A few weeks ago Michael Davie and I explored part of the Webb
drainage on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. Park disturbance
history maps indicate some of the middle elevation parts of the
watershed remain uncut. Included among those areas, broad gentle
slopes, neither coves nor ridges, on the stream's east side held
promise of undiscovered big trees.
Webb Creek lies adjacent to Dunn Creek, whose arboreal wonders
reported on this spring. However the topography of the two
contrast starkly. In the midst of large sheltering ridges, a
of rich flats nearly continuously border Dunn Creek to
over 4000. In contrast, Webb Creek flows down an exceptionally
chute incised into gentler slopes. Both streams eventually flow
onto the broad, flat slopes undivided by ridges that occur near
park's northern edge.
The Old Settlers Trail parallels Webb Creek for approximately a
quarters of a mile, and passes through several old fields
the parks lower elevations. Tuliptrees, and in a few areas with
rapidly draining soils chestnut oaks, now loom over the field
Higher, where the adjacent become more substantial and past
disturbance less intensive, hemlocks take over the slopes. Most
hemlocks are now gray with noticeably, but not severely, thinned
crowns, yet a few scattered individuals still appear relatively
healthy. Note surprisingly, rosebay rhododendron also clings to
steep slopes along the creek's main stem. However, nearby broad,
north-facing ridges and low gradient, shallow coves support
forests with open understories. In those areas, red maple,
magnolia, and silverbell mix into the canopy. Where the coves
steeper, mixed mesophytic species dominate the overstory.
grows beneath the sugar maples, white ash, white basswood, and
buckeye. As in many Smokies coves, wood fern, jewel weed, black
cohosh, acute leaved hepatica are among the more common
Species Cbh Height
Ash, White 14'2"
Basswood, White NA 123.0'
Buckeye, Yellow 14'0" NA
Buckeye, Yellow 12'0" 129.9'
Grape 2'1" NA
Hemlock NA 130.6'
Hornbeam, American 2'4" 62.1'
Magnolia, Fraser 7'9.5"
Maple, Sugar 10'1"
Maple, Sugar 10'8"
Sassafras 7'0" 86.1'
Tuliptree NA 159.0'
However, a buckeye growing on a tributary near where the hemlock
forest transitioned to a rich cove stole the show for the day.
trees substantial 13'8" cbh trunk tapers to around 9' where
95' above the crown. Several larger branches continue ascending
157.3' top. Next to this tree, the 12' x 129.9' buckeye appeared
height easily surpasses the former record of
145.6', and the slowly tapering trunk may make this tree one of
largest buckeyes by volume.
Jess Riddle & Michael Davie