05, 2007 18:16 PST
Last weekend, Michael Davie and I set off to the North Carolina
of the Smokies to explore Tabor Branch and an adjacent stream
trees. Based on several highly productive sites in the
Oconaluftee River watershed, and the gentle but sheltered
of the two small streams, we both felt they had excellent
for harboring tall hardwoods. The streams begin at around 4600'
the steep upper slopes of Richland Mountain's east side, and
southeast and east, respectively, to empty into Bradley Fork at
Below the steep slopes on the headwaters, the various forks of
Branch each flow through a short stretch of moderately inclined
minimally sheltered flats before incising into the mountain
coalescing, and flowing down a narrow valley to Bradley Fork.
unnamed branch to the south has an even steeper upper section
gives way to a highly asymmetrical lower section; on one side,
stream flows right at the base of a short but very steep south
slope; on the other, the stream flows incised below broad,
slopes that are bounded to the south by a steep sided ridge.
Around the mouth of Tabor Branch, skinny and not especially tall
tuliptrees and birch form a canopy over a nearly continuous
rhododendron understory, and an old road bed leads upstream.
Following the road up, the rhododendron layer becomes patchier
stays primarily on the southern side of the narrow watershed,
scattered basswood and northern red oak replace the birch in the
overstory. Overall, the canopy is higher and the forest appears
productive with the tallest tuliptrees reaching 150'. Above
the stream begins to fork, and the first open coves and white
encountered. Two of the forks closely parallel each other with
very low ridge separating them, which combines with the entirely
deciduous forest to make the surrounding area feel like one
flat. The flat appears more productive than lower parts of the
watershed, and for a rich second growth forest, supports an
diverse canopy that tuliptree, sugar maple, and white ash
northern red oak, black locust, black cherry, and basswood also
commonly reach the overstory while sugar maple saplings and
hophornbeans form the sparse understory.
Over a small rhododendron and mountain laurel covered ridge to
south, the forests along the adjacent unnamed stream show
moister and productivity, but are substantially less diverse.
Basswoods, white ash, and silverbells grow on the steep slopes
the stream and fringing the flats, but in the flats themselves,
tuliptree clearly dominates with only black locust competing
effectively. The tuliptrees, which all appear well under 100
old, consistently reach around 150' tall, and the black locusts
often only slightly shorter.
Species Cbh Height
Ash, White 8'11" 147.8'
Locust, Black 5'10" 146.0'+
Oak, N. red 11'5" 141.0'
The white ash is the tallest so far located in the Oconaluftee
of the park, and appears to still be growing upward fairly
The northern red oak and tuliptree are directly adjacent to each
other, and clearly the largest individuals of their species in
flats on Tabor Branch.
However, the find of the day (year?), was a black locust on the
unnamed stream. As we started descending the stream, we quickly
encountered black locusts exceeding 140' tall, and one locust
off down stream appeared strikingly tall. The tree grows on the
of a small bench at the foot of the steep south-facing slope,
the broad flats, about 10' above the level of the stream, and
to a 160'+ tuliptree that is probably the tallest in the
With a modest 6'8" cbh, the locust rises to 171.8' tall!
height record of 162' seemed like something of an anomaly when
found, so finding a black locust of this height was not at all
anticipated. Black locust is now the second hardwood species in
eastern North America known to reach 170' with only tuliptree
Jess Riddle & Michael Davie
Tabor Branch, GSMNP
06, 2007 04:40 PST
Jess and Mike,
That's off the charts. Simply off the charts.
At 6' 8" around and
171.8 feet tall, is that black locust our "tall and
ENTS RULES!! You guys are way cool!
Tabor Branch, GSMNP
06, 2007 16:24 PST
Holy locust!!! Great find guys! That may indeed be the find of
Now, two new species over 170' for 2007.