Last winter, I stopped briefly at Cliff Creek and quickly
state height records for sourwood, 95.3', and shortleaf pine,
The impressively rapid growth of hemlock and white pine in the
hinted at further finds in the area, but lack of daylight forced
early end to measuring that day. Recently, Will Blozan and I
the site to follow-up on a promising start. This time we had
to explore the site, and found proportionally more record
We drove south from Clayton Georgia across the rolling terrain
lower Chattooga River watershed, and admired the sea of virginia,
shortleaf, and white pine that blankets the area. Some stately
shortleaf pines beside the access road reached around 120', and
started the day on a promising note. The road ended at a turn
on the Cliff Creek watershed divide, and we dropped off the
a shallow drainage. At first, we walked through a recovering
clear-cut, but soon found ourselves in a mature, second-growth
hardwood forest. White oak dominated the canopy with scattered
hardwoods and pockets of shortleaf pine, and scattered dogwood,
chinquapins, mountain-laurel, and dwarf rhododendron filled in
understory. The herbaceous layer was generally sparse, but
one colony of the rare three birds orchid (Triphora
Beside the drainage, within 15 minutes of leaving the car, we
first height record of the
Turtle eating a snail
day, a skinny southern red oak reaching up 119.8'. Within sight
that tree, a slim scarlet oak reached 124.5' edging out a
a little farther south for the species' state height record.
measuring a couple more trees along the drainage, we came to
Creek, a tributary of Cliff Creek, and there a southern
(Malus angustifolia) surprised us. The tree stretched
54.8' above the
turn-around circle on a logging road providing a bench mark for
After crossing Wolf Creek and another prettily cascading
reached our primary objective, the gentle slopes and alluvial
along the north side of Cliff Creek. Contrasting with the gentle
uplands, steep slopes consistently flank the south side of Cliff
and shelter the flats on the opposite bank. The creek produced
slopes by downcutting in response to the stream capture and
base level reduction of the nearby Chattooga River. Even though
1200' in elevation and at the southeastern edge of hemlocks
creek supports a dense canopy, up to about 120' height, of
rapidly growing eastern hemlocks, still largely and surprisingly
of adelgid. Shortleaf pine, mockernut hickory, tuliptree, and
sourwood grow scattered among them, and white pine occasionally
above. While rosebay rhododendron blankets the north facing
the understory and herbaceous layer on the south side is
open and sparse for the southern Appalachians.
A few pockets of dog-hobble grew in the flats, but did not slow
done as we walked up the stream measuring trees as we went. Will
quickly honed in on
the tallest individuals of various species, and we gradually
a Rucker Index for the area. He also spotted the tallest of the
sourwoods competing with the hemlocks, including a 103.9'
The nearby white pines in the flats exceeded 160'; certainly
impressive for the age of the trees, but not surprising given
heights the species attains on other creeks in the area.
As we proceeded up the creek, the forest composition shifted.
hornbeams filled in the midstory, white pine became increasingly
common, patches of paw paw grew in the understory, spicebush and
christmas fern grew scattered about, and climbing hydrangea
(Decumaria barbara) scaled the trees and creeped across
floor. These shifts
pointed towards increasing soil fertility, but conifers remained
dominant in the canopy. Not surprising, we saw white pine
climbed slightly higher, and one fallen tree had an impressive
internode, or one year's growth. At this point the creek made a
producing the first flats on the south side of the creek at the
of the slopes. We crossed the creek, shallow but up to about 40'
across, and found ourselves under a much more continuous white
canopy. We lasered up into the consistently 150 to 165' trees as
walked up the creek and came to an impressive, unmarked cascade,
upstream end of our searches.
On the way
back down stream, we crossed
the creek and went up the slope to see if we could spot any
pines in the flats. Sure enough, one pine towered above the
160' trees to a top 178.6' high! In under 100 years, the tree
tall enough to be the second tallest known tree in Georgia, at
least for the
In the same vicinity, a contorted hemlock came up, bent back
underground, and apparently sent out new roots, or layered, and
up two shoots that looked like independent trees. This tree
be checked to verify the connections between stems, but may
a rare occurrence of layering for this species.
We traversed the creek again, and started exploring the
of the flat on the creek's south side. We hopped over fallen
with three foot internodes continuing well up into the crowns,
continued measuring pines. Will measured one white pine that
an initially startling result. I came over with a second
clinometer set and confirmed the pine on only a 7'11" based
incredible 185.8' tall! The new tallest known tree in Georgia,
second tallest known tree east of the Mississippi!
Crown of 185.8 foot white pine
Will at base of 185.8 foot white pine
In a somewhat
stunned state, we measured another pine in the
vicinity at 185.7'!
Jess and the 185.7 foot white pine.
With the sun
sinking low, we walked back down the creek measuring a
few more towering pines as we went. We also stopped at an island
measure a beautiful 3'10" x 67.2' hornbeam with an immense
potential new state champion.
Jess and potential GA Champion Ironwood
Another tall hemlock along the
brought the Rucker Index up to 135.84'; Panther Creek, a Brevard
site few miles to the south, has the highest Rucker Index in the
with ten hardwoods averaging just under 138'. The days
also approximately doubled the number of known 160 trees in the
and suggest the upper flats on Cliff Creek support the tallest
in the state.
A full list of measurements follows.
Species Cbh Height
Birch, Black NA 95.2'
Birch, Black 3'2" 99.6'
Birch, Black NA 102.9'
Crabapple, Southern 1'9" 54.8'
Dogwood, Flowering 1'6" 45.1'
Hemlock, Eastern NA 122.0'
Hemlock, Eastern NA 125.6'
Hemlock, Eastern NA 148.5'
Hickory, Mockernut NA 104.4'
Hickory, Mockernut 5'0" 127.3'
Hornbeam, American 1'8" 54.5'
Hornbeam, American 2'8" 61.4'
Hornbeam, American 3'10" 67.2'
Oak, Northern Red NA 114.2'+
Oak, Northern Red 6'5" 117.0'
Oak, Scarlet 4'5" 124.5'
Oak, Southern Red 4'2" 119.8'
Oak, White 7'9" 117.2'+
Oak, White 7'2" 122.4'
Paw Paw NA 39.0'
Pine, Eastern White 12'5" 149.9'
Pine, Eastern White 7'5" 158.3'
Pine, Eastern White 9'11" 159.4'
Pine, Eastern White 7'3" 161.2'
Pine, Eastern White 7'11" 161.6'
Pine, Eastern White 8'4.5" 162.7'
Pine, Eastern White 8'5" 162.7'
Pine, Eastern White 9'0" 164.6'
Pine, Eastern White 8'3" 168.0'
Pine, Eastern White 9'8.5" 169.1'
Pine, Eastern White 9'10" 169.7'
Pine, Eastern White 8'7" 170.7'
Pine, Eastern White 8'6" 176.6'
Pine, Eastern White 7'7" 178.6'
Pine, Eastern White 9'5.5" 185.7'
Pine, Eastern White 7'11" 185.8'
Pine, Pitch 6'8" 122.2'
Pine, Pitch 5'10.5" 125.2'
Pine, Pitch 4'2" 130.3'
Pine, Shortleaf 5'2" 124.7'
Pine, Shortleaf 5'9.5" 125.1'
Pine, Shortleaf 4'11" 133.0'
Pine, Shortleaf 5'2" 135.7'
Rhododendron, Dwarf 7.5" 15.7'
Sourwood 3'6" 96.7'
Sourwood 3'4" 103.9'
Sweetgum NA ~123'
Tuliptree 6'4.5" 141.1'
Eastern White Pine 185.8'
Eastern Hemlock 148.5'
Shortleaf Pine 135.7'
Pitch Pine 130.3'
Mockernut Hickory 127.3'
Scarlet Oak 124.5'
White Oak 122.4'
Southern Red Oak 119.8'
Rucker Index 135.84'
I hope everyone and their families came through the recent
alright, and that you all have been able to enjoy a happy and
Jess Riddle & Will Blozan