Congaree National Park 1/14-16/2004   Will Blozan
  Jan 29, 2005 18:01 PST 

I had the privilege to spend three days in Congaree National Park (formerly
Congaree Swamp National Monument) with Ed Coyle, Jess Riddle, and Jason
Childs. The weather was cold but reasonable and graciously mosquito-free! We
revisited several known trees and hunted new areas. We found new height
records and lost former champions. Much has changed in the swamp since my
last visit, and the influence of hurricanes was more and more evident. Much
of the area we traversed was pummeled, with very few large trees left.
However, the gems are to be found here and there, and we managed to locate a few.


I would have to say, and many would agree that the loblolly pines (Pinus
taeda) in the park are the showcase species. I am convinced that this
species, by volume, will be the largest member of the Pinus genus in eastern
North America. Eastern white pine will have to have a major surprise
somewhere to compete with the huge loblollies. ENTS has already climbed and
measured one loblolly to ~1500 cubic feet, tied for the moment with eastern
hemlock as the largest eastern evergreen conifer. However, we know of three
eastern hemlocks that will exceed 1500 ft3 but they have not been climbed
and measured yet. ENTS does not yet know of an eastern white pine to reach
1200ft3, let alone 1500ft3. We have a few trees in mind, but they have not
been aerially measured yet, but field observations indicate that 1500ft3
will be nearly impossible to obtain with current trees. Future trips should
include more loblolly documentation as they are fewer in number every year
and not regenerating. They are extremely impressive trees considering how
well they can withstand hurricanes with full, unobstructed wind loading in
saturated soils. Pinaceae Rules!


Maximum dimensions for loblolly pine we have found in the Congaree are 173'
tall and 16' in girth. We do not know of a tree with either dimension
currently alive, with 168.7' tall and 15'7" girth the current maximums
known. We have not measured all the pines by any means but the chances of
finding larger-girthed trees are slim- a taller tree likely but not much
taller. Without a doubt, they are the tallest species in the park. A study
done in the mid-nineties reported trees in this height range but the
measurements were in extreme error. One tree listed at 168' 10 years ago is
"only" 143' now. Another listed at 162' is actually 134'.


The second tallest tree is of all things an oak! The incomparable cherrybark
oak (Quercus pagoda) is one of the fastest growing, widest and tallest trees
in the east. Jess and Ed confirmed one to 160.2' tall, making it the 6th
hardwood species to join the "160 Club", joining tuliptree, sycamore, pignut
hickory, black locust, and white ash. If 160' tall wasn't enough, we found
one that measured 154' across! Folks, these trees are immense! I am baffled
by the sheer strength of the wood to hold a canopy so high and so wide
through so many hurricanes. I did notice that for an oak, they are very
slender and wispy, and have few large branches and an open crown. I would
think that such crown architecture would reduce wind loading and stress on
the main trunk, acting in a way like a fishing rod that dissipates the
energy over a long section of stem. Composed as such, they have very little
volume for their immense size, but 2500 ft3 is not out of the question.
Girths over 22' have been measured by ENTS and girths of over 24' are known
from the park. However, all exhibit extreme root flare and do not maintain a
trunk of such dimension for any distance. Cherrybark has been recorded to
over 170' in the park, but the measurements were also in error (that was the
160.2' tree ten years ago). One tree, with the 154' spread, was listed as
156' tall but is actually 134'. (Jess, I know I probably botched the 1995
figures so correct me as needed ;)


While Jess and Ed where measuring the tall oak, I was busy trying to
remeasure a sweetgum (Liquidamber styraciflua) I had measured to 157.1' tall
several years ago. I was only able to get 150' by shooting straight up from
underneath, and 149.8' from a distance away. I am not sure what the
difference is (crown breakage?) but I am hereby discarding the higher
figure. Heights of over 160' have been reported from the park but after
numerous searches and measuring hundreds of old and young trees, ENTS can
only attest to a few sweetgums over 150'. As a species they certainly have
the capability to regularly grow above 150', but their relatively brittle
and decay-prone wood does not hold up to storm damage like the oaks.
Re-sprouting after breakage is vigorous and dense, and some of the trees
measured over 150' during this trip were severely damaged. I have little
doubt they can and will reach 160', but it will likely be a tree 100 years
old or less in a dense, second-growth forest on a good site. 130-135' tall
trees are very common, but trees over 140' infrequent. Only one sweetgum
over 150' tall is known outside of the Congaree and it, too, grows in SC
near Tamassee Knob. Trees in the Smokies have already surpassed 143' in 70


Probably the finest tree encountered was the absolutely gorgeous, massive,
and tall swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii). Ed and I both went nuts
over them, and measured virtually every one we saw. Trees over 130' were
commonplace, and we confirmed one to 140.3' tall. The remnant acorn caps
were so huge, 1.25" diameter, that I would consider wearing a hardhat during
nut-fall. Not an acorn was to be found, and the ground beneath every tree
looked to be tilled by feral hogs. We no doubt traversed dozen's of acres of
nothing but tilled soil with almost no ground vegetation in sight. So
extensive was the hog rooting that green plants on the forest floor stood
out as a surprise. Such areas were a relief after walking on uprooted,
irregular and muddy soil for miles. As anticipated, we encountered several
hogs on our bushwhacks.

I have lots of photos from the trip which I will send to Ed Frank to post.

(Photo Gallery)

Species                        Girth                 Height

Loblolly pine                  15'6"                 143.5'    Listed as 168' in 1995

                                    12'4"                 153.3'

                                    14'11"               156.5'    Height to large break, may have been near 170'!

                                    10'7"                 160.5'

                                    10'8"                 160.9

                                    11'11"               165.5'

                                    15'7"                 167.8'   Current National Champion, the "Riddle Pine"

                                    9'5"                   168.7'   Tallest known living tree.

Swamp chestnut oak      16'9"                 132.1    100' average crown spread

                                    13'1"                 132'

                                    17'6"                 140.3'     108' average crown spread (114' max). SC State Champion?

Cherrybark oak              19'10"               160.2'     ENTS height record

                                    ~21'                  134'     Average crown spread of 145' @ 105 feet above the ground.

Water oak                     10'6"                 134'     Eastern height record?

Willow oak                    12'4"                 139.7'     Eastern height record?

Shumard oak                 13'5"                 137.9'

                                    ~15'                  140'     Eastern height record?

"Mule" oak                     11'8"                 ~130'     Likely Q. phellos x pagoda hybrid.

Winged elm                   6'2"                   131.1'     Eastern height record?

Bitternut hickory            9'6"                   137.3'     Average spread 80'. 271 points= SC State Champion?

Sugarberry                   6'11.5"               111.6'    Another was 113'+

Red mulberry                 4'9"                   59.7'

                                     4'0"                   65.6'     State height record

Paw paw                       18.5"                 43.1'

                                    17"                    46.1'

                                    16"                    53.3'

Red bay                        3'7"                   68.3'    Eastern height record?

Musclewood                  3'3"                   68'

                                    3'4"                   69'

                                   3'1"                   77.3'     Eastern height record!

Blackgum                      7'5"                   121.4'     Near height record!

Water tupelo                  8'9"                   116.1'

                                     12'7"                 118.8'       

                                    10'2"                 125.9'     Eastern height record?

Swamp tupelo                                        ~125'     Eastern height record?

Sweetgum                     7'6"                   139.6'

                                    13'6"                 145.8'

                                    10'2"                 149'

                                    12'10"               150.3'

                                    11'7"                 152.4'     New ENTS height record!

Red maple                     6'2"                   122.3'

Baldcypress                  9'10"                 132'

                                    15'6"                 139.3'

American holly               4'10"                 89.8'

                                      6'7"                   93.8'     Eastern height record?

The 10 tallest trees:

Loblolly Pine                   168.7'
Cherrybark oak              160.2'
Sweetgum                      152.4'
Sycamore                       144.0'
Baldcypress                    141.0'   Previous trip by BVP
Swamp chestnut oak        140.3'
Shumard oak                  140.0'
Willow oak                      139.7'
Bitternut                         137.3'
American elm                 135.0'   Previous trip by Riddle

Congaree National Park Rucker index= 145.86

The Rucker Index may climb slightly, but I think we have it pretty much
maxed out. Without the super canopy loblolly pine, an index of 142.4 would
result, which is pretty darn good for a flat site in "hurricane alley".

Will Blozan, Ed Coyle, and Jess Riddle

RE: Hybridization   edward coyle
  Feb 01, 2005 07:12 PST 


In my North American Trees book by Preston & Braham, ...lists hybrids for oaks, many of them, for almost every species. So many in fact, that if even half were fertile, we will not be able to separate them eventually.


That 'Mule Oak" (phellos x pagoda), from the Congaree trip is a recent
example. My wife suggested the name after I told her I didn't know if it was

Ed C

Hogs in Congaree.   James Smith
  Jan 30, 2005 07:19 PST 

I read the Congaree trip report with some interest. Seems the feral hogs
are having a really negative influence on the regeneration of young

Has anyone proposed exterminating the hogs? They're non-native and have
no business in that ecosystem. And don't tell me you can't exterminate
them. If one thing about mankind has been proven true; it's that we can
exterminate anything. For Pete's sake, we almost did in the alligator
and there were millions of them (as there is again). I feel certain that
the feral hog problem could be solved in quick order with unlimited open
season on them in and around the park, maybe combined with a bounty.
Re: Congaree National Park 1/14-16/2005   Bruce P. Allen
  Jan 30, 2005 10:11 PST 
Will, Jess, Ed C., Ents,

When you think about the giant Cherrybark oaks in the Congaree, growth
rates have likely been 2-3 cm dbh/year for the fastest growing individuals
(even for young trees after a disturbance) so ages may be as low as 100
years for some of those monsters. Most of the oak species in the Congaree
grow almost as fast. When grow that fast you don't have to survive that
many storms once you reach the canopy but your life expectancy is short.

Re: Hogs in Congaree.   Bruce P. Allen
  Jan 30, 2005 10:26 PST 


They have been unable to eliminate hogs (or even put a dent in the
population) on the Savannah river site despite a full time hog hunter for
more than a decade (and the they killed them on sight during the deer hunts
as well).   There is no closed season on hogs in South Carolina. They have
extremely high reproductive rates and they seem to have plenty of
refugia (floods do tend to knock back the population a little). Hogs are
a very effective invasive species in southeastern floodplains - think of
them as Japanese honeysuckle or European buckthorn.

RE: Congaree National Park 1/14-16/2005   Will Blozan
  Jan 30, 2005 10:27 PST 

I did not expect the oaks to be old at all, and suspect that they are the
fastest biomass producers in the east. Any idea which species may be the
fastest? I suspect cherry bark, but admittedly am not familiar at all with
the southern oak growth rates.


RE: Congaree National Park 1/14-16/2005   Bruce P. Allen
  Jan 30, 2005 10:39 PST 

The fastest growing tree in our plots is Cherrybark oak but we have a very
small sample size. Shumards oak may be comparable, again we have a very
small sample size. Both species are very large and only 1-2/ha if they are
present. Swamp white, white, willow, water, laurel, overcup are not far
behind in growth rate, averages for these species are virtually identical,
so I often lump them to get larger sample sizes.

RE: Hogs in Congaree.   Willard Fell
  Jan 31, 2005 06:18 PST 

Feral hogs are a definite problem in South GA, paticularly in hardwood
bottoms and are rapidly spreading along with fire ants and armadillos
into the north. As it, is hogs are not considered game animals and can
be hunted year round with no limits and I am sure the same is true in
South Carolina. As for the bounty issue, there has been a bounty on
beavers for years and they are still expanding in population.
Exterminating them is another issue. Feral animals are often more
difficult to hunt and stalk than deer, particularly feral cattle. It has
been tried with mixed results in closed ecosystems such as the coastal
islands where we also have problems with feral cattle, horses and
donkeys. Some attempts have been hindered by adverse reaction from the
public. Also bear in mind the hogs do not respect property lines and
voids created in the Nat. Park would be quickly filled from adjacent
RE: Congaree National Park 1/14-16/2005   Jess Riddle
  Feb 06, 2005 12:01 PST 

Just a few little belated addendums:

The 1995 report listed the 15'6" x 143.5' pine at 158' rather than 168',
but the same report listed the cherrybark oak with the 154' spread as
having a spread of only 124'. The 140' shumard oak has a 15'6" cbh and
a 4'9" x 78.3' boxelder was also measured.

Jess Riddle