

Eli,

Since good data is lacking, I view this question from more of an ecology and evolution perspective. What height would be most adaptive for chestnut, and how tall of trees could chestnut habitat support? Some chestnut traits that might help answer those questions include fast growth rate, low to moderate shade tolerance, rot resistant wood, broad crowns, and heavy animal dispersed fruits.

The tallest species in different regions of eastern North America, tuliptree, white pine, loblolly pine, are all wind dispersed. Being in dominant to emergent canopy positions helps to disperse their seeds. Some animal dispersed species are very tall, such as red hickory and yellow buckeye, but they are narrow crowned, slower growing species (black locust is the animal dispersed exception here, and I wonder how often it would have reached 150’ without agriculture and logging on massive scales dramatically increasing its access to rich, productive sites). Broad crowned animal dispersed species, primarily oaks, and other broad crowned early successional species, like cottonwood, are frequently tall species, but usually not the tallest in the region. It’s difficult to see how being an emergent would have increased a chestnuts chance of reproducing, and the broad crown of emergent chestnuts would have made them susceptible to windthrow.

Chestnut stumps occasionally occur in rich, moist coves, but they are much more common on slightly drier sites. They seem to have occupied a niche similar to tuliptree as a fast growing, long lived gap colonizer. Chestnut was likely more drought tolerant, but the low frequency in rich coves suggests it would have been at a competitive disadvantage to tulipree on the sites that support the tallest forests, and the tallest individuals of most tall species.

Chestnut’s dispersal mechanism, crown structure, and habitat all imply chestnut was a tall species but not as tall as tuliptree. None of those associations between life history traits and maximum height are hard and fast rules, hornbeam is wind dispersed after all, but they are suggestive. Overall, northern red oak (maximum height 156’) shares the most traits with chestnut and now occupies many of the sites formerly dominated by chestnut. I would be surprised if chestnut didn’t reach 150’ on the best sites under the appropriate stand conditions, but I would also be surprised if it exceeded 170’.

Jess

p.s. I’ve seen chesnut sprouts at three sites in Roswell, GA.
by Jess Riddle
Tue Feb 05, 2013 4:35 pm
 
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Leita Thompson Memorial Park, Roswell, GA

Leita Thompson Memorial Park spreads across a hundred acres of mostly forested land in the northern Atlanta suburbs. A busy, six lane surface street runs along the park’s upper edge, and a creek meanders through a small floodplain along the opposite edge. Ravines drop 100’ in elevation between those boarders, so the slopes along them are steeper than those found in most of the surrounding rolling terrain of the Piedmont. That topography helps block out the hum of tires on asphalt, and even on a cold, drizzly, weekday afternoon a handful of fitness walkers and dog walkers take advantage of the park’s three miles of broad, graveled paths.

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Hardwood dominated forests cover most of the slopes, around 100 years old based on a ring count from a trail cut tree. Patches of younger pine occupy some of the ridges, but some of them are now converting to hardwoods after southern pine beetle eliminated the overstory. Mature loblolly pine is also common of the slopes and alluvial flats, but tulipree and oaks make up most of the overstory. Sweetgum is also important on lower slopes and beech along a tributary stream. White oak is the most widespread of the oaks, but northern red oak is scattered at lower elevations, southern red oak common at the highest elevations, and scarlet oak generously scattered throughout. As is common in the region’s oak forests, sourwood makes up most of the midstory. Bigleaf magnolia grows more scattered under the canopy, and the need for reliable moisture restricts hornbeam to the lower slopes. In the understory, persistent white leaves make the abundant beech saplings conspicuous. Hiding amongst them are hickory and bigleaf magnolia saplings.

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The red maple, hornbeam, and Virginia pine are all height records for the county. Virginia pine is scarce in the area, though it becomes common just a few miles further north, and this tree was one of only two mature individuals in the bark. The scarlet oak is the largest I’ve seen in the state.

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Jess
by Jess Riddle
Sat Mar 02, 2013 6:25 pm
 
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Re: Chattooga River

Brian,

That’s a nice collection of pitch pines. Alluvial flats and gentle slopes in the Chattooga watershed seem to be the place to find tall pitch pines. I wonder what grew in some of the small valleys that are now open fields.

Unfortunately, the forests along the Chattooga have changed drastically in one way. The hemlocks are all dead.

I’m not surprised that you found tall sourwoods in the area, but I didn’t expect there to be quite that many or quite that tall. I believe you have the six tallest sourwoods measured in SC!

Jess
by Jess Riddle
Sat Mar 16, 2013 8:35 pm
 
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