Alexander Creek    Jess Riddle
   Nov 18, 2003 07:45 PST 

Last weekend I explored parts of the Alexander Creek drainage, or as I
sometimes think of the area, the land of pignut hickories. The creek
flows through the Brevard Fault Zone at the piedmont-blue ridge interface
in the northwestern corner of South Carolina. In March, I first visited
the site due to it's proximity, three miles south, to Tamassee Knob and
topographic similarities. A 200 foot high escarpment in the western part
of the watershed provides considerable sheltering to several of the
east-aspect coves, but the coves as a whole appear substantially drier
than the area around Tamassee Knob. White oak, northern red oak, and
black oak share dominance over much of the area. Chestnut oak and pignut
hickory are abundant in some of the coves and level benches. In narrow
areas along the upper section of the creek black birch, tuliptree, and
basswood form the canopy while on the flats farther downstream sweetgum
replaces the black birch and basswood is less common. Overall, the
understory is open, put rosebay rhododendron is abundant on the upper
section of the creek and sweetshrub and blackberries are locally abundant.
The herbaceous layer includes calceophilic species like Collonsonia
verticalla and Viola tripartita, but is generally sparse.
The tall trees are concentrated where the east facing coves meet the
escarpment, on a large north-facing bench, and on the stream flats near
the forest service property boundary, but a few tall individuals grow
scattered throughout the area. The north-facing bench has an exceptional
abundance of pignut hickory. The hickories, which probably constitute
around 75% of the basal area, show heavy branching and one fallen, hollow,
individual displayed annual radial growth of one to 1.5 millimeters for
the past several decades. The hickories listed below are not restricted
to this bench.

Species Cbh Height Comment
Hickory, Pignut 12'6.5" ~126'
Hickory, Pignut 11'3" 133.8
Hickory, Pignut 9'11.5" 134.1'
Hickory, Pignut 11'5" 135.3' Measured on 3/29/03
Hickory, Pignut 12'0" 146.8'
Hickory, Pignut 10'10" 149.4'
Locust, Black 6'5.5" 117.0'
Locust, Black 6'6" 131.5'
Maple, Red 4'6" 113.4'
Maple, Red 5'8" 114.0' Tallest in mountains in state?
Oak, Black 7'10" 127.8'
Oak, Chestnut 6'3.5" 122.1'
Oak, Chestnut 8'0.5" 122.2'
Oak, N Red 10'4" 127.2'
Oak, N Red 9'5.5" 134.1'
Oak, Scarlet 4'4" 118.5' 86:1 H:D
Oak, Scarlet 4'9" 118.9'
Oak, Scarlet 9'6" 119.9' Long spread 80'+
Oak, S Red 9'0" 107.2'
Oak, White 6'6.5" 128.8'
Pine, Virginia 4'8" 101.6'
Sweetgum 6'2" 124.4'
Tupelo, Black 6'8" 103.0' Measured on 3/29/03

I have never visited another area with such a preponderance of large
hickories. This situation probably results from a combination of limited
logging pressure on the hickories and nutrient rich, very well drained
soils. The red maples are the tallest I've seen in south Carolina, but I
suspect that the scattered ones in the Congaree are taller and the
Chattooga Watershed could support taller individuals. The scarlet oaks
were the surprise of the day. All of the tall ones are in flat areas at
the lowest elevations in the site. The H:D ratio of 86:1 wouldn't be
noticed for a tuliptree or sycamore, but I never expected scarlet oak to
be able to compete in an area with the necessary soil fertile to produce a
ratio like that. Two of the scarlet oaks are competing with sweetgums.
The largest one has a smooth bole, large, rounded crown, and may be one of
the fastest growing individuals of the species I have ever seen. The
southern red oak has substantial growing left to do, and was a nice
surprise. I normally see the species on drier, less fertile, piedmont
sites. The Rucker Index for the area now stands at 134.30' with
substantial help from a few richer coves at the north end of the area that
I didn't visit last week. Those coves contain more giant pignut hickories
and the tallest collection of northern red oaks I know of.

Jess Riddle