Tall Trees of Chase Creek Woods


                                                                                                                                        Colby B. Rucker

                                                                                                            July 2003


     Chase Creek Woods is located at Arnold, in the highlands of the Severn River, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.  Anne Arundel has been called the northernmost county in southern Maryland; it has a variety of soil types and corresponding plant communities, but most are typical of the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain, where southern red oak, willow oak, sweet gum, pitch pine and sweetbay magnolia abound. 


     Chase Creek Woods differs in that these species are rarely encountered.  The topography and soils are quite varied, offering suitable habitat for more than fifty native tree species.  Elevations range from tidewater to 140 feet.  The soils are sandy loam, silt loam, loamy sand, and alluvium.  On the highest elevations, silt loams are underlaid by nearly impervious subsoils, thereby supporting plants similar to those on lowland sites.  Sandy intermediate-elevation terraces support more xeric plant communities.  Deep ravines with rich soils and cool exposures form outliers for vegetation more typical of cove hardwood regimes above the Fall Line.  


     Much of the Chase Creek watershed was cleared over three hundred years ago for the growing of tobacco and, more recently, for residential development. Perhaps half is still wooded, but highly fragmented.  The existing wooded areas are old fields, narrow ridges, steep slopes, ravines and wetlands.  Although some areas have been undisturbed for 75-100 years, logging has occurred in the past, resulting in a greater prevalence of tuliptrees on many sites.  Despite these impacts, Chase Creek Woods is one of the county’s outstanding natural areas.


     Beginning in April 2000, approximately 150 acres of forest were studied, consisting of four tracts in private ownership.  The tallest examples of 56 taxa were measured, including seven naturalized species.  Additional native species were seen, but were not included, being outside the study properties, immature (under fifteen feet in height), or of uncertain origin.  Tree circumferences were measured at 4.5 feet above average grade.  Heights of smaller trees were measured directly with a telescoping aluminum pole.  Heights of taller trees were determined with a laser rangefinder in conjunction with a clinometer, using a pole for an accurate sighting point above screening vegetation.



                                                                                   Maximum Heights


     The following trees are the tallest of each species measured within the study area.  Although specimens with larger trunks were encountered, most were not as tall.  The modest size of the study area suggests a similar genetic height potential within each species; therefore, the tallest examples usually occur on sites most conducive to height development for that species.   While some species are present in very limited numbers, the maximum heights still reflect those species’ place in the forest structure at this time.


     These species have been divided into six groups.   It is useful to consider what the trees within each group have in common.  Each group has been named.  This is not a description of forest types; a group may include species from both upland and lowland regimes.  The approach taken here is more structural, and indicates typical canopy position for maximum height development.   This yields a height profile for the entire study area.  In the following list, the maximum height for each species is followed by the cbh (circumference at breast height, or 4.5 feet) for that specimen.  A letter indicates the four study properties, which are unnamed, to insure privacy.   The habitat, soil and exposure for each specimen often show distinct patterns, which indicate the influence of those factors upon maximum height.


           Species                                                                 Height          CBH       Tract           Habitat                                    Soil               Exposure


Mesic dominants:  Low-slope position, east or north facing; circumneutral soils.

  Tuliptree                           Liriodendron tulipifera           157.6’             7.5”       A     cool ravine, base of slope              moist sandy loam      NE

  Northern red oak              Quercus rubra                        137.4’         22’            A     cool ravine, mid-slope                   sandy loam               NE

  Black oak                        Quercus velutina                     135.6’         10’  2.5”       A     small ravine, low-slope                  sandy loam               E 

  American sycamore          Platanus occidentalis             132.3’              3.0”       A     deep ravine, bottom                      moist sandy loam      E

  White ash                         Fraxinus americana               132.0’             8.5”       A     cool ravine, base of slope              moist sandy loam      NE 

  Pignut                              Carya glabra                          124.1’             5.0”        A     deep ravine, low-slope                  sandy loam               SE   


Sub-mesic dominants:  Mixed slope position, often south-facing, soils more acidic . 

  Chestnut oak                    Quercus prinus                      124.8’             6.0”        B     broad ravine, low-slope                sandy loam               W 

  White oak                        Quercus alba                         121.4’             4.0”        A     ravine, low-slope                          sandy loam               SE

  American beech               Fagus grandifolia                  119.5’         10’  3.0”        B     broad ravine, low-slope                sandy loam               E

  Mockernut                      Carya tomentosa                   117.2’           5’ 11.0”       A      dry ravine, broad upper swale      sandy loam               SE

  Black cherry                    Prunus serotina                     116.5’             7.0”        C      upland, old-field                           silt loam                    E

  Red maple                      Acer rubrum                           110.3’             3.0”        C      low-slope/swamp interface           loam/org./alluvium    SW

  Bitternut                          Carya cordiformis                 108.3’           5’ 11.5”        C     mixed woods, mid-slope               sandy loam               S

  Black walnut                   Juglans nigra                         107.1’           7’ 10.5”        B      ravine, mid-slope opening             sandy loam              SE

  Sweetgum                       Liquidambar styraciflua        103.0’             9.5”         B     upland, old-field                            sandy loam               S

  Blackgum                       Nyssa sylvatica                        98.5’              6.0”         B     swale, low end                              loamy sand              W


Dry-mesic:  Usually sandy soils, south-facing.

  Shortleaf pine                  Pinus echinata                       105.0’             8.0”        B     mixed woods, mid-slope               sandy loam               SE 

  Southern red oak            Quercus falcata                      103.7’             4.0”        B     terrace, middle position                 loamy sand               NW

  Scarlet oak                     Quercus coccinea                   103.2’             6.5”        C     terrace, upper position                  loamy sand               NW

  Sand hickory                  Carya pallida                           88.9’             3.5”        C     mid-slope below terrace                loamy sand               S 

  Virginia pine                    Pinus virginiana                      85.2’             6.5”        B     upland, mixed woods                    sandy loam                S

  Bigtooth aspen                Populus grandidentata            81.9’             7.0”        C     terrace, middle, opening                loamy sand                S

  Pitch pine                        Pinus rigida                             77.5’           3’ 10.0”       C     terrace, upper position                  loamy sand               W


Transitional zones:  Solar access usually provided at upland/wetland or forest/field interface.        

  Ailanthus  (nat’d)              Ailanthus altissima                 91.0’           8.5”        D     upland, interface influence              silt loam                     E

  Sassafras                         Sassafras albidum                   81.0’           2.5”        C     old-field, upper slope                     silt loam                     E

  Black locust                     Robinia pseudoacacia             79.9’           6.0”        C     low-slope, disturbed, interface       sandy loam                SE

  Black willow                    Salix nigra                              76.8’           9.5”        C     swamp/slope interface                    alluvium                     SW

  Mazzard cherry (nat’d)    Prunus avium                          73.2’           9.5”        C     mid-slope, disturbance                   loamy sand                SE

  Paulownia  (nat’d)           Paulownia tomentosa              71.9’                      C     upper slope, disturbance                loamy sand                SE

  Willow oak                      Quercus phellos                       66.2’           5.0”        D     upland, old-field interface              silt loam                     E 

  American elm                  Ulmus americana                    63.4’           4.0”        C     upland, old-field, opening               silt loam                     S

  Boxelder                         Acer negundo                           59.5’           5.5”        C     mid-slope, opening                        sandy loam                S

  Persimmon                      Diospyros virginiana               57.2’           2.0”         D     upland, old-field, interface             silt loam                     SE

  American holly                Ilex opaca                                56.6’           6.0”         D     upper slope, interface                    sandy loam                S

  Eastern redcedar             Juniperus virginiana                55.9’           0.5”         D    upland,  open/interface                   sandy loam                S

  American hornbeam        Carpinus caroliniana               50.8’         2’ 11.5”        C     slope above wetland interface        loamy sand                SE

  Saul oak                         x Quercus saulei                       49.2’           7.0”         D     mid-slope, opening                       sandy loam                S

  Red mulberry                  Morus rubra                             46.4’           5.0”         D     upland, interface                           silt loam                     S

  White mulberry  (nat’d)    Morus alba                              46.3’           7.0”         D      upland, interface                          silt loam                    SE

  American chestnut           Castanea dentata                     46.1’           4.0”         B     terrace, edge, above interface       loamy sand                N  

  Callery pear   (nat’d)        Pyrus calleryana                     39.2’           4.5”         C      low terrace, interface                   silt loam                    SW 

  Mimosa   (nat’d)              Albizzia julibrissin                   31.5’            9.5”        C      low terrace, interface                    silt loam                   E


Understory:  Solar access often via windthrow openings.   

  Pawpaw                          Asimina triloba                        36.5’                       D      upland, mixed woods, opening     silt loam                   W

  Flowering dogwood         Cornus florida                         33.3’         1’ 11.5”        C      mixed woods, mid-slope              sandy loam               E

  Redbud                           Cercis canadensis                    31.8’            2.5”         D     upland, mixed woods, interface     silt loam                   S 

  Poison sumac                  Toxicodendron vernix              29.5’           5.5”         C      swamp, opening                           organic/alluvium       W

  Hazel alder                      Alnus serrulata                         27.7’           8.0”         C      swamp, opening                           organic/alluvium       W

  Blackhaw viburnum         Viburnum prunifolium              27.5’           4.0”         B      upper slope, opening                    sandy loam               S

  Hercules club                  Aralia spinosa                           26.6’           2.0”         C      upland, old-field, opening             silt loam                    E

  Staghorn sumac               Rhus typhina                             20.4’           9.5”         C      upland, interface/clearing              silt loam                    NW  

  Hackberry                       Celtis occidentalis                    19.5’          8.0”         C      low slope, interface                      sandy loam               S


Small arborescent specialists:  Single-trunked examples of shrubby, shade-tolerant species. 

  Downy serviceberry         Amelanchier arborea              19.7’             9.0”        B      terrace, edge, above interface        loamy sand              N 

  Spicebush                        Lindera benzoin                      19.0’           0’ 11.5”       C      upland, old-field, opening              silt loam                    E

  Althea (nat’d)                  Hibiscus syriacus                     19.0’             8.0”        D      upland, interface influence             silt loam                    S 

  Whorled winterberry        Ilex verticillata                       18.5’             6.0”        C      swamp, opening                            organic/alluvium       W

  Mountain laurel                Kalmia latifolia                       17.7’             9.0”        B      terrace, edge, above interface        loamy sand              N


Additional species:

   Swamp chestnut oak       Quercus michauxii                  Immature                       C      exposed weedy swale                    sandy loam                S

   Post oak                         Quercus stellata                      Access not obtained       -      exposed slope below terrace          dry loamy sand          SW

   Blackjack oak                 Quercus marilandica              Access not obtained       -      exposed slope below terrace          dry loamy sand          SW

   Winged sumac                Rhus copallina                         Not relocated                C     cut & fill                                         sandy loam                S    

   Smooth sumac                Rhus glabra                             Not relocated                D     upland, old-field, interface               silt loam                    S

   Witch hazel                     Hamamelis virginiana             Immature                      C     steep mossy swale below terrace     loamy sand               N

   Sugar maple                    Acer saccharinum                   Uncertain origin             C     wet ravine, low slope                      moist sandy loam       E

  American linden               Tilia americana                       Uncertain origin             B     ravine, base of slope                       sandy loam                E





     This study indicates that Chase Creek Woods is an important natural area worthy of protection.   A height index used by the Eastern Native Tree Society indicates that Chase Creek Woods is the tallest privately-owned woodland known in the eastern United States, having an index of 130.19 feet for the ten tallest species.  The variety of habitat supports large examples of nearly fifty native tree species.  Twelve are the tallest of their species on record in Maryland: white ash, chestnut oak, American beech, black cherry, red maple, shortleaf pine, American hornbeam, pawpaw, poison sumac, hazel alder, blackhaw and whorled winterberry.  The 157.6’ tuliptree is one of the tallest trees known to exist in Maryland, being surpassed only by 159.9’ and 159.6’ tuliptrees at Belt Woods.  The tallest examples of seven species are also champions by the point system.  In terms of height, girth and spread, the following were listed by the Maryland Forest Service in 2002 as state champions/co-champions: northern red oak, shortleaf pine, poison sumac, hercules club, hazel alder, spicebush, whorled winterberry, and althea.  The poison sumac and althea were listed by American Forests as 2002 national champions/co-champions.


    The study also shows that laser-derived height indexes can provide valuable data for a variety of forest studies.  In the past, tree heights were difficult to determine, especially on steep terrain and in densely forested areas.  Faulty techniques also led to inflated measurements, which have limited any scientific use of height data.  With laser technology, accurate measurements provide maximum heights for each species, which helps to define their niche in specific environments. 


    A rather well defined height index exists for each species where sufficient mature examples are available for measurement.  Age and trunk diameter are less of a factor than expected, with some slender specimens being as tall, or taller, than well-formed specimens of much greater diameter.  Eighteen species exceed 100 feet in height, and the average height of the ten tallest species is 130.19 feet.  This maximum height index is very close to Belt Woods, a National Natural Landmark site in Prince George’s County, with an index of 130.97 feet.  These species are typical of cove hardwood forests, and are usually on low-slope mesic sites with a generally eastern exposure.  Various herbaceous plants serve as indicators of unusually high soil fertility at these sites; some plants are state-rare or rare on the Maryland Coastal Plain. 


     Tuliptrees dominate the forest in most areas, and other species are at a height disadvantage.  Small differences in maximum height indicate a need for the other species to occupy a niche that provides sufficient solar access to survive.  On rich sites, the broad crowns of many oaks assure solar access despite the proximity of taller tuliptrees.  Black walnut and sycamore benefit from windthrow openings on adjoining wetter soils.  Steep slopes and southern exposures provide habitat for chestnut oaks, pines, and other species typical of a more xeric habitat.  On the sandy terraces, tuliptree displays poor form and many species, including scarlet oak, are competitive.  Smaller species obtain solar access in windthrow openings and along interfaces, both forest/field and forest/wetland.  Large trees in swamps are unstable, and windthrow provides numerous openings for smaller species.   Some species, including black locust, bigtooth aspen and black cherry, are successful in a mid-successional role following disturbance.   Shade-tolerance is important to survival by certain small species and saplings of larger ones. 


     Despite logging in the past, many old trees still exist.  The largest tuliptree has a cbh of 19’ 10.0”; another has a trunk volume of 910 cu. ft., and three specimens exceed 150’ in height.  Many blackgums are quite old; the largest measures 11’ 2.0” cbh.  Old chestnut oaks are numerous, with cbh up to 13’ 1.0”.  Other prominent specimens include numerous northern red oaks, black oaks, and American beech.


     Naturalized tree species are seldom height-competitive, with white mulberry, paulownia, ailanthus and mazzard cherry being found on the more recently disturbed sites.  Japanese maple, an escape, is present over about five acres and establishing well under tuliptrees, suggesting a more permanent role, similar to pawpaw and spicebush.  Invasive plants were found at many sites, with English ivy, climbing euonymus, multiflora rose, cinnamon vine and Asiatic bittersweet causing serious alteration of the native forest.   




     While each tree species is adapted to various habitats, involving soil types, topography, hydrology and exposure, sufficient sunlight is essential; therefore, the genetic height potential of each species is inherent to its survival within those habitats.  These height indexes are closely graduated, giving small survival advantages to certain species.  In cool rich northeast-facing coves, the mesic dominants, by their height, exclude most of the other dominant species.  The drier nature of sites having lighter soils and progressively warmer exposures limits the height of mesic dominants, allowing the sub-mesic dominants to be competitive.  Heights are limited even more on well-drained terraces and upland sites with loamy sand soils and a southwest exposure, permitting the dry-mesic species to be co-dominant.  Although many of the dry-mesic species exist as mid-successionals, they may be more permanent on a xeric site.  Several small xeric sites, having post oak and blackjack oak on impoverished soils, exist nearby, but could not be accessed for study.  The remaining species are relegated to progressively less dominant roles, according to height.  Solar access is via transitional interfaces and windthrow openings, with the smallest species surviving by their shade tolerance.  The total influence of these height factors dictates the structure of both the old-growth forest and the woodland disrupted by management practices.


Study by Colby B. Rucker, corrected to July 2003.