Rock Creek, Oconee NF, GA   Jess Riddle
  Dec 12, 2005 09:31 PST 


Around Thanksgiving, my dad and I visited Rock Creek in Georgia's
Oconee National Forest. A friend who remembered seeing large
hardwoods in the area while conducting salamander surveys tipped us of
to the area. Surrounded by rolling hills in the central part of
Georgia's piedmont, the watershed drains from 650' elevation to 350'
over the course of approximately seven miles. The abundance of easily
accessible loblolly pine in the watershed and elsewhere in the NF has
allowed the Oconee NF to be profitable. However, the uplands do not
feature good soils; an approximately 18" dbh white oak that fell
across one road in the area was 66 years old, and blackjack oak
competes successfully on surrounding ridges. If left undisturbed, the
loblolly pines would likely eventually give way a white oak forest
with some post oak, southern red oak, and mockernut hickory.

rock_creek_15_3x127.jpg (187815 bytes)

A 15'3" cbh and 127.8' tall willow oak growing in the floodplain.

Contrastingly, hardwoods already dominate the relatively fertile
bottomlands. Only the lowest mile of the creek has a well developed
floodplain, but much of that length appears little disturbed in the
past hundred years. The narrower floodplain on the upper half of that
stretch, perhaps 150 yards across, and the much broader lower
floodplain have disparate tree assemblages. Tuliptree, sweetgum,
sycamore, and cherrybark oak dominate the upper portion of the
floodplain, with spicebush occurring in the one part of the
understory. Green ash with cottowood, red maple, boxelder, sweetgum,
and sugarberry mixed in forms the lower section's canopy. Pockets of
loblolly pine grow throughout, and river cane forms locally dense
understories. Paw paw is conspicuously absent from the understory.

Species Cbh Height
Ash, Green 7'2" 123.0'
Ash, Green 7'6" 126.1'
Blackhaw, Rusty 2'0" 29.4'
Boxelder 4'11" 78.3'
Boxelder 5'3" 81.9'
Cottonwood 10'4" 121.1'
Cottonwood 10'1" 133.2'
Cottonwood 10'9" 133.4'
Cottonwood 12'3" 134.9'
Elm, Winged 4'9" 109.0'
Hawthorn, Green 2'6" 42.0'
Mulberry, Red 3'6" 66.1'
Mulberry, Red 4'5" 75.6'
Oak, Cherrybark 13'5' 147.3'
Oak, Cherrybark 15'8' 149.9'
Oak, Shumard 16'8" 131.1'
Oak, Southern Red 8'0" 105.5'
Oak, Water 10'0" 119.5'
Oak, Willow 15'3" 127.8'
Pine, Loblolly 7'10" 130.5'
Spicebush 1'0" NA
Sugarberry 5'0.5" 108.6'
Sugarberry 6'4" 110.1'
Sugarberry 6'8" 117.8'
Sycamore 9'9" 122.8'
Sycamore 11'11" 129.9'
Tuliptree 13'7" 116.5'
Tuliptree 10'3" 131.2'

The rusty blackhaw is by far the largest I have seen, and is a
potential state champion. The tree has one branch that comes off
below 4.5', so a fairer circumference would be 2'4". The boxelder
represents a state height record, but very few individuals of the
species have been measured in the state. The same applies to winged

crvi_2_6x42.jpg (189919 bytes)

A potential state champion green hawthorn growing in the Rock Creek floodplain. The tree is 2'6" cbh, 42.0' tall and has a maximum branch spread of 36.5'.

The green hawthorn is also a potential state champion of an
undermeasured species. The red mulberry edges out a tree in the
Smokies as a new eastern height record. The cherrybark oaks are the
tallest known in the state, but again the bottomlands have not been
thoroughly searched. 

rock_creek_16_8x131.jpg (226918 bytes)

A potential state champion shumard oak growing at the edge of the floodplain. The tree is 16'8" cbh, 131.1' tall, and has a maximum spread of 92'.

The shumard oak has substantial root flair and
will easily out-point the current state champion. In addition to the
oaks with measurements listed above, blackjack oak, post oak, white
oak, northern red oak, chiquapin oak, and swamp chestnut oak were also
present for a total of 11 species from the genus. Taller loblolly
pines are almost certainly present. The sugarberry is an eastern
height record for a species ENTS has few measurements of. Sweetgum
reaches at least 120' at the site, but was not measured. Taller
tuliptrees were certainly present, and circumferences around 10' were

Rucker Index 129.9'

Cherrybark Oak 149.9'
Cottonwood 134.9'
Tuliptree 131.2'
Shumard Oak 131.1'
Loblolly Pine 130.5'
Sycamore 129.9'
Willow Oak 127.8'
Green Ash 126.1'
Water Oak 119.5'
Sugarberry 117.8'

Jess Riddle

RE: Rock Creek, Oconee NF, GA   Robert Leverett
  Dec 12, 2005 11:26 PST 


Wow! It is fascinating to sit back and watch as new spots emerge out
of the fog. Some of the new sites are changing our perception of what is
left in tall and large trees in different regions of the country. I had
written off central Georgia as likely not going to produce anything of
significance and kaboom. The picture changes.

   I like to periodically cycle back and review where we are. What do
you, Will, and others think of the following observations?

   1. It appears from the data that we've collected that the cherrybark
oak is the king of oaks as far as height is concerned

   2.Live oaks are the biggest in the oak family as far as volume is

   3. In terms of what grows today, the white pine continues to lead the
pack as the tallest of the pines (indeed the tallest eastern species).

   4. The loblolly seems to be winning as the bulkiest of the pines.

   5. The lordly tuliptree continues its unchallenged reign as the
tallest eastern hardwood. In terms of sheer numbers of tall hardwoods,
it seems to be pulling farther and farther away from the pack.

   6. The American sycamore is duking it out with the live oak for the
largest hardwood in volume. I realize that the Middleton oak is the
single largest eastern tree in terms of volume, but I don't know where
the species stands as a whole relative to the sycamore. Historically,
there were larger sycamores than the Middleton oak. Old photos confirm

   7. In terms of overall largest eastern species in volume, we have the
American sycamore, live oak, baldcypress, and probably the tuliptree can
still be included in the running. Historically, we would have had to
include the American chestnut, but not any more.

   So, in terms of height, where do we stand with various species of the
hickories? The jury is definitely out here in southern New England and
across New York. Pignut, bitternut, and shagbark are in a tight race.

RE: Rock Creek, Oconee NF, GA   Robert Leverett
  Dec 12, 2005 13:44 PST 

Jess, Will, Will, et al:

   It is personally satisfying for me to see big tree numbers emerging
from Georgia. While North and South Carolina are still the clear winners
in the tall tree contests, I just can't fathom why a state as large as
Georgia wouldn't have plenty of hot spots with at least clumps and
narrow bands of truly impressive trees. I'm sure the same must be true
for Alabama and Mississippi and perhaps Arkansas. It has already proven
to be true for Tennessee west of the Smokies.

   I believe that the original forest of the deep South that was cleared
to plant tobacco, peanuts, and cotton was something to behold. Then
there is Kentucky. It has to have some closely guarded secrets. If we
can attract a few dedicated tree measurers located in the deep South,
the picture of what that land can still grow might take a huge leap
skyward. My last trip across Mississippi, which was back in the 1980s, I
recall many roads lined with young, but very tall sweetgums. Tall
sweetgums were common as weeds. I remember commenting to my wife Jani at
the time. I also remember a residential neighborhood we drove through in
Memphis. I was astounded at the abundance of stately oaks. I presume
they were cherrybark, shumard, and laurel oaks. I've never encountered
such trees as I saw in a New England town.