Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

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Iowa Big Tree Guy
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Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by Iowa Big Tree Guy » Sat Feb 14, 2015 1:48 pm

2014 Visit to Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

When we were deciding on a place to go on vacation, my wife Rita asked me if I would be interested in going to French Lick, Indiana. Except for passing through on the way to other places I had never been to southern Indiana so I replied yes. Early Saturday morning, October 11th, Rita and I left our home in Des Moines, Iowa and headed for French Lick, hometown of Larry Bird.

Before the trip, I contacted Matt Markworth to see if we could meet somewhere to check out some big trees. We met in Lexington, Kentucky and that side trip was covered in an earlier post. I asked Matt if there was any place he knew of in southern Indiana where I might be able to look for tall trees. One place he mentioned was Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest. I remembered reading about that old growth remnant many years ago. When I checked the location on a state map, I was surprised to learn that Pioneer Mothers was just beyond Paoli, Indiana which was only about 16 miles from French Lick.!

When Rita and I go on vacation we usually don’t spend much time frequenting the places that most tourists visit unless it is a natural area. We usually concentrate on birding, but we try to be flexible and sometimes we focus more on reptiles and amphibians or some other aspect of natural history like insects or trees. I owe a big thanks to Rita because she let me make trees the focus of this trip. The birding wasn’t very good and it was very rainy which probably helped steer the direction of this vacation. I was very lucky to be able to visit Pioneer Mothers three separate times.

The first visit to Pioneer Mothers didn’t reveal any big trees but I did figure out where to go. We found a small parking area for the woodland only a couple of miles east of Paoli off of U.S. Highway 150. There was a gate blocking the entrance to a little used road which we used as a walkway. We followed the old road through a relatively young bottomland forest but there was no indication of very old trees. After perhaps one half mile, we came to a rather large parking lot which appeared to have been unused for years. Why was there a vacant parking lot in the middle of the woods? Here is where Rita waited while I followed one of the trails uphill to see where it led. After only a few hundred yards, I suddenly saw a very large sign for Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest! At one time this must have been the primary entrance but now it was off limits to vehicles.

Rita suggested we try approaching the woodland from another highway. From State Highway 37 we found another entrance to Pioneer Mothers. This access soon leads to a very old looking upland tract of timber. There was no more time for exploring that day and I didn’t see anything outstanding but it did look like an area that deserved further exploration.

I spent the better part of the last two days of our vacation wandering through Pioneer Mothers. Rain shortened my visit to this old growth forest on Thursday but Friday the weather was better. Near the trail, just a short distance from the trailhead was the first notable tree, a walnut with a trunk four feet in diameter. I didn’t bother measuring this one because the crown had sustained a considerable amount of storm damage so the height was no longer exceptional.

The first tree that I measured was a nice white ash that reached a height of 135’ and a circumference of 10’9”. I didn’t have to go far to find a tall sycamore with a trunk measuring 13’6” and the height was 139.7’. This would prove to be the tallest tree I would measure at Pioneer Mothers. I believe there would be taller trees at this site but there is no deep valley where trees can be afforded some protection from storms. Not far from the sycamore and the ash stands the tallest walnut I would find. I found the walnut to have a circumference of 10’8” and a height of 138’. Another walnut nearby may have been taller but storm damage had reduced the height. All of these trees stood near the bottom of a drainage which at least afforded them a little protection from storms.

There were some shagbark hickories here but there was another variety of hickory that was unfamiliar to me. Judging by the buds and the nuts, I identified these as pignut hickories. The tallest one I measured had a circumference of 7’11” and reached a height of 124.3’. I found another one that with a circumference of 8’10” that may have been taller but by then, there was no time for measuring the height. I measured another pignut hickory to 116’. The tallest shagbark I measured, reached a height of 124.5’.

While I was wandering around this old growth forest, I was very excited to find a beautiful male eastern box turtle on the forest floor right in front of me! This was quite a treat since I rarely get the chance to see this species (they don’t occur in Iowa). He didn’t seem to be too concerned about my presence which allowed me to get some good photographs.
Some of the oaks like white oak and chinkapin oak were easy for me to identify, but the red oaks were more difficult. I should have spent more time identifying the red oaks but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something really significant so for the most part I kept moving. I’m fairly confident I was seeing Shumard oak, black oak and northern red oak, but I’m uncertain as to the species of the one I measured. This red oak species had a circumference of 9’1” and reached a height of 125.8’ The tallest white oak I measured had a circumference of 10’6” and a height of 112.5’ I measured one of the largest chinkapin oaks and found it to have a girth of 11’11” and a height of 107’.

There is one tree which I probably should have left for another time because it was getting late but I went ahead and measured it anyway. I had to study this one a while before I decided it was a tupelo. I really like this species but I haven’t had the opportunity to spend much time in areas with tupelos. The bark looked very much like a persimmon but leaves were turning red not yellow. It may not be significant for the species but it was the only tupelo I remember seeing at Pioneer Mothers. This tree had a circumference of 8’3” and a height of 102’.

Tulip trees are commonly the tallest tree at a site within their range but I couldn’t find any really tall ones at Pioneer Mothers. There may be some that reach a greater height but I was having difficulty finding clean shots to the top of many of the species, including tulip trees. I found one to have a circumference of 10’5” and a height of 133.5’. I’m confident if there was a more protected site in the preserve the tulip trees would reach a greater height.

There were lots of beech and I wanted to measure some but they had not yet started to lose any leaves from their dense crowns. I had planned to attempt to measure some anyway but I was saving them for last because I knew it would take quite a while but I ran out of time. I only measured one tree that didn’t reach at least 100’ and that was a hackberry that measured 96’. Out of the trees I measured, I was most impressed with a Kentucky coffeetree. I measured two coffeetrees and the first one reached an impressive height of 123.5’. Another one nearby had an unremarkable trunk circumference of 6’2” but the height was very impressive. I measured the same high point multiple times and I arrived at an average height of 130.4’! Has anyone one found any coffeetrees that are taller?

When I’m exploring an area with big trees, I have a tendency to stay too long. Earlier, I mentioned that I should have skipped measuring the tupelo. Even though the daylight was fading fast, I didn’t expect any difficulties finding my way out. Besides, I could hear cars on the nearby highway so I knew which direction to go. I headed towards the sound of the vehicles on the highway but I wasn’t seeing anything familiar and soon it would be almost too dark to see. I was feeling a little uneasy about the prospect of bushwhacking through the brush in the dark without a light. Just before it was completely dark, I came upon the parking lot in the middle of the woods. Now it made sense. I was heading for the wrong highway! It didn’t take long for me to get my bearings and I was able to make my way to the trailhead in about twenty minutes.

After spending some time exploring these woods, I feel like I learned a lot but there is still more to be learned. I was disappointed to see invasive species like barberry and oriental bittersweet in this special place. I hope to return to Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest sometime to measure some of the beech trees and spend some time figuring out the red oaks. I would also like to make a list of the tree species that occur in this interesting woodland.

Here is a listing of the tallest trees I measured at Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest:

SPECIES CIRCUMFERENCE HEIGHT

White Ash 10'9" 135'

American Sycamore 13'6" 139.7'

Black Walnut 10'8" 138'

Pignut Hickory 7'11" 124.3'

Shagbark Hickory 6'6" 120.5'

Red Oak Species 9'1" 125.8'

Kentucky Coffeetree 6'2" 130.4

Tulip Tree 10'5" 133.5'

White Oak 10'6" 112.5

Chinkapin Oak 11'11" 107'

Tupelo 8'3" 102'

Common Hackberry ___ 96'

Averaging the height of the ten tallest tree species I measured at Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest gives it a Rucker index of 126.7'.
Attachments
White Ash cir 10'9"  h 135'
White Ash cir 10'9" h 135'
Moss covered White Ash bark
Moss covered White Ash bark
American Sycamore cir 13'6"  H 139.7'
American Sycamore cir 13'6" H 139.7'
distinctive orange Oriental Bittersweet roots
distinctive orange Oriental Bittersweet roots
Invasive Barberry
Invasive Barberry
Black Walnut  cir 10'8" H 138'
Black Walnut cir 10'8" H 138'
Trees rule!
Trees rule!
Black Walnut diameter 4'
Black Walnut diameter 4'
Kentucky Coffeetree cir 6'2" H 130.4'
Kentucky Coffeetree cir 6'2" H 130.4'
Male Eastern box turtle
Male Eastern box turtle
Chinkapin Oak cir 11'11" H 107'
Chinkapin Oak cir 11'11" H 107'

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Will Blozan
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by Will Blozan » Sat Feb 14, 2015 3:51 pm

Mark,

COFFEETREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sweet man! New height record!

I recall a ~18' chinquapin oak there along an old fence line above the 12' walnut... Nice 138' walnut, too!

Will

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DougBidlack
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by DougBidlack » Sat Feb 14, 2015 3:56 pm

Mark,

that is one heck of a Kentucky coffeetree! It could be the same one that Rand measured back in 2008 at that site according to Jess's Eastern Max List. That was the previous height record at 127.1'. Kentucky coffeetree is one of my all time favorite trees. Just love them!

Doug

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DougBidlack
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by DougBidlack » Sat Feb 14, 2015 4:02 pm

Mark,

by the way, did you happen to notice if that Kentucky coffeetree had any seed way up high? I'm collecting seed from this species and I'm looking for native trees producing seed in the Midwest, particularly Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Thanks,

Doug

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Matt Markworth
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by Matt Markworth » Sat Feb 14, 2015 4:39 pm

Mark,

Great report and photos! I'm real impressed with the coffeetree, white ash, and black walnut heights. The list of 130'+ species in Indiana is growing. I'll run LiDAR on the site and see if there might be a tall tuliptree hiding somewhere.

Also, congrats on spotting the box turtle!

Matt

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Rand
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by Rand » Sat Feb 14, 2015 9:51 pm

DougBidlack wrote:Mark,

that is one heck of a Kentucky coffeetree! It could be the same one that Rand measured back in 2008 at that site according to Jess's Eastern Max List. That was the previous height record at 127.1'. Kentucky coffeetree is one of my all time favorite trees. Just love them!

Doug
I suspect it is. The two trees with multiple leaders look really familiar (and the ash and walnut too)

Iowa Big Tree Guy
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by Iowa Big Tree Guy » Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:58 pm

Will,
Yes, the coffetree is special. It is in excellent shape so barring storm damage it should continue to get taller. Wow, an 18' chinkapin oak is amazing! That will be something else to look for when I get back to Pioneer Mothers.

Doug,
I bet that coffeetree is the same one that Rand measured in 2008. I don't recall if the tallest coffeetree had seed pods but I do remember seeing pods on the ground from a nearby tree that reached 123.5'. If you would like, I can give you GPS coordinates for those trees .

Matt,
Yes, the coffeetree is the best but the walnut and ash are no slouches. That would be great if you could check the LIDAR for that site. Let me know what you find.

Rand,

You are the one who deserves the congratulations on the tallest coffeetree. Since you already measured that tree, all I really did was update the height.

Mark

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DougBidlack
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by DougBidlack » Sun Feb 15, 2015 10:05 am

Mark

I'd love it if you could email or PM me the GPS coordinates for that tree. I checked close to 20 trees in Michigan and for some reason none were producing seeds. Kinda hard to believe they are all males so it must be something else.

I did collect seed from two trees here in Massachusetts but I'd rather use seed from wild trees since provenance data is important to me.

Doug

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Matt Markworth
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by Matt Markworth » Sun Feb 15, 2015 10:29 am

Doug,

When Mark, Landon and I visited the Kentucky Champion Kentucky coffeetree in Griffith Woods, Landon was able to collect a couple seeds and they sprouted for him. The tree isn't as tall as the figure cited on the KY big tree website, but it is still a nice forest-grown specimen.

Matt

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DougBidlack
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Re: Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest

Post by DougBidlack » Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:29 pm

Matt,

thanks. I might head down that way as well sometime in March to collect seed. The size of the Kentucky coffeetree is a whole lot less important to me than the health, vigor and beauty of the tree.

Doug

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