Trees of Floyd County, GA   Jess Riddle
  Jan 18, 2006 19:43 PST 


Over the holidays I had a chance to visit Richard Ware, one of
Georgia's leading botanists. He was kind enough to take my dad and me
on a tree tour of Rome, Georgia and surrounding Floyd County. Rome
was founded in the 1830's where the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers merge
to form the Coosa River. The northwest Georgia county's odd
physiographic mix contributes to the area's unusual diversity. The
low, ridge-like mountains of the southern Appalchians' Ridge and
Valley section enter from the northeast, and coastal plain species
including evergreen bayberry and water tupelo follow the Coosa River
into the county from the west. The limestone underlying many of the
lower lying areas, and naturally occurring wet prairies further
contribute to the counties floral diversity.

Our first stop was the state champion nutmeg hickory, which grows
within site of the largest highway in town. The species was unknown
in the state until Richard spotted them in the late 1990's. At
109.2', the 6'4" cbh champion pokes above the surrounding forest of
cherrybark oak, other nutmeg hickories, shumard oak, and florida

Our next stop was the Berry College Campus. The school's 28,000 acre
campus, the largest in the world, includes a mountain with a montane
longleaf pine forest. However, all of the champion trees on campus
benefit of open surroundings. The largest of a couple rows of planted
northern catalpas has achieved champion status with a 9'2" cbh and
70.0' tall trunk. Nearby we looked at a nice, but not record
breaking, 6'0"cbh x 69.9' Kentucky coffeetree. Within site of that
tree, we spied a chalk maple with an enormous 4'10" cbh, with a more
modest 32.7' height but impressive maximum spread of 50'9". This tree
would have qualified as a national co-champion with another Rome tree
and one elsewhere in Georgia, but a larger individual has recently
been reported. Next on campus, we visited the champion shingle oak,
another species Richard has recently found may be native to Georgia.
The trees unusually open crown reaches up to 90.3' and spreads at most
96' on a 10'2" cbh trunk. On our way out, we hopped a fence into the
cow pasture, really more of a deer pasture, to see the national
champion florida maple. My dad thought the tree was a twin, but I
think it just has an unusually large branch about seven feet up. The
tree has a 12'0" cbh and rises to 77.1'.

We stopped by an older residential development near the Oostanaula to
check on another potential state champion oak. This tree was another
where my dad saw a fusion and I saw a classically heavy branched open
grown oak. The tree is probably a nuttall oak, but may be hybrid
between two other red oaks. The stout tree's limbs spread over the
house and over the street but reach only 71.2' high while the roots
attached to the 15'10" cbh trunk continue to destroy the driveway.

We stopped in town at an unkempt and rather inconspicuous row of
trees. The soapberrys, probably western soapberry, are descendents of
an earlier planted tree. The tallest in the row of similarly sized
trees is 2'8" cbh and 52.1' tall.

We also stopped in town beside a medical clinic to look at a big,
hilltop cherrybark oak. As we drove up, I think all our hearts
stopped when we saw a backhoe sitting beneath the tree. The brilliant
landowners had decided to put in a broad sidewalk about 10' from the
tree. When we arrived, the trench was for the sidewalk was complete
and about a foot deep. Farther away from the tree on the same side is
a preexisting parking lot, so maybe the tree had not invested too many
resources in that direction. What makes risk of injury to the tree
such a poor decision for the landowners is that the tree is critical
to the property. Massive limbs stretch out over the building and save
who knows how much in air conditioning bills. The tree also
distinctively defines the property. The 19'3" cbh trunk is easily
seen from the road, and the huge crown, with 143' long spread
dominates the space. The 93.8' tall tree currently appears in good
health. The owner of the grading company commented that he that
Sherman might have slept under the tree as he marched towards Atlanta
and Savannah; however, I doubt the tree is old enough for that event
to have occurred. When my dad and I first measured the tree in 1996,
thinking it was a black oak, the tree was 17'10" in circumference.
That rapid growth, the typically fast growth of the species, and the
tree's immense photosynthetic area all lead me to believe the tree has
attained its great size in relatively short time, even without the
usual benefit of bottomland soils. I doubt the tree is over 150 years
old, possible much less. An impressive chalk maple also grew in the
yard with 5'3" circumference below where the first true branches
emerged at 1'7". At 4.5', the largest branch was 3'5" circumference,
and supported a twig 41.8' high.

At the next stop, a 15'3" circumference of an osage orange behind a
business appeared to be the combined effort of two trees. The roughly
orange coated trunks and dense, compact, repeatedly arched crowns
reached 58.5' and 60.4' high.

Standing on an otherwise recently razed and cleared lot, we looked at
one of the most puzzlingly and impressive trees of the day, a hickory.
Tight gray bark, strongly reminiscent of bitternut hickory, covered
the trunk, and the dried leaves covering the ground indicated usually
nine and sometimes eleven leaflets. However, the fruits more closely
resembled pecans, and the buds had only a scruffy yellow coating on
brown regular scales. If all pecans had the flavor of these nuts, the
species would not be nearly so widely planted. Our best guess is that
the tree is a bitternut-pecan hybrid, Carya x brownii. The tree
stands 102.9' tall, and even after some crown breakage, has a 101'
long spread. The immense 17'6" trunk rises straight out of the
ground, and continues about 30' before dividing into many branches.

To find another hickory with a 101' max spread, we had to venture
slightly into adjacent Polk County. There, near a creek, stands a
potential champion, open grown shagbark hickory. The 13'0" cbh trunk
supports a broad, rounded crown. Three measurements gave heights of
103.3', 104.1', and 104.7'; the former two measurements may be of the
same branch, but the latter is definitely a separate top.

With light waning, we set off for a small mountain to see alabama
black cherries. Some consider the tree a variety of black cherry, but
the tree has officially recently been given status as its own species.
The cherries, with crooked trunks and open crowns, appeared similar
to black cherries at many southern piedmont sites. The bark was
indistinguishable from the more common black cherry. At this site,
the Alabama black cherries took advantage of the interface between the
road and young, chestnut oak dominated forest. The three largest
individuals were 2'3" cbh x 50.4' tall, 3'1" cbh x 45.9' tall, and
2'6.5" x 55.1'. Richard has nominated the tallest as a national

Jess Riddle