Bullen Creek on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi   Don Bragg
  Nov 18, 2006 07:52 PST 

I was recently returning from a meeting on the Kisatchie National Forest
in Louisiana and since the opportunity arose, I drove somewhat east just
into Mississippi along the Loess Bluffs. Along this stretch of the
Natchez Trace, the road winds through woods, farms, and wetlands just
east of the bluff line. Most of the timber is young, and in many places
represents reforesting farmland. About 18.4 miles from the beginning of
the Trace's route northward from Natchez is a parking area and nature
trail called "Bullen Creek" which has a number of interpretive signs
focusing on the past land-use history (former ag land) and success of
the forest from pine to hardwood. The trees looked fairly tall and the
afternoon, though waning, was one of those brilliantly lit fall days
that just cries out for a hike. Initially, I did not plan to lug the
Impulse into the woods, but as I walked along this short trail, I
realized that the trees were indeed pretty tall and some appeared worthy
of further enumeration. So I went back to my vehicle and got the laser
gun and DBH tapes, and plunged into the woods along the trail.

Cherrybark Oak

This area is covered with a thick layer of loess, or silty, yellowish
wind-blown materials deposited on the uplands to the east of the
Mississippi River. Most of these deposits date back to when the
ancestral Mississippi and other large rivers, swollen with glacial
meltwater, kept much of the current Lower Mississippi River a broad,
braided, sediment-laden system. These sites have long since
revegetated, and are considered quite productive if highly erosible.
Earlier this summer I had sent the ENTS website a picture of a gulley
eroded into a landform called "Crowley's Ridge" in eastern
Arkansas--this landform is comparable to the Loess Bluffs of
Mississippi. Along much of the lower parts of the Loess Bluffs, the
Natchez Trace National Parkway winds scenically through the landscape.
There is an incredible amount of human history along this narrow
path--ancient Indian mounds and villages sites, historic inns and other
structures, Civil War battlefields, etc. If you ever get the chance,
and have some time to spend (speed limits are lower on this scenic
byway), the Natchez Trace covers a lot of beautiful countryside in the

Banana Spider

Dodging several large golden silk spiders (a.k.a. "banana spiders"--the
one in the picture I'm sending Ed for the website was probably about 3
inches long, including legs), I quickly started measuring the most
prominent trees. Loblolly pine still dominates most of the overstory,
although it is starting to die out and is being replaced by a mixture of
oaks, gum, and yellow-poplar. The understory is primarily red maple,
eastern hophornbeam, with some holly, magnolia, and a number of other
species. The fading daylight kept me from lingering too long, but this
site shows some of the potential of the Loess Bluffs:

Species        DBH (in.) CBH (ft.) SineHT (ft)
Loblolly pine    31.6       8.3       127
Yellow-poplar    ~27        ~7        117 DBH estimated-vines
Yellow-poplar    37.8       9.9       137
Loblolly pine    35.0       9.2       133
Water oak        34.4       9.0       118
Cherrybark? oak 43.3      11.3       117 forked tree
Cherrybark? oak ~60       15.7       116 DBH estimated-vines
Cherrybark? oak 55.5      14.5       n/a fairly short old-field tree

This site is South enough that there are small quantities of Spanish
moss dangling from some of the branches. Getting diameter on some of
these trees was hard due to large amounts of vines, especially poison
ivy. I can also guarantee that these heights probably do not reflect
the highest parts of the crowns of these trees--due to fading light
conditions, I focused more on getting a reasonable approximation of
height, and did not scan the crowns thoroughly for higher branches. The
probable cherrybark oaks (they didn't quite looks as I would have
expected them to, but this could just be some of the considerable
variation in the appearence of the red oak group) were along a small
creek (probably Bullen Creek), and appear to be noticeably older than
the rest of the stand. Most of the timber here is probably 60 to 80
years old, and apparently seeded in an old field. The largest
cherrybarks still have vestiges of their open-grown origins, with broad,
spreading crowns and thick branches. I did not spot the largest of the
cherrybarks until I was packing up my stuff to leave, as it was not
along the trail I followed, but rather just off the corner of the
parking area. It is an impressive tree, with many lianas draped off of

Loblolly Pine

I realize that I did not measure enough trees for even a 5 species
Rucker Index, but it would be possible to do so. There were a number of
other species that I skipped by in my hurry, including shortleaf pine,
sweetgum, and probably a number of other oak species. I also only
covered a small part of the acreage at this site, and more height
probably could be squeezed out of the trees I did measure. Most
importantly to me, this quick visit suggests the big tree potential of
the Loess Bluffs area of Mississippi and Tennessee (the Meeman-Shelby
State Forest that Will and Jess visited has some of these loess hills on
parts of it). I would think that some of the steep ravines right at the
junction of the Mississippi Delta and the Loess Bluffs may hold some
really tall specimens. There are a number of areas worthy of checking
that are publicly accessible like the Natchez Trace and a number of
Civil War battlefields and National Wildlife Refuges, so stay tuned for
further updates!!

Don Bragg

Don Bragg, Ph.D.
Research forester

Re: Bullen Creek on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi   Jess Riddle
  Nov 19, 2006 16:06 PST 

Hi Don,

I'm glad you decided to go back and get your laser. The water oak
height is quite good, and the loblolly is certainly above average. Do
you have any feel for how old the stand is? The loess forests forests
at Meeman-Shelby impressed me more than the numbers indicated they
should have. I now suspect that impression comes from those forests
being as rich as but younger than the tall hardwood forests in the
southern Appalachians. I'm looking forward to hearing about what else
you find on those deposits.

RE: Bullen Creek on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi   Don Bragg
  Nov 20, 2006 05:42 PST 


I didn't core any trees on this site, nor were there any convenient
locations to count rings on cut stumps or logs. However, there was one
interpretive sign on the trail that claimed the area had been farmed 40
to 60 years prior...Given my experience in these stands, I don't think
they're quite that young, but many of the hardwoods looked to be 60 to
80 years old, and I bet the pines run from 80 to 100 years old. At
least some of this site appears to have been pasture for a while, given
the presence of large, open-grown oaks on one edge of the stand. I
think that some of these open-grown oaks could go 120 to 150 years old,
especially given their location along the small creek.

These loess-covered lands have great potential to produce big trees.
Unfortunately, much of this area has been cut-over multiple times, and
converted to agriculture in many areas. I think the steep, ravine cut
western edge of the Loess Bluffs has good potential for tall trees, if
the right combination of mature forest and good access can be achieved.
I will continue to scout out this area over the next few months, with
the anticipation of a possible spring junket with you and Will...

Don Bragg