Camp Branch, SC    Jess Riddle
   Jan 02, 2005 07:36 PST 

Camp Branch flows south and west into Opossum Creek shortly before the
latter empties into the lower Chattooga River. Camp Branch begins flowing
across a plateau at around 1700' elevation and maintains a low gradient
before dropping 400' over the last half mile. For most of that distance
the stream flows over mica schist in Forest Service property. Prior to
government acquisition of the property, the entire watershed appears to
have been cleared, and at least one house was located along the stream.

Species composition varies considerably with topography at the site. The
stretch of stream with low gradient has a largely shortleaf pine and
tuliptree canopy with some white oak and an open understory. White pine
and hemlock dominate the steeper section of stream with a rhododendron
understory. Adjacent slopes typically have either an open or mountain
laurel understory with pines dominating on the latter slopes and white
oak, mockernut hickory, and other oaks dominating on the former slopes.
Chestnut oak is curiously scarce on the drier slopes and in general from
the lower Chattooga area.

A geomorphology aside: Currently, the Chattooga River joins with the
Tallulah River to form the Tugaloo River, which becomes the Savannah River
and flows to the Atlantic along the Geogia-South Carolina state line.
However, at one time, the Chattooga flowed into the Chattahoochee River
and eventually reached the Gulf of Mexico. The Tugaloo flowed across a
lower plain than the Chattahoochee, and the former riverís headwaters
eroded progressively farther inland. That erosion caused the boundary of
the Tugaloo basin to move northwest until the watershed eventually
intersected the Chattahoochee River slightly downstream of the confluence
of the Chattooga and Tallulah. That event diverted the water of the
latter two rivers into the Tugaloo and shifted a section of the
continental divide many miles to the west. That theory, already well
established by the early 1900ís, explains many topographical features of
the lower sections of the Tallulah and Chattooga rivers. When the Tugaloo
captured their waters, the base level of the rivers, the elevation that
they flow to, was suddenly lowered, so the rate they eroded their beds was
greatly accelerated. Since the lower Tallulah flows over erosion flows
over erosion resistant quartzite, the down-cutting of the river has
produced a dramatic, shear sided gorge with several waterfalls.
Conversely, the lower Chattooga flows over softer mica schist, so a
smaller gorge, without waterfall, bordered by a relatively flat plateau
has formed along that river. As the tributaries, such as Camp Branch and
Cliff Creek, cut into that plateau, they concentrate moisture and create
sheltered conditions that now support exceptionally tall trees.

Cbh Height Species
8'0" 132.1' Hemlock, Eastern
8'+ 136.3' Hemlock, Eastern
NA 138.4' Hemlock, Eastern
5'7" ~116' Hickory, Mockernut
5'6" 141.6' Hickory, Pignut
7'9" 111.9' Oak, Scarlet
5'4.5" 112.6' Oak, Southern Red
5'11.5" 128.6' Oak, White
7'2" 121.3' Pine, Pitch
6'2" 116.5'+ Pine, Shortleaf
NA 118.0' Pine, Shortleaf
6'3.5" 141.2' Pine, Shortleaf
~6' 142.9' Pine, White
7'7.5" 146.1' Pine, White
8'0" 151.1' Pine, White
10'4" 156.8' Pine, White
6'9"* 158.1' Pine, White
NA 131.9'+ Sweetgum
6'11" 133.6'+ Tuliptree
5'11.5" 136.7'+ Tuliptree
*above 4.5'

[ed note: RI = 132.2]

The hemlocks are some of the tallest second growth individuals Iíve seen
of the species; all have pyramidal tops, and small, straight branches.
All other pignut hickories over 140í Iíve measured in SC grow on richer,
hardwood dominated sites. This tree also differs from other pignuts of
comparable height in having a smaller diameter. The southern red oak is
the tallest confirmed in SC. Pitch pine is scarce at the site, but
several shortleaf pines are in the 120 to 125í range. The 141.2í tree
becomes the tallest individual of the species documented by ENTS, and is
clearly taller than the others at the site. Most of the white pines grow
in a dense stand, and at least a handful of others exceed 150í. In good
years, these pines have grown in height over 3.5í. While none of the
individual diameters of the white pines are unusual for white pines of
that height range in the southeast, the spread in diameters is greater
than typically encountered. The pines overshadow the tuliptrees at the
site, but at least a few tuliptrees will reach 140í. Assuming a beech
will reach 105í, a minimal estimate, the Rucker index for the site stands
at 129.95í.

A few interesting trends are beginning to emerge among the sites with tall
shortleaf pine. Not surprisingly, all of the sites are along low
elevation mountain streams, which provide easy to access to moisture and
sheltering from strong wind. The sites are also distributed across of the
southern edge of the portion of shortleaf pineís range that does not
overlap with the range of loblolly pine. Where both species occur,
loblolly tends to occupy moist sites and shortleaf usually grows in upland
sites, so loblolly may out compete shortleaf on sites where the latter
could reach great heights. Of course, that raises the question of what
prevents loblolly from growing of the moist sites just outside of its
range, and the conditions that favor great shortleaf height growth may not
exist in loblollyís range. Also, some sites we havenít found yet may
support both loblolly and tall shortleaf, but it will be interesting to
watch and see if the pattern established by the first few sites holds as
more site with tall shortleaf are found.

Until recently, the lower section of Opossum Creek may have supported
larger trees. The sweetgum and scarlet oak listed above grow along that
section of creek, but most of the overstory in the area was destroyed by a
tornado in March 1994. The tornado traveled up the gorge of the Chattooga
River, then, at the bend in the river, continued straight up Opossum
Creek. Only a handful of trees over a foot in diameter remain right along
the creek, and about half of the canopy trees were removed for a distance
of over 400 feet up the north facing slope. Hardwoods tended to uproot
while hemlocks snapped off half way up the trunk leaving a legacy of
bleached, three-foot dbh snags along the creek. Many of the understory
trees have sent up vertical shoots from bent over trunks, so a tangle of
blackberry, bent over rhododendron, warped ironwoods, and tuliptree
samplings. On the forest floor or suspended by rhododendron, logs from
all species remain intact; ones of softer species now quite soft while
boles of species with harder wood, such as pignut hickory and white ash,
still retain much of their bark after ten years. The steep north facing
slope those logs lie on still supports white ash to 120í and beech over
10í cbh to hit at what grew there a few years earlier. The size of the
hemlock snags along the creek compares favorably with those on Camp
Branch, and with the greater sheltering along Opossum Creek they probably
exceeded 150í.

Jess Riddle

RE: Camp Branch   Will Blozan
  Jan 02, 2005 19:00 PST 

WAY excellent report, Jess! I loved the topographic descriptions, too. Do
you have a sense of whether shortleaf will reach 150'?
Re: RE: Camp Branch   Jess Riddle
  Jan 03, 2005 06:35 PST 

We've searched few good shortleaf sites, and already have three around
140'. So 150 certainly seems reasonable. Also, the tree tallest all look
like they've slowed but not stopped upward growth. If the southern
Appalachians don't have a 150' shortleaf, Arkansas still may. Some of Don
Bragg's photos show large and tall pine3s from that area.

Re: RE: Camp Branch   Don Bragg
  Jan 04, 2005 05:57 PST 

I haven't had time to get to some of our good site shortleaf pine sites to measure trees with ENTS standards/protocols for height, but I suspect we will have a number that exceed 140 feet, and perhaps even 150 feet. I will try to investigate this as soon as I get a chance.