Branch, Big Creek, GRSM 1/3/04
04, 2004 19:28 PST
ENTS and others,
Saturday I had a wonderful trip into the Big Creek area of the
Smokies. Ed Coyle and Ron Busch accompanied me on a tree hunt
remote drainage of Bettis Branch, lying between Baxter Creek to
the east and
Mouse Creek to the west, both of which have been surveyed to
The tree growth in the Big Creek area has not failed to amaze
me, as the
following report will tell.
Just before passing over from the Baxter Creek drainage into
we measured a huge red maple that was 15' cbh and 121' tall.
This was a new
NC State Champion, and had an impressive twisted and fissured
trunk that had
slow taper and forked into a massive spreading crown. Very
enough so to elicit a smile out of Ed for a photo! We accessed
part of the drainage from the Baxter Creek Trail to Mt.
from the east at about 3700 feet. Extensive and impressive relic
groves of super knarly 400-500+ year-old blackgum covered the
ridges and massive chestnut debris was common.
Extensively logged, the drainage contained logging railroad
track and wheels. A steep but easily-traveled railroad grade
the whole stream. The forest was young and rather poor in
to Baxter Creek but nonetheless contained some impressive trees.
We also had
to traverse a fantastic waterfall that is not on the map. It had
long rock slide which then dumped over a 20' rock into a deep
with big logs. Very nice, and would probably be a state park
outside of the Smokies. On an ugly note, hemlock woolly adelgid
throughout Baxter Creek and Bettis Branch. Interestingly, some
of the trees
I inspected on Bettis Branch appeared to have immature adelgids.
masses were very small, and looked more like very early October
not the large, egg-laden masses typical of this time of year.
Could this be
a sign of predation?
The general canopy was dominated by tuliptree, black locust, and
patches of black birch and basswood. Yellow buckeye, bitternut,
silverbell appeared here and there but were not very common as a
species. Tuliptree, by far, had the share of the sunlight. With
years of growth, most of the forest was still recovering and
were not overly impressive for much of the upper portions of the
Heights of the dominants averaged around 140' for tuliptree.
to Big Creek reputation, the trees gained height and girth
As the canopy dominants began to creep up into the 150' class we
of finding some super-tall trees, as we have in the adjoining
Eventually, 160' became common, and the 150's were passed over
right in search of "The one". Soon 170' was coming
into focus and we scored
the tallest tree at 174.8' and 10'3" in girth. This
tuliptree was literally
growing out of the abandoned railroad bed and thus could not be
very old at
all. A nearby tree was 167.8'.
The 170'+ tuliptree was expected, but the find of the day was a
that, though only 6'1" in girth, reached to a record
shattering 162' tall.
This is the fourth eastern deciduous species known to reach
distinction shared only by tuliptree, white ash, and pignut
Bitternut, sycamore, cherrybark oak and sweetgum will no doubt
in this height class but for now it is a height extremely few
individuals (other that tuliptree) can attain. In fact, only one
white ash, pignut hickory, and black locust is known over 160',
contenders for cohorts. Have we now just found the outliers on
curve or the beginning of a new paradigm for these species?
Anyway, here is a tally of the finds:
10'7" x 120.3'
8'6" x 126.7' May be 130' with more time searching out the
(previously tagged w/ Paul Jost)- measured from trail upslope-
15' x 120.7' New NC State Champion
11'4" x 93' Almost NC State Champion
7'1" x 130.1' Third known over 130'; all are in Big Creek.
6'5" x 131.5'
8'3" x 147.9'
10'1" x 118.3' I call it a twin, Ed says one tree... New
ENTS height record?
6'11" x 130.4'
6'1" x 162' New ENTS record for the species; new "160'
~11' x ~135' Would be new NC State Record but did not bring my
6'10" x 138.9' Young tree with absolutely perfect form,
well on the way to
the "150' Club"
6'3" x 132.7'
~11' x 152.7'
9'11" x 157.6'
twin x 159.9'
10' x 160.5' 160' trees abounded; probably the stand average in
9'9" x 161.3'
8'3" x 161.7'
9'6" x 162.7'
11'6" x 164.4'
9'8" x 166.3'
8'1" x 167.8'
10'3" x 174.8' Third or fourth tallest tuliptree known...
BIG CREEK RULES!!!
President, Eastern Native Tree Society
ISA Certified Arborist