Big Creek update
13, 2004 12:14 PST
ENTS, NPS staff, et al,
Last weekend Tom Remaley of the GRSM and I revisited some tall
remeasure them and monitor annual growth. This past year has
exceptional growing season for the sycamores- one without
goal was to remeasure the following eastern height records; the
white ash on
Big Branch, the white basswood on an unnamed tributary east of
the sycamore and green ash on an unnamed creek north of Big
Creek, and a
contender for the tallest known tuliptree further up the same
creek. We were
able to visit all but the last tuliptree, which I plan to visit
all goes well. We were also able to measure a few other trees in
vicinity and take some core samples for age approximations.
What really blows me away is the sustained growth rates of these
the fact that most of Big Creek, which today has forests to 170'
essentially denuded of trees at the establishment of the GRSM-NP
mid-1930's. I wonder what the early park managers thought as
they gazed upon
the denuded and entirely cleared slopes of lower Big Creek. Did
any idea of the potential for such phenomenal growth? It must
depressing at the time! Well, now the forests can lay claim to
height records and perhaps the tallest temperate deciduous
forests in the
east, if not globally. Average canopy heights will rival or
the finest old-growth stands, and these forests will serve as an
study in growth rates (height and volume) and the formation of
architecture both on an individual tree and a forest and
Study of these forests will also help us figure out and
challenge the ideas
of a maximum canopy height for many species. For example,
well-known to exceed 170'; with over 20 trees in lower Big Creek
exceeding this height (probably over 100 can be found on just
the first 5 or
6 drainages off lower Big Creek). But of all the 170'+
tuliptrees thus far
identified (~50 park-wide?), only 3 exceed 175', and none exceed
of these trees are less than 70 years old. Since no other
old-growth forests can top the second-growth forest heights,
have the young
trees just peaked, or is there a biological or genetic limit?
ceiling for tuliptree is sharp and consistent across the entire
regardless of forest disturbance history. Does this indicate an
genetic base, or the opposite? What makes a 70 year old vigorous
growing up when all its neighbors are just as tall? Maybe they
stopped, but there is no height difference in tuliptree forests
old and 70 years old on similar sites. I think I need to get up
in the trees
and examine the tops in addition to selecting trees to monitor
Also, with enough aerial core samples at various heights, I
reconstruct height and diameter (volume) gain over many years,
how long a tree (or forest) has been 150' tall (or whatever
or greater. Such knowledge would influence management in many
economically and biologically. Grant money anyone???
Ok, here is a discussion of what Tom and I found.
White ash 11'1"
I have photos to document the incredible growth of this giant
tree! (I will
send some photos for Ed to post). Visual estimates of last
were over a foot, and this tree has grown from 159.1 feet in
1999 to 167.1
this year. Last year the tree was 165.8', indicating a gain of
nearly 16". I
firmly believe this figure, and the photos back it up. The tree
vigorous, and having measured the tree every year for 5 years I
can see that
the formerly "flat" crown is assuming a more upright
form, with the north
lead taking over dominance. I had once thought that the canopy
flat and not gain much height anymore. Within 3-4 years this
tree will join
tuliptree as the only other eastern hardwood to attain 170'. I
sycamore will join the elite "170 Club" too, and maybe
sweetgum and pignut
White basswood 10'9"
With less than a dozen basswood trees known over 140', this is
the first one
over 150' and a new inductee into the "150 Club". This
tree is an older tree
than the surrounding forest, and grows on the edge of a small
patch of older
forest with large sugar maple, ash, buckeye, and bitternuts. The
part of this tree is on an old section, but there is a vigorous
originating from the bent trunk that may soon take over as the
(currently 147.3'). Oddly enough, the highest point of this tree
is WAY off
center, and is nearly the furthest point from the base because
of the lean.
With a spread of over 60' this tree may be a new NC State
I was not able to confirm any height growth. The tree was still
in full leaf
(even though all the neighboring trees were not) and I could not
see the top
clearly. I was able to get heights above 161', and will return
drop. Like the basswood, the top is way off center and not what
I would have
expected for such a straight and young tree. However, I have
a "sport" or taller "errant" leader
somewhere in the tops of sycamore,
seemingly grown at random. A 153' tuliptree growing next to this
tree was 66
years at BH. I have no reason to think the sycamore is any
older, or is a
~177' tuliptree just a 100 yards upstream. This unnamed creek
has many other
tall trees, with at least three other sycamores over 150' and
two green ash
just under or above 140'. Northern red oaks and chestnut oaks
exceed 140', and black birch is just a hair under 118'. We need
to name the
creek! More on this site this weekend.
Green ash 9'7"
This tree is the first confirmed above 140', and it is vigorous.
someday reach 150' but that is 7-10 years away. The dimensions
it may be a NC State Champion. Other green ash in the area are
height (135'+) and vigor, but are somewhat smaller in girth.
PA or Congaree Swamp NP, SC may rival this tree's height.
Some other trees of note:
Red elm 6'5"
X 126' X 61' Potential new NC State Champion
Black birch 3'5"
X 163.1' ~70 years old
X 151' Cored: 65 years at BH
X 157.9' May be closer to
160'- tallest of three
fused stems from 13' base. Other leader is ~155' tall.
X 153' Cored: 66 years
at BH, in crown
contact with tallest sycamore, may be taller.
X 155.6' The tallest one of
several others in
grove over 150'.
Tune in next week.
little more Lower Big Creek update
21, 2004 10:20 PST
I was able to get in a little exploration time last weekend to
three record or near-record tree heights (sycamore, tuliptree
birch). I was also able to explore further upstream from the
area of the
three trees- as they all grow on the same unnamed creek only
about 100 yards
apart. Ed Coyle and I turned back once before for lack of
and time, but the map showed a lot more territory to cover-
topography and aspect was less than ideal for
"super-trees". True to Big
Creek fashion however, the trees did not care so much about the
topography and continued to be impressive, albeit in a very
I explored from approximately 2200' up to 3000' elevation. The
sides of the
SE facing cove were steep but the base near the creek was full
and pockets of small benches between them. Tuliptrees got huge
years) and reached girths of 13' and heights over 170'. One
section of the
creek- where Ed and I turned back before- had three tuliptrees
lined up in a
row with a center-to-center span of 29'. Two of the trees were
only 8.8 feet
apart, and all three reached over 172' tall. The tallest, a
tree only 8'4" in girth, stands at 177.2' tall, with a
current year's leader
of 7-8 inches (I have a photo). This tree was measured last year
I think these trees could be named the "Tree Amigos".
They are surrounded by
160' trees and should continue upward and challenge the world
tree on Baxter Creek (not yet remeasured this year). I feel the
tree has stopped growing, and this younger tree will likely
outgrow it next
year. It may hit the elusive 180' mark within 5 years. It is
also one of the
easiest trees to measure, as it grows at the base of a very
steep slope and
the top and base are clearly visible when viewed from upslope.
It also has
an unmistakable dominant leader. The crown was full of seeds. I
was able to
get some nice composite photos of the three trees, as well as
the birch and
sycamore. I presented these photos the next day at Haywood
as part of my program as a quest lecturer for two dendrology
Here some selected trees. I measured 28 trees on this trip.
9'4" X 134.7' Nearly a
8'1" X 140.6' Second
known over 140'
6'2" X 125.6'
5'9" X 126.4'
5'2" X 128.3'
5'9" X 133.1'
9'9" X 162.2' Unchanged
height since last year
2'10" X 65' Park
3'10" X 113'
4'10" X 118.8' ENTS record
height; 117.5' last year, still growing!
13'+ X 155'+ May be over 160'
9'4" X 162.3'
12' X 162.9' Broken top
10'4" X 172.1' New find
7'2" X 172.3' One of the
Tree Amigos. I cored this tree- 98 years to
pith @ 4.5'
7'9"' X 172.1' " " "
8'4" X 177.2' " " "
11'2" X 131.1' Huge remnant
tree; nearly a state record
10'0" X 121.8' Large remnant
5'9" X 127.4'
6'3" X 132.4'
7'6" X 132.2' It was
likely over 140' a few weeks ago but a bear had
shredded the entire top- I measured to broken stubs. Other
"stub" was 130.7'
6' X 123.5'
In summary, this unnamed cove with just a few dozen acres of
habitat- has the following exemplary claims:
<Second tallest known tuliptree
<Four tuliptrees over 170' tall
<Tallest known sycamore
<Tallest known green ash
<Tallest known black birch
<All known green ash over 140'
<Potential NC State Champion green ash
<Five sycamores over 150'
<A Rucker index of 144.2 (Based on three combined measuring
N. red oak
That's all folks!
A little more Lower Big Creek update
21, 2004 14:50 PST
Great report. I'm amazed at how many
species have moved up into the 160 class. I'm also amazed at how
our perception has changed of Fraxinus americana. Remember when
we thought mid-130s was about all the species would do? Guess it
It would be interesting to maintain a
historical Rucker index for our sites, states, and regions,
since we're tracking growth and species potential over time.
Instant snapshots have their place, but I wonder if we shouldn't
concurrently be computing the best that we've done for a site.
We could then track the current index of a site against its
historical best. Lots of possibilities for trending. If we were
to do that, we might speak of a HRI and a CRI (historical Rucker
index and Current Rucker index). The Boogerman pine would give
the Smokies a big boost, not that the Smokies need a boost.
A little more Lower Big Creek update
23, 2004 03:31 PST
Chew on this idea from Keith Langdon, GRSM I & M guru.
From: Keith Langdon
Sent: Monday, November 22, 2004 8:40 PM
To: Will Blozan
Subject: Re: A little more Lower Big Creek update
Great discoveries !! I hope to actually finsih some tree web
winter if anything slows down. $ EIS's in progress.
I was wondering if you had thought any more about the reason the
area has so many exceptionally tall trees?
The soils guys say that they failed to find any really different
there...although when I find walking fern, slippery elm, Amorpha,
like it must be pretty rich. I ran across a recent article on
plants in a
journal that talked about the kind of light that plants get
determines whether they grow more stem length or foliage.
Apparently (and I
am not a plant physiologist) when plants get shaded by other
translucent light they get is in a different infra-red band that
stem growth, so they can compete. I was wondering if a
combination of the
east-west orientation of Big Creek (sunlight angle-wise).....
some soil richness and a heavily disturbed land use history has
led to a
cohort of trees in a self-stimulating race?
Your thoughts ? Know any forest/plant physiologists ?