Greenbrier & Cosby (Smokies)    Jess Riddle
   Nov 03, 2004 15:47 PST 

For logistical reasons, I didn't attend the Forest Summit, but over that
same time period I spent two and a half days hiking in the smokies with
one of my roommates, which helped take some of the sting out of missing
the gathering. This trip focused on the immediate vicinity of Cosby
Campground and sites in the Greenbrier district park; both areas are in
the northeastern part of the park on the Tennessee side.

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Tuliptree:  Porters Bowl, Great Smoky Mountains NP, TN.
21'10" cbh x 161.0'  Note the lack of balding on 
the lower trunk indicating a relatively young tree.
Photograph by Richard Chewning

During that time period, fall colors were peaking in the middle
elevations. From a human perspective, sugar maple, sourwood, and red
maple all excelled. Conversely, White ash, which last year at the same
time displayed some of the best color in a less vibrant fall, had already
lost all their leaves. Bitternut hickory bridged the gaps with
individuals ranging from fully green to nearly leafless. The largest
diameter hickory encountered on the trip, see below, retained a crown full
of brilliant yellow leaves.

Dense, even aged stands of tuliptree, typical of old farm fields in the
region, cover Cosby Campground and surrounding gentle slopes. Red maples
and black locusts occasionally compete with the tuliptrees, and striped
maples and patches of small hemlocks fill in the understory. The old
fields directly upslope of the campground end fairly abruptly at the foot
of Camel Hump Mountain, which has a ridge-like form and a crest around
4600'. On one slope of the mountain grows the former national champion
sourwood, and Camel Hump Creek, which flows along the eastern foot of the
mountain, supports a 22' cbh tuliptree. The slopes of the mountain
nearest the campground host many cut chestnut stumps and other indications
that the slopes were selectively cut in pre-park days, but old sugar
maples still occur frequently in some of the steep coves on the north side
of the mountain. A boulderfield stretches for at least a quarter mile up
one of those coves and supports a canopy of sugar maple, buckeye, and
yellowwood. Moss, rock stone-crop, and patches of walking fern growing
directly on the boulders. Flanking the boulderfield, forests of hemlock
and northern red oak with rhododendron understory grow out of more visible
soil. Another one of the larger coves on the same slope of the mountain
supported similar forest with fewer buckeyes, more silverbell, and better

The search along the middle prong of the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon
River focus on a series of shallow, north facing coves at the end of a
major ridge system coming off of Mount Guyot (6621'). The parallel coves
rapidly drop the last few hundred feet down to the stream, but lie on a
more gentle incline between approximately 2900' and 3300'. A think
rhododendron layer covers the upper parts of the coves, but the gently
inclined sections generally have an open understory. While a few hemlocks
mix the buckeye-basswood-silverbell canopies of the centers of the coves,
they more frequently associate with red maples on the small dividing

Porters Bowl is not a standardized name but rather a descriptive title for
the area between Porters Creek and False Gap Prong at the north end of
Porters Mountain in the Greenbrier section of the park. The main
ridgeline of Porters Mountain has an abrupt u-shaped fork where the
mountain splits into two steep sided ridges. The land between the ridges
consists of a broad flat area that leads into the steep, north facing back
wall of the bowl, which is marked with a few steep coves. A tuliptree
stand, probably the result of past farming although explicit signs are not
as common as in adjacent areas, with a hemlock and buffalonut understory
covers the floor of the bowl. Some of the small, steep, narrow coves at
the end of one of the bordering ridges show a greater diversity of
hardwoods in the canopy, but wind disturbances have a large proportion of
those areas and led to extensive grapevine tangles. The coves of the back
wall of the bowl also support a more diverse canopy of hardwoods with a
mixture of sugar maple, bitternut hickory, white ash and tuliptree over a
sparse yellowwood midstory. A trip to the area last year yielded several
tuliptrees just over 150', one white ash over 140', and a 12'10" bitternut
hickory of the back wall.

Species Height Cbh Location

Basswood, White 123.8' NA Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Buckeye, Yellow 131.6' 9'5" Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Buckeye, Yellow 137.1' 12'8" Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Buckeye, Yellow 145.6' 11'4" Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Devil's Walkingstick 53.4' 2'5.5" Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Hemlock, Eastern 139.6' 10'+ Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Hemlock, Eastern 147.2' 17'5" Laurel Branch
Hickory, Bitternut 124.7'+ 12'6" Porters Bowl
Hickory, Bitternut ~134' 10'10" Camel Hump Mountain
Hickory, Bitternut 134.3' 10'9" Camel Hump Mountain
Hickory, Bitternut 142.9' 10'9" Porters Bowl
Maple, Sugar ~131' 9'11" Porters Bowl
Oak, Northern Red ~123' 16'9" Camel Hump Mountain
Sassafras 90.1' 5'10" Porters Bowl
Sassafras 97.2' 5'5" Porters Bowl
Silverbell, Mountain 115.6' 4'6" Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Tuliptree 132.8' 25'4" Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Tuliptree 144.3' 10'+ Porters Bowl
Tuliptree 146.0' 18'3" Porters Bowl
Tuliptree 151.1' ~10' Porters Bowl
Tuliptree 156.2' ~7' Porters Bowl
Tuliptree 159.1' 16'2" Middle Prong Little Pigeon River
Tuliptree 161.0' 21'10" Porters Bowl
Walnut, Black 124.6' 5'7" Porters Creek Road
Walnut, Black 128.5' 7'2.5" Porters Creek
Yellowwood NA 8'7" Camel Hump Mountain
Yellowwood 85.0' 6'7" Camel Hump Mountain

At least one other buckeye reaches the upper 130's in the coves along the
Middle Prong. The collection of tall buckeyes is not particularly
unexpected given that three buckeyes over 140' had previously been
measured in the generally area including Ramsey Prong. The shot on the
tallest buckeye was not very good, but no other aspects of the situation
suggest the height should be off.

Devil's walkingsticks also commonly reach large sizes in the area. The
species raises an interesting point as to what all should be included when
measuring height. Should the height listed only included the permanent
parts of the tree, or should more ephemeral structures be included. In
most cases, the issue is of little practical concern since uppermost
leaves are rarely held vertically and contribute less than the margin of
error to the total height. However, a bent devil's walkingstick leaf
could easily add two feet, and in the case at hand, the fruit cluster
probably added about a foot to the total height.

The first hemlock was measured out of convenience and is probably
representative of hemlock heights in the series of coves.   The massive
new hemlock grows on a small flat where a small cove empties into a minor
tributary of Laurel Branch. The tree has a hollow and enlarged base, but
the flairing is restricted to the section of trunk below 4.5'. The crown
starts only about 50' above the ground, so the slowly tapered section of
trunk is fairly short. That fact makes me doubt this hemlock will
challenge others for the greatest volume, but the tree still accumulates
enough points to qualify as a national co-champion and a volume record is
not out of the question.

A more careful measurement of mid-slope reduced the circumference on the
large bitternut hickory by four inches relative to last years measurement.

The largest sugar maples in Porters Bowl, as well as many other species,
grow in an area at the foot of the back wall in an area that probably only
had a few choice trees removed. Sugar maple, basswood, and silverbell
dominate the rocky area although tuliptree and white ash are also common.
With more looking a few sugar maples taller sugar maples and several white
ash around 130' could be found.

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Tuliptree:  Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River, 
Great Smoky Mountains NP, TN.
25'4" cbh x 132.8' (broken crown)
Photograph by Richard Chewning

Before anyone gets two excited, the giant Middle Prong tuliptree had its
crown ripped out by a storm, so the tree has no chance at a volume record.
However, at one time the tree probably would have challenged for the
volume title, but now must be content to be the largest chimney in the
park, which it takes over from the 19'4" Buck Fork sycamore. Standing
inside the trunk, daylight filters in from a few small holes near the base
and from the open end at approximately 76.4'. The tree has one bulge on
the downhill side that affects the circumference and a somewhat irregular
tapering pattern along the length of the trunk. The tree grows in the
vicinity of several yellow buckeyes, sugar maples, and small hemlocks on a
bit of elevated ground where two coves intersect. Large tuliptrees where
generally scarce in the coves, but the lower, steeper, more rhododendron
choked sections were not explored.

The large tuliptree in Porters Bowl grows in the least disturbed section
of the area described above. Several other large tuliptrees where left on
the same low ridge.   The tree appears quite young, and, while not swollen
at the base, tapers quickly along the length of the trunk.

The circumference listed for the taller black walnut is a measurement
listed from last year when the trees height was roughed out around 125'.
Walnuts are naturalized but not native in the area.

Large yellowwoods are common in the boulder fields around the base of Camel
Hump Mountain.

Jess Riddle