Zoar Valley Slope Habitats

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Erik Danielsen
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Zoar Valley Slope Habitats

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Oct 25, 2019 11:33 am

Tulips in the High Cove
Tulips in the High Cove
When the WNY Old Growth Survey team sought to determine whether old-growth forest was in fact present in Zoar Valley, it was not the towering canopy of the canyon bottom that they first confirmed to contain ancient trees. Instead, the stands of often less-impressive trees lining the canyon's precarious slopes were the first to yield cores that confirmed trees predating the region's settlement. These discoveries were instrumental in leading the way to further acknowledgement of old-growth lining the canyon bottom and scattered on the adjacent uplands. While these slope habitats have gotten mentions here in existing Zoar Valley threads, the distinct character of the several types of slope forest present and their tendency to be overshadowed by the measurements from richer forests above and below prompt me to give these habitats their own discussion thread.

Zoar's slope habitats range from dry, open forests with thin soils to more mesic habitats with closed canopies of shade-tolerant climax species. Perhaps the largest example of the latter sort is the site dubbed the "High Cove."

In 1994, the Old Growth Survey Team recorded the following data:

"We made one core sample in a forest on a two acre shelf 60-70 feet
below the crest of the gorge. We called the area "High Cove." The
inaccessibility of High Cove and the aged appearance of its trees
lead us to believe that it has never been cut or only very lightly.
This tree was of average size for those in High Cove.

Core #1 - Tsuga canadensis - 53 1/2" circ. (17" diam.) - 276

Thanks to other notes and communication with involved team members, it wasn't too difficult to relocate the High Cove site. This small shelf scooped out of the main canyon's north rim, some distance upstream from the Knife-Edge Ridge, is surrounded by an area of upland old-growth contiguous with the habitat discussed in the "Zoar North Rim Old-Growth" topic.
[url=https://flic.kr/p/2hAmz8q][img]https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/48959175378_78c97f36cd_b.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/2hAmz8q]Tsuga canadensis, High Cove, Zoar[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/135293803@N05/]rootshaveapulse[/url], on Flickr
Dropping into the cove, though, the habitat changes dramatically. Stem density rises, while height and diameter drop- but crowns are gnarled, taper is minimal, and bark is well-weathered. Hemlock is numerically dominant, especially toward the edge, while tall tulips crowd against the slope. Beech tends to the low ridges that divide the cove into pockets. The dry slopes of these low ridges are rich in sedge diversity as well as uncommon herbaceous plants like Winged Polygala and Trailing Arbutus. Most of these pockets feature shaded seeps with species like spicebush, alder, skunk cabbage, bulblet fern, and towards the edge- Black Ash. Northern Red Oak, Yellow Birch, Cucumber Magnolia, Black Cherry and even a scattering of gnarled Bigtooth Aspen grow where they've found opportunities.

[url=https://flic.kr/p/2hAftj8][img]https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/48957985143_17280d3536_z.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/2hAftj8]R0017632[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/135293803@N05/]rootshaveapulse[/url], on Flickr
Black Ash near the edge of the High Cove.

Many modest hemlocks with red, blocky bark and sinuous trunks with little taper look like they could have been the tree cored at 276 years old (would be 301 today). No doubt some are older.

On Sunday 10/20/19 I measured two trees in a visit to the High Cove. One was an American Chestnut on the upper rim, not quite truly within the cove itself- and the other was an impressive Bigtooth Aspen, growing on the cove's back slope among the tall Tuliptrees. The chestnut is quite healthy and well-formed for now, one of the best I've seen in Zoar. It was hard to find its true top which was poking up into the crown of an adjacent Chestnut Oak, so it may actually be a little taller. The Bigtooth Aspen becomes a new height record for the species in NY state.
[url=https://flic.kr/p/2hAjfR3][img]https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/48958723652_ec84ba33b1_z.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/2hAjfR3]R0017618[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/135293803@N05/]rootshaveapulse[/url], on Flickr
Looking up the nice Chestnut

American Chestnut
74.3' / 3.1'cbh
Bigtooth Aspen
124.1' / 7.3'cbh

[url=https://flic.kr/p/2hAfsFj][img]https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/48957983008_bbe9d4a14f_z.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/2hAfsFj]R0017713[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/135293803@N05/]rootshaveapulse[/url], on Flickr
Lower Trunk of the Bigtooth Aspen

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