Saddle Gap

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Jess Riddle
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Saddle Gap

Post by Jess Riddle » Fri Jan 07, 2011 11:16 am

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.
Grove of the tallest tuliptrees
Grove of the tallest tuliptrees
SaddGapMeasurements1.JPG (75.37 KiB) Viewed 1663 times
SaddGapMeasurements2.JPG (38.19 KiB) Viewed 1663 times
137.7' chestnut oak in center with tall tuliptrees in background
137.7' chestnut oak in center with tall tuliptrees in background
Jess Riddle & Michael Davie

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Re: Saddle Gap

Post by dbhguru » Fri Jan 07, 2011 11:58 am


Outstanding description of topographical and other terrain/environmental aspects that produce tall trees. Thanks from all of us. The site statistics are impressive. Once again, liriodendron asserts its dominance. Can we use the tuliptree data in Neil's study?

Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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James Parton
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Re: Saddle Gap

Post by James Parton » Sat Jan 08, 2011 12:32 am


You don't post much but when you do it is big! And in my home area at that!
James E Parton
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New Order of Druids ... Itemid=145

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Re: Saddle Gap

Post by bbeduhn » Thu Dec 13, 2018 12:20 pm

I'd been measuring a fair amount in the Davidson River area so I decided to hit up Moore Cove, which seemed to have very little to speak of, but it did have an old side trail which led up toward Saddle Gap, which I knew Jess had measured in the past. I got mostly lower numbers than he did but I did manage a higher number on chestnut oak, which was what I was hoping for. The interesting thing is that it wasn't the same tree as Jess measured. I got 137.0' on that tree but got a higher number from another chestnut oak.

The trail up to the coves is fairly easy to maneuver and is well worth the hike. The lower parts of the coves are the most grass covered coves that I've ever seen. It looks a little like a picnic area. It is wide open and surrounded by towering trees on the cove sidewalls.

I didn't get to spend as much time there as I'd liked to but still tried to hit as many tall trees as I could. I didn't see much basswood and I called the hickories pignut. Jess had them as red. It's an area where either could grow so I'm not certain of the ID.

red oak 137.8' 134.2' 131.2'
white oak 120.5'
black oak 110.6'
chestnut oak 140.3' 137.0' 130.3'
basswood 126.3' 118.2'
mockernut h 134.9' 129.5' 125.7'
pignut (or red)h 145.5' 123.3' 123.0'
biltmore ash 128.6'
tulip 159.5' 159.1' 154.0' 149.5' 148.9' 147.5' 147.1' 146.5' 146.4'

Combined with Jess's measurements, eliminating pignut and biltmore ash as they may may be red hickory and white ash, I got higher numbers on three species.

Rucker 138.89'

Lirio tulip 165.0'
Carya ovalis 146.8'
Quercus montana 140.3'
Fraxinus americana 139.7'
Quercus rubra 137.8'
Carya alba 134.9'
Tsuga canadensis 133.9' presumed dead
Tilia heterophylla 132.2'
Quercus velutina 130.1'
Robinia pseudoacacia 128.2'

I'm a little upset that I missed as many trees as I did. It's a gorgeous set of coves and I'll be back there soon. Unfortunately, I did not get a pic of the chestnut oak.
forest 1.jpg
forest 2.jpg

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