Cliff Creek, GA   Jess Riddle
  Sep 06, 2005 15:42 PDT 

Last winter, I stopped briefly at Cliff Creek and quickly located new
state height records for sourwood, 95.3', and shortleaf pine, 135.7'.
The impressively rapid growth of hemlock and white pine in the area
hinted at further finds in the area, but lack of daylight forced an
early end to measuring that day. Recently, Will Blozan and I returned to
the site to follow-up on a promising start. This time we had nine hours
to explore the site, and found proportionally more record heights.

We drove south from Clayton Georgia across the rolling terrain of the
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 around
on the Cliff Creek watershed divide, and we dropped off the ridge into
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 other
hardwoods and pockets of shortleaf pine, and scattered dogwood, small
chinquapins, mountain-laurel, and dwarf rhododendron filled in the
understory. The herbaceous layer was generally sparse, but included
one colony of the rare three birds orchid (Triphora trianthophora).
Beside the drainage, within 15 minutes of leaving the car, we saw the
first height record of the

Turtle eating a snail.jpg (321419 bytes) Turtle eating a snail

day, a skinny southern red oak reaching up 119.8'. Within sight of
that tree, a slim scarlet oak reached 124.5' edging out a massive tree
a little farther south for the species' state height record. After
measuring a couple more trees along the drainage, we came to Wolf
Creek, a tributary of Cliff Creek, and there a southern crabapple
(Malus angustifolia) surprised us. The tree stretched 54.8' above the 
turn-around circle on a logging road providing a bench mark for this 
under-measured species.

After crossing Wolf Creek and another prettily cascading tributary, we
reached our primary objective, the gentle slopes and alluvial flats
along the north side of Cliff Creek. Contrasting with the gentle
uplands, steep slopes consistently flank the south side of Cliff Creek
and shelter the flats on the opposite bank. The creek produced those
slopes by downcutting in response to the stream capture and associated
base level reduction of the nearby Chattooga River. Even though only
1200' in elevation and at the southeastern edge of hemlocks range, the
creek supports a dense canopy, up to about 120' height, of young,
rapidly growing eastern hemlocks, still largely and surprisingly free
of adelgid. Shortleaf pine, mockernut hickory, tuliptree, and
sourwood grow scattered among them, and white pine occasionally towers
above. While rosebay rhododendron blankets the north facing slopes,
the understory and herbaceous layer on the south side is startlingly
open and sparse for the southern Appalachians.

A few pockets of dog-hobble grew in the flats, but did not slow us
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 built up
a Rucker Index for the area. He also spotted the tallest of the
sourwoods competing with the hemlocks, including a 103.9' individual.
The nearby white pines in the flats exceeded 160'; certainly
impressive for the age of the trees, but not surprising given the
heights the species attains on other creeks in the area.

As we proceeded up the creek, the forest composition shifted. Large
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 vines
(Decumaria barbara) scaled the trees and creeped across the forest
floor. These shifts
pointed towards increasing soil fertility, but conifers remained
dominant in the canopy. Not surprising, we saw white pine heights
climbed slightly higher, and one fallen tree had an impressive 4'7"
internode, or one year's growth. At this point the creek made a sharp bend
producing the first flats on the south side of the creek at the base
of the slopes. We crossed the creek, shallow but up to about 40'
across, and found ourselves under a much more continuous white pine
canopy. We lasered up into the consistently 150 to 165' trees as we
walked up the creek and came to an impressive, unmarked cascade, the
upstream end of our searches. 

unnamed_falls.jpg (32716 bytes)

On the way back down stream, we crossed
the creek and went up the slope to see if we could spot any emergent
pines in the flats. Sure enough, one pine towered above the adjacent
160' trees to a top 178.6' high! In under 100 years, the tree grew
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 sent
up two shoots that looked like independent trees. This tree needs to
be checked to verify the connections between stems, but may represent
a rare occurrence of layering for this species.

We traversed the creek again, and started exploring the downstream end
of the flat on the creek's south side. We hopped over fallen trunks
with three foot internodes continuing well up into the crowns, and
continued measuring pines. Will measured one white pine that produced
an initially startling result. I came over with a second rangefinder and
clinometer set and confirmed the pine on only a 7'11" based reached an
incredible 185.8' tall! The new tallest known tree in Georgia, and
second tallest known tree east of the Mississippi! 

crown_of_185_white_pine.jpg (64462 bytes) Crown of 185.8 foot white pine Will and the 185.8' white pine.jpg (475578 bytes) Will at base of 185.8 foot white pine

In a somewhat stunned state, we measured another pine in the 
immediate vicinity at 185.7'!

Jess and the 185.7' white pine.jpg (419037 bytes) 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 to
measure a beautiful 3'10" x 67.2' hornbeam with an immense crown, a
potential new state champion. 

Jess and potential GA Champion ironwood.jpg (458585 bytes)
Jess and potential GA Champion Ironwood
Ironwood crown.jpg (268846 bytes) Ironwood Crown Mossy Ironwood

Another tall hemlock along the creek
brought the Rucker Index up to 135.84'; Panther Creek, a Brevard Belt
site few miles to the south, has the highest Rucker Index in the state
with ten hardwoods averaging just under 138'. The days measurements
also approximately doubled the number of known 160 trees in the state,
and suggest the upper flats on Cliff Creek support the tallest forest
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'
Tuliptree                  141.1'
Shortleaf Pine           135.7'
Pitch Pine                 130.3'
Mockernut Hickory     127.3'
Scarlet Oak               124.5'
Sweetgum                 ~123'
White Oak                122.4'
Southern Red Oak    119.8'
Rucker Index            135.84'

I hope everyone and their families came through the recent storms
alright, and that you all have been able to enjoy a happy and safe
Labor Day.

Jess Riddle & Will Blozan

Hooray for Will and Jess!   Robert Leverett
  Sep 08, 2005 07:38 PDT 

Once again, my hat is off to you and Will, who had alerted me to this
amazing discovery in a telephone conversation. I was anxiously awaiting
the report Will said you were preparing. That such astounding white pine
growth is possible in that eastern Georgia locality is a mystery, but
one worthy of serious scientific investigation.

   Coming in late 2005, your and Will's discoveries of those super pines
ranks as one of the all time major accomplishments of ENTS. You do us
proud. Your discovery further elevates to the top of the heap the status
of the white pine as a tree of very significant proportions in the
southern mountains. Who would have originally thought it? The white pine
has always been seen essentially as a northern tree, and indeed it is,
but it is also a significant southern mountain tree. It appears that the
species maintains a height growth differential of 20 to 25 feet in favor
of the southern latitudes.

    When we finally get around to revising "Stalking the Forest Monarchs
- A Guide to Measuring Champion Trees", what a story we are going to be
able to tell.