Holden Arboretum, Ohio Steve Galehouse
April 18, 2009


Spent a very nice day with Ed Frank and Randy Brown at the Holden Arboretum
in Kirtland Hills, Ohio. The weather was perfect, in the low 70's, and we
had a guided tour by Holden Arboretum staff, visiting the Stebbin's Gulch
area. Ed and Randy, I'm sure, will be posting detailed measurements--here
are a couple of photos: Randy under the huge burl of a chestnut oak, Ed next
to a very nice sugar maple.

Steve Galehouse

Chestnut Oak with burl

Sugar Maple


[Edward Frank, April 20, 2009]

Holden Arboretum, Ohio

On Saturday April 18, 2009 I met Randy Brown, Steve Galehouse, and his son Mitch Galehouse at Holden Arboretum in Lake and Geauga Counties in northeastern Ohio. http://www.holdenarb.org/home/  I had corresponded with Steve and Randy before but had not met either of them previously.  The trip to the arboretum was organized by Randy Brown.  I want to thank him for the opportunity to participate.  We met Michael Watson, Ethan Johnson, and Dawn Gerlica from the arboretum the visitor’s center.   They were to be the guides on our trip.  Steve had been to the arboretum several times before as he is from the Cleveland area.   I had visited Holden once previously on a trip with Carl Harting in September 2007 http://www.nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips/ohio/holden/holden_arboretum.htm 

“The Holden Arboretum owns over 3,600 acres, which includes the recent Roudebush parcel purchase of 90 acres. Of that, approximately 3,100 acres are natural areas. Approximately 85 percent of Holden’s natural areas are woodland; 12 percent meadows; and the remaining three percent are wetlands, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.”   http://www.holdenarb.org/education/conservation.asp  “For the sake of management purposes, The Holden Arboretum has been organized into 14 natural areas. Some of these natural areas are well known, such as Pierson Creek Valley, Bole Woods, Carver’s Pond, Little Mountain, and Stebbins’ Gulch; and others are less well known and visited. Some of Holden natural areas are open to the public while others are closed to the public and accessible only with a guide or permit.”  A map of these areas and the Arboretum properties can be downloaded here:  http://www.holdenarb.org/education/documents/HoldensNaturalAreas.pdf

On this trip we were going to visit an area known as Stebbin’s Gulch.  This area is described on the website:

·         Stebbins Gulch, North –  A National Natural Landmark that is an excellent example of a NE Ohio bedrock ravine system. Guided hikes provide a rigorous and rare natural and geologic history experience in a cold water stream ravine. Along the bluffs of Stebbins Gulch is one of the best remaining hemlock-northern hardwood forest remnants in Ohio.

·         Stebbins Gulch, South – This 800-acre natural area is Holden’s largest unbroken mature forest and protects the associated diversity of flora and fauna of an old-growth forest. Access is limited to stewardship, research or guided hikes.


Geology and Topography

The northern edge of the Allegheny Plateau in this portion of Ohio is marked by the Portage Escarpment.  The escarpment parallels the shoreline of Lake Erie and climbs from around 780 feet at its base to almost 1000 feet at its crest.  North of the escarpment is the narrow Lake Plain that extends to the shore of Lake Erie.  The area to the south of the escarpment consists of a plateau of Mississippian Age bedrock (359 – 318 million years ago).  This bedrock was repeatedly eroded by Pleistocene glaciations during the last million years.  Outwash and moraines formed from the retreat of the last glaciation episode has filled depressions in the landscape leaving a gently rolling, poorly drained landscape.   Streams flowing across this plateau have eroded deeply incised, steep sided channels into the bedrock and drain northward to the Lake Erie. 

 Stebbins Gulch is one of many incised stream valleys located in this area of Ohio.  It flows from east to west and empties into the eastern Branch of the Chagrin River, which in turn drains the entire area and feeds into Lake Erie a few miles to the north.  Elevations range from 750 feet in the Chagrin River Valley to just over 1200 feet in the surrounding hills.   In Stebbins Gulch itself the walls of the ravine are composed of Mississippian Berea sandstone underlain by Bedford shales and thin interbedded sandstone.   The stream itself drops within the arboretum properties about 60 feet flowing over a series of small falls and rapids which have developed where shales have eroded beneath more resistant sandstone beds.  This bedding is clearly exhibited in the walls of the gulch.  Vertical faced ledges of sandstone are interspersed with sloping segments of eroded shale.  Near the top of the cliffs a series of drip areas and springs have formed immediately below the sandstone caprock where the downward seeping water meets the relatively impermeable shale below.


Stebbin’s Gulch North

After meeting in the lobby of the Visitors Center, we gathered out gear and carpooled to the first stop of the day –Stebbin’s Gulch North. 

 I was looking forward to this area because it was the location of some very old chestnut oaks.  Dr. Ed Cook collected a series of 24 cores in 1983 from somewhere in the Stebbin’s Gulch area, very likely these same trees. The oldest specimen dated from 1612 and likely is still alive today, if so it would be 397 years old.  http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/metadata/noaa-tree-3033.html  So this was something that promised to be worth seeing.  


View on edge of Stebbin's Gulch ravine on north side

On this trip Dawn brought her infant son Aidan along.  He is about a year-and-a-half years old now.  On my last trip he was at minus 2.5 months old.   We had a short walk to the edge of the ravine.  The cliff plunged almost straight down.  This is one of the reasons why they don’t want visitors to walk this area unguided.   From this point we turned left and walked upstream along an old trail along the edge of the ravine.  Soon we were encountering large, gnarled, old looking, chestnut oaks (Quercus prinus; syn. Quercus montana).  In addition were many large towering, American beech. 


Chestnut Oak, 11.5 feet girth, 83 feet tall

The understory included a number of species most prominently were numerous smaller eastern hemlock.   We walked from tree to tree.  The oaks were covered by thick ridged bark.  The stems were fat and bent.  In the canopy there were thick, heavy, stubby, branches that had been bent and broken by years of weather and wind. 


Randy Brown and Steve Galehouse with large burl in Chestnut oak.  The tree was 9' 11" in girth and 93 feet tall.

Present on several chestnut oaks were giant burls, some bigger around than the tree itself. These were the biggest I have seen on any eastern tree.  I wondered how they formed.  This glossary http://oak.arch.utas.edu.au/glossary/view_glossarylist.asp?term=B  defines a burl  as:  A hard, woody outgrowth on a tree, more or less rounded in form, usually resulting from the entwined growth of a cluster of buds. Such burls are the source of the highly figured burl veneers used for purely ornamental purposes.”   Another site http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/bot00/bot00682.htm  includes this comment:  They are basically benign tree tumors.  They occur when a twig bud fails to grow normally, differentiating into the tissues needed for forming a limb, and instead just multiplies and multiplies and multiplies its bud cells. That's how you get the round growth with an irregular grain structure.”

Along the rim of the valley the trees are not only exposed to winds along their tops but are also subject to winds along the side open to the valley.  Winds are funneled down valleys have an big impact on the trees growing along their rims. Dr. Tom Diggins has shown in Zoar Valley, NY that there is a preferred orientation of course woody debris aligned with the valley walls as a result of these types of winds.  At this site and at other similar sites you can see the branches on the valley side are often more wind damaged than other branches on the tree.  The same can be said of the other trees growing along the rim, a bent and broken black gum comes to mind from this site.  However none of the trees here along the rim showed this character quite as much as the chestnut oaks, perhaps because of their age and the years of exposure to the wind, perhaps because they have survived rather than died from wind events that might have killed other trees.  They certainly were impressive.   The trees on the edge of ravine also face other challenges.  They often are found leaning inward and struggling to stay upright.  The soil and rocks beneath them tends to slowly creep downward or be washed into the valley below pulling the roots and trees along. 

There were smaller beech along the rim a along the walls of the canyon, but the largest ones were set back from the edge of the cliff by a hundred feet or more. Many were eight to ten feet in girth, some larger.  They typically reached heights from between 100 feet tall with some reaching into the mid- one-teens.     With additional time and dedicated searching a few taller heights might be discovered among the tops.   It is hard to tell the age of American beech.  It has smooth bark and does not develop the heavy ridges or platy textures of many tree species.  These have broad spreading crowns with large limbs.  They certainly are very mature trees.  I would not be surprised if they are 150 years old or older, but still they could be much younger as well.  

One of the curious characteristics of the site was the hemlocks.  The website blurb has described it as a remnant hemlock-northern hardwood forest.  There were a number of larger hemlock trees but most were small and seemed to be young trees.    They did not have any of the gnarled characteristics or heavy bark seen on older hemlock specimens.   Perhaps they are now, ironically spreading out because of the loss of other species in the canopy.  I do not know what species they might have been replacing or why they made up such a large percentage of the younger trees.   


Patterns on red maple bark

The last trees we visited on the north side of the gulch were some butternuts.  Dawn had told us that there were four butternuts.  One had died and decayed away.  A second was found leaning over on another tree and dead.  Two were hanging in there barely as they were succumbing to blight.  It was sort of a down note at this point. 

The trees had not leafed out yet, and they were few herbaceous plants poking out of the ground yet.  At the cars a touch of green in the canopy of the trees bordering the parking area caught our eye.  It turned out to be the catkins of a stand of bigtooth aspen.  This was a quick tour of a small section of Stebbin’s Gulch North, but I think of it more as preliminary scouting for a future trip.


Stebbin’s Gulch South

Next we headed to the area designated Stebbins Gulch South.  We pulled into a parking area near the west end of the 800 acres natural area.  In the parking area was massive red oak.  We measured it to be 13’ 4” in girth and 114.2 feet tall.  My initial shot upward reached about this number, but further exploration could not push it to the over 120 as I had hoped.  The character of this area of the site was entirely different from the canyon edge area we visited on the north side of the gulch.  Here we were on top of the plateau itself.  The area was crossed by a series of horse trails. The landscape was relatively flat with gently rolling hills and depressions.  This area was underlain by clay rich glacial till and generally poorly drained.  There was a good diversity of trees in the area with sugar maples, red oak, and beech being the predominant species.  Tuliptree and white ash were also fairly common.  In the area immediately by the parking lot the trees tended to be smaller, suggesting the possibility that the area may have been logged at some time in the past, but there were no overt signs of any logging.  Our guides wanted to show us an area of some big black cherry, oak, and sugar maples.  After a short hike we were finding more large oaks and other large tree.  Adjacent to the path was a black cherry, 11’ 2.5”  in girth, and 117.9 feet tall.  This was the largest of several big black cherries in the immediate area.      


Randy Brown and large black cherry, 11' 2.5" girth, 117.9 feet tall


From left to right Michael Watson, Ethan Johnson, and Dawn Gerlica (Aidan in backpack)

Shortly thereafter, with Aidan being tired from being carried in a backpack through the woods, the people from the arboretum left us on our own.  Steve, Randy, Mitch and I were off exploring.  Steve and I measured an impressive sugar maple 10’ 4” in girth and 117 feet tall (see Steve Galehouse's photo in previous post).  It was large in size and perfect in form.   We scattered across the area and measured.  Randy measured some large white ash trees.  I measured a tuliptree at 136.9 feet tall, only later to be outdone by Steve and Randy with a 142.5 foot tall, 10 foot girth specimen.  Near the tall Tuliptree was another large sugar maple with very rough looking bark.  We were unsure of the identification until we walked over  to the tree and looked at it in detail  from close up (the presence of sugar maple leaves under the tree helped me).   Another tall species found was a 122.6 foot tall American beech.  It was located in the bottom of one of many shallow depressions across the plateau.  


Sugar Maple with rough bark

After measuring for awhile we got together again and compared notes on what we had found and what species we had measured.  At the time we had six species over 100 feet tall, but not many of other trees present in the area.  We decided to try to finish out the ten species Rucker Index and explore for other species.  This is an area where I am comparatively weak.  I am not good at identifying trees by their bark and form alone.  I can do some well, but am not confident of my identification of others.  Randy and Steve are both excellent at this.  On the hilltops hemlock was absent, but smaller specimens began to appear as one headed down slope to some of the small streams in the area.  The ones higher on the slope were smaller, but eventually we found some bigger trees  the tallest was just 108.9 feet tall – but hey it was another species over 100 feet. 



White pine was all but absent from the area.  We sighted a pair just off the trail to the north as we were walking in, and Steve saw one across a small stream valley to the south.  These were the only ones we found in the entire area.  I have corresponded with Michael Watson, one of the Holden people on the trip.  He writes:  “At Holden, I associate white pine with our Little Mountain property.  Soils up there are shallow and pretty dry.  Acidic, too I believe.  In South Stebbins the soils are richer and wetter (as you saw from the condition of the horse trails).  So my thought is that the lack of white pines in South Stebbins is at least in part due to the soils.  As I understand it, Beech-Maple communities are generally found on rich, moist soils - so perhaps in those conditions they simply out-compete the pines. “    There are nice stands of pines on Little Mountain.  Carl and I visited the site on the last trip.  The lack of white pines in the Stebbin’s Gulch South section we visited really strikes me as they never were present, rather than they were removed.  On the way out we measured the white pine Steve sighted earlier.  I got a good shot from across the small stream valley and measured a height of 131.4 feet.  Randy scrambled down and up to the tree to get a girth measurement of 10.0 feet.    

Another odd character of this side of the gulch was the absence of chestnut oak and white oak.  We found no chestnut oak in the area we visited and only one white oak tree.  I would have expected these oak species to have been present here.  We did not get to the rim of the gulch itself on the south side.  I am curious how the character of the forest might change along the rim, if it would more resemble the tree assemblage found on our brief excursion on the north side.


Last year's puffballs growing on an old log

Altogether I have measurements (actually Steve and I) have measurements for 18 species of trees, twelve of them were over 100 feet.  Randy measured white ash and sycamore each over 100 feet.  The species I have result in a Rucker Index of 117.17.  With the addition of Randy’s data that will likely increase by a foot or two.   During this visit we only saw a small part of the 800 acre Stebbin’s Gulch South section.  With more exploration I am sure many taller trees could be found.  It was great to meet Randy, Steve, ad Mitch and I had a great time.  I came away with a sunburn and good memories.

What's Next?

There is still large areas of the arboretum to visit.  Many areas already scouted need to be have time spent in them to properly document the trees present.  Carl and I measured a large black walnut on the first trip at 126.9 feet and Carl was not sure he found the actual top.  It needs to be remesured.  Dawn told me of a fat red maple that had been tapped with eight buckets at sugaring time.  She says it is a single stem and the biggest red maple she has seen.  It would be worthwhile to hike up the bottom of Stebbin's Gulch itself, not to mention further explorations of the plateaus on each side of the canyon.  Corning Woods and Bole Woods contain old growth that needs to be documented or better documented.  There is still much to do at the arboretum.

Here is a spreadsheet of measurement data.  I will post a revised list later with randy's measurements included.
Holden Arboretum April 18, 2009 Randy Brown, Steve Galehouse, Edward Frank and Mitch Galehouse  
Tree (common name) species Height (ft) Girth  (ft) Latitude Longitude Elevation GPS (ft) Comments  
Stebbin's Gulch North                
Chestnut oak Quercus montana 83 11.75 41' 36.459 -81'  16.280 1088 largest, leaning   
Chestnut oak Quercus montana 93 9'  1" 41' 36.425 -81' 16.186 1150 big burl  
Stebbin's Gulch South                
Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera 136.93 10.5 41' 36.213 -81' 18.561      
Black Cherry Prunus serotina 117.9 11'  2.5" 41' 36.192 -81' 18.511 1170 cherry along trail  
Sugar Maple Acer saccharum 117 10'  4" 41' 36.189 -81' 16.447      
Black Cherry Prunus serotina 111.86 9'  10" 41' 36.174 -81' 16.405   behind fallen one  
Red Oak Quercus rubra 109.79 14 41' 36.215 -81' 18.584      
American Beech Fagus grqandifolia 122.57 7'  7"       near red oak above  
Hemlock Tsuga canadiensis 44 3.0'          
Black Cherry Prunus serotina 110.83 8'  8"       one with grape vine  
Red Maple Acer rubrum 99.3 6.0'          
Hemlock Tsuga canadiensis 108.91 4'  4"       tall top  
Cucumber Magnolia Magnolia acuminata 107 11'  3.5" 41' 36.116 -81' 16.521   near hemlock above  
Hemlock Tsuga canadiensis 104.23 6'  3" 41' 36.118 -81' 16.532 1127    
Black Gum Nyssa sylvatica 84 7'  6" 41' 36.118 -81' 16.544 1088    
Basswood Tilia americana 103.89 7'  5" 41' 36.176 -81' 16.448 1209 along blue trail  
Basswood Tilia americana 89            
Sugar Maple Acer saccharum 111.74 9'  1" 41' 36.240 -81' 16.655   very rough bark  
Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera 142.5 9'  5"       below sugar maple  
Slippery Elm Ulmus fulva ? 6'  3.5" 41' 36.224 -81' 16.625   along trail  
Black Walnut Juglans nigra 106.43 7'  5" 41' 36.265 -81' 16.745 1052 along trail  
Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata 102 7'  8.5" 41' 36.255 -81' 16.759   along trail  
White Pine Pinus strobus 131.3 10.0'       across stream up bank  
White oak Quercus alba 100.5 6'  6" 41' 36.189 -81' 16.946      
Red Oak Quercus rubra 104 7'  7" 41' 36.198 -81'  16.943 1013    
Sassafras Sassifras albidum 74 3'  4.4" 41' 36.378 -81' 17.250   three single stems  
Norway Spruce Picea abies 84.7 5'  8"       beside sassafras  
Red Oak Quercus rubra 114.24 13'  4" 41' 36.370 -81' 17.367   red oak in parking area  
Yellow Birch Betula alleganiensis 70 4'  7" 41' 36.373 -81' 17.351   near parking area  
Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera 142.5            
White Pine Pinus strobus 131.3            
American Beech Fagus grqandifolia 122.57            
Black Cherry Prunus serotina 117.9            
Sugar Maple Acer saccharum 117            
Red Oak Quercus rubra 114.24            
Hemlock Tsuga canadiensis 108.91            
Cucumber Magnolia Magnolia acuminata 107            
Black Walnut Juglans nigra 106.43            
Basswood Tilia americana 103.89            
  Rucker Index 117.174


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