Pigeon Mountain, GA   Jess Riddle
  Sep 08, 2004 14:02 PDT 

The Cumberland Plateau, the Cumberland Mountains in the north and broad
elevated uplands in the south, makes up the southwestern end of the
Appalachian Mountains. Composed of sandstone and limestone, the region
supports most of the tree species found at moderate elevations in the Blue
Ridge Mountains as well as several species restricted to sedimentary
terrain. Where the edge of the physiographic province cuts across the
northwestern time of Georgia, Pigeon Mountain projects off the main
plateau into the adjacent lowlands of the Ridge and Valley province. The
approximately 10 mile long mountain rises about 1000’ to a more or less
level, two mile broad top at around 2000’ elevation. The mountain is home
to an endemic salamander, Georgia’s only population of smoketree, and a
number of other floristic oddities.

A few small streams deeply dissect the east side of the mountain creating
highly sheltered environments for forests. However, those environments
remain effectively dry due to rapid draining as evidenced by the fact that
the streams flow for extended distances underground. Chestnut oak is
widespread in the ravines, but sweetgum and a mix of hardwoods occupied
the slopes near the streambeds and cucumbertree and black birch survive on
some north-facing slopes. Mountain laurel occurs in patches in the
understory and Catawba rhododendrons hag off of some boulders, but chalk
maple is by far the most prolific understory species.

In two areas I visited on the east side of the mountain, different bedrock
allowed a distinct forest community to develop. Those forests occupied
slopes moderately inclined with varying degrees of a south aspect and
frequent low rock ledges and scattered large blocks of stone. In those
area, white oak, white ash, shumard oak, southern shagbark hickory, and
chinquapin oak formed the canopy. Redbud and small winged elms
constituted a dense midstory, and beauty berry was the most abundant
shrub. Eastern red cedar and maple were common at one site and patches of
small flowered leafcup blotted out the view of the ground in some areas.

Southern shagbark hickory (Carya caroliniana)
Florida maple (Acer barbatum)
Beauty berry (Calycarpa americana)
Small flower leafcup (Polymnia Canadensis)

East Side Pigeon Mountain
Chinquapin Oak 5’11” x 87.6’+
Eastern Red Cedar 6’0” x 84.3’
Downey Serviceberry 2’2.5” x 45.6’

Dickson Gulf (A named area on the E side of the mountain)
Florida Maple 4’0” x 93.2’
Florida Maple 4’8” x 94.4’
Eastern Red Cedar 5’7” x 73.2’

A chinquapin oak on the north end of Johns Mountain in northwest Georgia
is 9’3” x 91.3’. The eastern red cedar may constitute a new eastern
height record; A 4’9” tree on McGill Branch near Long Cane Creek in SC is
80.7’ tall. The juniper currently on the ENTS list from Cumberland Island
Georgia is more likely a southern red cedar. Downey serviceberries in the
area are concentrated along the top of an extensive line of cliffs, and
the individual listed above far exceeds the size of all others in the
area. The possible presence of chalk maple, sugar maple, Florida maple,
black maple, and hybrids there-of, all in the sugar maple group,
complicates maple identification on the mountain. The maples listed above
have larger leaves than typically borne by florida maples, and the do not
occupy the normal floodplain habitat; however, they grow among other
species more typically encountered in floodplains, have to much hair on
the leaves for sugar maple, and the bark is most consistent with florida
maple. They slightly exceed the previous record height held by a larger
individual in the Murder Creek RNA.

Jess Riddle