Jim Branch, Cataloochee, GRSM   Will Blozan
  Jul 26, 2002 16:28 PDT 

jimbranchgianteastviewfull.jpg (61103 bytes) Jim Branch Giant Gallery

Hello fellow ENTS,

Michael Davie and I explored much of the Jim Branch drainage in the Cataloochee Valley of GRSM, NC. Kristine Johnson of the Park Service and Molly Nicoli alerted us to the presence of hemlock woolly adelgid so we went in for a pre-mortality survey. Within minutes Jim Branch began to creep up our list of best hemlock groves in the Smokies (world?). It was very open (as in rhodo-free)and had large hardwood associates. Tuliptree was the largest and tallest codominant reaching heights of nearly 170'. Hemlock was very dense and we saw some of the highest basal area groves we had ever seen. Most of the dense groves were "young", around 250 years old, with older 400+ "matriarch" trees up to 13' in girth. We found a large red spruce at no more than 3200 feet elevation that looked very healthy and was a canopy dominant.

Below is a list of the trees we measured, including a potential new world record hemlock height. I still can't believe we are still finding records at the brink of the potential loss of the species in the southern Appalachians. This tree, and one in South Carolina (168.9'), are within a foot of each other and should be climbed to determine the actual height with tape drop and discover which tree is the tallest. Both trees are in groves infested with adelgid.

Trees on an unnamed branch on the way up from Rough Fork. These were second growth +/-50 yr old tuliptrees:

7'2" x 149.9'
6'1" x 150.6'
8'7" x 153.5'

Many more where these came from...

Jim Branch

11'8" x 137.1'
13'2" x 147.2'
11'2" x 147.8'
10'4" x 148.8'
8'7" x 149.8'
11'2" x 156.5'
9'10" x 157.4'
11'1' x 158.7'
11'8" x 159.0'
12'11" x 169.5' "Jim's Giant" (I discovered a bees nest at the base..) Two laser readings from vastly different angles and slope positions were within a few inches; 169.9 and 169.1).

13'1" x 148.8'
10'9" x 156.9'
8'9" x 159.8'
10'7" x 168.9'

N. red oak
8'3" x 129.4'

Cucumber magnolia
10'5" x 127.3'

There is a lot more to measure, too...


Jim Branch wonders    Will Blozan
   Mar 23, 2003 18:16 PST 

Today I explored up the west side of Jim Branch in Cataloochee, GRSM. My
main goal was to scout a route to the Jim Branch Giant, a massive, towering
eastern hemlock that I intend to climb this coming weekend. However, I was
seriously distracted by cove after cove of fine trees. Most of the area I
covered (which is a small portion of what remains) seemed to be teetering on
the edge of acidic cove and rich cove forests. Although hemlock dominated
throughout, rhododendron was sparse and rich cove associates were locally
common or scattered among the hemlocks. Tuliptree, basswood, cucumbertree,
Fraser magnolia, black and yellow birch, and mountain silverbell were common
(American beech were dead from BBD). I believe Jim Branch to be one of the
most beautiful hemlock forests I have ever seen, and I have seen A LOT of
hemlock! However, hemlock woolly adelgid is common and I believe I saw some
adelgid induced decline in the highest cove I surveyed. Small saplings were
covered with adelgid masses and the canopy tres were beginning to lose lower
limbs or had severe dieback in the lower canopy. I have been climbing on Jim
Branch assisting the NPS with HWA control efforts and many of the trees I
climbed were moderately infested.

I measured the Jim Branch Giant from five locations. Four of them centered
around 164' with an average of 164.23'. The range of error between the four
was .84'. Not bad! One outlier which I confirmed twice from the same
location was 167.35'. Michael Davie measured this tree twice from vastly
different locations/angles and got 169.5' both times. Either his
measurements are high or mine are low (or we are both off!) We will know
soon... I figure the tree has 950-1050 cubic feet of wood. This may be
conservative as it has one of the most untapered stems I have seen and
appears to remain 1.5' thick to at least 130'. I will take girth
measurements for volume calculations as well as a tape drop height. I have a
photo of the entire tree that I took today that I can email to anyone who
would like it.

Anyway, among the gloom and doom of HWA the finds of the day were exciting.
The biggest surprise for me was a new white basswood (Tilia heterophylla)
height record. Before today, no one has accurately measured a white basswood
over 140' tall. Today I found four! The tallest was 147' and still growing!
There is now evidence that this species may enter the elite 150' Club. Who
would have thought that?

I also found four old-growth tuliptrees over 170'. All had intact crowns and
massive upper branching.Jim Branch has one other over 170' confirmed so far-
with many coves left to measure. I was hoping to break the ENTS record of
175' but fell shy by 1.54'. Another record today was a yellow birch at
109.3' My previous record was around 100'.

On the way in I stopped to measure some white pines in a grove I have not
measured for 7 years. At last measurement the tallest tree was 157'. Now two
have surpassed 160' (sorry Dale) and there are probably more.

Here are today's figures:

Species Girth Height
White pine n/a 160.79'
White pine n/a 162.91'

Jim Branch

Hemlock 10'1" 143.09'
Hemlock 8'2" 145.5'
Hemlock 9'3" 143.96'
Hemlock 8'11" 149.72'
Hemlock 8'11" 153.37'
Hemlock 11'8" 154.95'
Hemlock 10'10" 158.8'
Hemlock ~12'8" 164.23' (avg of 4 range of .84') Jim Branch Giant

Tuliptree 9'8" 148.46'
Tuliptree 7'2" 156.24'
Tuliptree 9'8" 157.98'
Tuliptree 11'2" 172.83'
Tuliptree 12'4" 173.28' (avg of 2, range of .49')
Tuliptree 10'3" 173.33'
Tuliptree 14'3" 173.47' (avg of 3, range 1.87')

White basswood 5'5" 132.1' (basswoods over 130' are not common anywhere)
White basswood 6'3" 135.56'
White basswood 5'6" 140.52'
White basswood 5'7" 140.91'
White basswood 6' 142.3'
White basswood 5'8" 147.01' (all-time record!)

Cucumbertree 13'7" 123.5' (Georgeous, huge trunk but broken top)
Cucumbertree 10' 125.08'
Cucumbertree 5'10" 127.98'
Cucumbertree 11'7" 132.6'

Black birch 5'6" 110.4' (in the top 10 height-wise)

Yellow birch 6'10" 109.29' (new park [Eastern?] record)
RE: Jim Branch wonders   Leverett, Robert
  Mar 26, 2003 10:58 PST 

Lirodendron tulipifera is in a class by itself. As we see, other hardwood species reach impressive girths, and in favorable environments, a few species like sweet gum and sycamore may challenge the tulip tree for height supremacy, but the tulips win out when entire species range is taken into consideration. In fact, the tulip doesn't have any serious competition that I see.

Southern Pennsylvania must have some impressive specimens. Will Blozan mentioned a city park in Philadelphia where he saw promising specimens. I can't remember the name of the park, but we ought to find out and pay it a visit this year.
Also, south-central PA has lots of sycamores. There's one at Mercersburg (sp?) that is supposed to be 31 feet around. I couldn't find it few years ago when I passed through. If we knew its exact location, John Knuerr and I could visit it on our way down or back from the Smokies in April. We plan to go straight from the Smokies to western PA.

Re: Jim Branch wonders   Michael Davie
  Mar 26, 2003 12:06 PST 
Hey everyone-
Jim Branch really has an impressive forest, there's an area of the cove
remarkably free of rhododendron for the typical north-facing hemlock forest
in Cataloochee. The best kind of "shock and awe" when you enter it. Those
basswoods sound incredible.
I hope my measurements weren't that far off, the last time I checked, my
laser was actually consistently undermeasuring by a bit, I really need to
go ahead and get a new one. One thing I remember is that the bottom was
very obscured by rhodo, and Will had to be careful of a yellowjacket nest,
I think it was, when he was standing at the base. He had to wave his hand
above his head for me to see it. It's definitely worth the climb for a tape
drop, luckily it's easily accessible (relative to most of the Smokies).
Good luck on 170, even if it's not, it's a great tree.
Jim Branch:   Yellow Birch   Will Blozan
  Aug 23, 2005 16:33 PDT 
Hello all,

Just a quick note on some nice trees I have located recently, some of which
may be NC State Champions.

(Link to full report)

Back in the Smokies, I spotted a yellow birch on Jim Branch that looked
quite tall even though it was an older tree with a flat crown. Just ~100
yards away grew the current eastern height record, which I originally
thought this tree must be. But it was a different tree. I shot up with the
laser from underneath and roughed it ~105'- then I realized my rangefinder
was still in meters from an earlier plot with the Park Service! I went
upslope and confirmed a 116.7' top on a 6'10" trunk. Sorry John and Bob but
you have some more searching to do!