National Park, SC Feb 2006
03, 2006 08:02 PDT
Congaree National Park, formerly Congaree Swamp National
Monument, lies in
central South Carolina just below the Fall-line. The Fall-line
interface between the rolling hills of the piedmont and the
coastal plain; hence, downstream of the Fall-line rivers slow
broad floodplains, and deposit vast quantities of rich sediment
piedmont and mountains. Most years, the Congaree River floods
times, so the floodplain forests regularly receive new nutrients
moist. Within the park, the floodplain averages about two miles
and contains approximately 11,000 acres of old-growth, the
bottomland tract in the eastern U.S. Baldcypress were cut from
much of the
forest, and a few high value species were removed from other
areas, but most
of the bottomland forest remains undisturbed by logging.
In mid-February, several Ents converged on the Congaree to
explore more of
the forest and model some of the giant loblolly pines and
oaks. Spring was already clearly in evidence: the elms and red
flowering, silver maple had already set seed, and one spring
butterweed, was just beginning to flower. The rosettes of
covered the ground adjacent to wet areas. One grass and one
also covered much of the ground in some areas; however, most of
floor was bare except for leaves, and extensive disturbance by
ensure spring herbs do not carpet the ground in some wet areas.
At the time of our visit, water levels in the park were low
easier, but water still covered many poorly drained areas. The
inhabit the wet areas vary considerably depending on the depth
of the depressions. Adjacent to the bluff, the five to ten foot
that marks the edge of the floodplain, swamp tupelo dominates
swampy ground, and Loblolly pines range from absent to abundant
forest. Broad flooded areas also occur in abandoned river
channels that now
lie scattered throughout the floodplain. Water tupelo and
typically form the entire canopy in these areas. Few trees grow
understory, but water-elm (Planera aquatica) may be present.
tupelo also form a pure mixture in the sloughs or guts that wind
floodplain. Sloughs resemble large brown creeks, but the water
imperceptible. Shallower wet areas form on poorly drained higher
areas in the floodplain. In those depressions grow bottomland
including overcup oak, laurel oak, persimmon and water hickory.
However, most of the floodplain remains firm dry ground except
river overflows its banks. Diverse mixtures of bottomland
these better drained regions. Sweetgum, which occasionally forms
stands, probably reaches the canopy more often than any other
most areas contain several hardwood species. Ironwood and paw
ubiquitous in the midstory, and likely include more individuals
other tree species in the park. American holly is also abundant
midstory, but tends to grow in large, discrete groves, except
river. Possumhaw or deciduous holly can also become an important
of the midstory near the river. Spicebush forms the shrub layer
areas, but rivercane is far more abundant although still not
Vines grow throughout the floodplain in impressive numbers
forest type. Most trees in the park over one foot in diameter
growing up them. Poison ivy in the floodplain always grows up
rather than creeping across the ground, but still appears to be
common vine species. However, crossvine, supplejack, and grape
also common. The grape vines can exceed 30" in
circumference, but trumpet
creeper reaches even larger sizes. However, most trumpet
into several separate living strands before they reach great
For our visit, we were fortunate enough to be able to tap into
Houtchings experience. He has worked at the park for four years
explored the forests for close to a decade. He was kind enough
to show us several of the park's arboreal highlights. Marcas
first took my
dad, Will Blozan, and I to a slough that the loggers skipped for
reason. Ancient cypress stood in a row in the slough and
exceeded 130' in height. We measured a few trees on our way back
trail then headed down the River Loop Trail, a trail we had
times before. A few hours of tree measuring later we arrived at
destination, the state champion cherrybark oak. After modeling
trunk with a monocular, we started going back to camp along the
side of the slough the River Loop Trail paralleled. We stumbled
camp well after sunset, but several height records richer.
The second day we planned to focus more on volume modeling, but
distracted by tall trees along the way. John Eichholz, Will,
Marcas, and I
first stopped by a large hornbeam Marcas had found then Marcas
showed us one
of the former national co-champion persimmons. We took a short
remeasure a tall persimmon my dad and I had found several years
before heading for our primary target, a loblolly pine grove
supported a 173' individual, the tallest loblolly pine yet
found. In 2000
or 2001 a microburst hit the grove and snapped the 173' pine,
unscathed a 14'7" x 160'+ tree. We planned to model that
large pine, but
this trip we found the rest of the grove decimated. Only three
remained alive; the largest tree was not among them. Somewhat
still wanting to model the large pines, we started for the
former state champion pine. On the way to that tree, we stopped
the tallest known cherrybark oak. When we arrived at the large
quickly set two monoculars to work in the light drizzle. Again,
into camp in late twilight well satisfied with the day.
For our last day at the park, Marcas and John Torrence, another
the park, set up a boat trip to see areas they knew about along
river. Our first stop was an unusual, 26'4" cbh, twin
cypress. One stem
had snapped off nine feet above the ground, and with a little
help one could
climb inside the tree. Inside, both stems were hollow, and the
14' below the opening. Many people commented the inside looked
like a cave;
muck and water stood on the floor while cypress knees and odd
fins of wood
grew up all around and were strongly reminiscent of stalagmites.
foot elevation difference between ground outside and ground
inside the tree
may be the result of centuries of siltation by the river.
The same situation appeared to have occurred in adjacent grove
of cypress we
visited. The obviously old cypresses currently grow on dry
their lower trunks swell much less than usual. The grove is also
that it still exists. The river would have provided easy access
loggers, and the grove consists of not just hollow shells but a
From there we walked to the state champion bald cypress. The
tree grows in
a more typical grove of scattered, remnant, ancient cypress
younger cypresses. We also tried to visit the state champion
but we were not able to locate that tree from just the map we
us. However, on the way to the tree we walked through an
riverside forest of green ash, sycamore and sugarberry.
Species Cbh Height
Ash, Green 8'8" 131.8'
Baldcypress 26'0" 124.9'
Baldcypress 10'0" 125.0'
Baldcypress 23'9" 133.3'
Baldcypress 8'6.5" 137.1'
Baldcypress 20'1.5" 137.1'
Baldcypress 18'7.5" 139.9'
Baldcypress 10'6" 146.7'
Baldcypress Coppice 147.2'
Beech 11'0" 112.9'
Beech 6'10" 115.5'
Beech 9'10" 122.3'
Beech 7'11" 126.3'
Boxelder 5'2" 84.4'
Boxelder 6'11.5" 94.5'
Bumelia, Gum 9" 35.3'
Cottonwood, Swamp 6'2" 114.9'
Cottonwood, Swamp 7'8" 117.6'
Elm, Winged 6'11" 122.6'
Hickory, Water 11'3" 126.2'
Hickory, Water 12'11" 137.2'
Holly, American 5'3.5" 87.4'
Holly, American 5'3" 92.5'
Holly, American 5'4" 96.6'
Hornbeam, American 4'2" 62.6'
Hornbeam, American 3'7" 65.3'
Hornbeam, American 3'1" 70.3'
Hornbeam, American 2'7.5" 76.1'
Oak, Cherrybark 23'6" 146.5'
Oak, Cherrybark 18'8" 151.3'
Oak, Cherrybark 18'8" 156.8'
Oak, Laurel 12'3" 119.4'
Oak, Laurel 16'7" 122.5'
Oak, Laurel 22'1" 130.1'
Oak, Overcup 14'2" 136.5'
Oak, Overcup 9'6" 143.3'
Oak, Shumard 14'6" 139.1'
Oak, Shumard 17'1" 141.6'
Oak, Shumard 8'6.5" 142.1'
Oak, Shumard 13'10" 157.6'
Oak, Willow 12'4" 144.7'
Paw Paw 1'3" 47.8'
Paw Paw 1'3.5" 51.0'
Paw Paw 1'6.5" 58.8'
Persimmon 7'5" 113.9'
Persimmon 7'4" 114.3'
Persimmon 6'9.5" 131.4'
Possumhaw 3'6" 38.1'
Possumhaw 2'1.5" 49.2'
Redbay 2'4" 49.3'
Redbay 2'0" 55.1'
Sugarberry 7'2" 108.0'
Sugarberry 7'11" 109.4'
Sugarberry 8'5" 111.3'
Sugarberry 9'6" 112.4'
Sugarberry 6'3" 112.9'
Sugarberry 6'6" 113.6'
Sugarberry 5'10" 114.2'
Sugarberry 8'0" 115.8'
Sugarberry 9'8" 123.7'
Sugarberry 13'0" 130.5'
Sugarberry 11'1" 133.6'
Sweetgum 11'5" 136.1'
Sweetgum 5'10" 141.4'
Sweetgum 13'1" 142.1'
Sweetgum 9'0" 144.1'
Sweetgum 10'3" 146.0'
Sweetgum 10'7" 146.0'
Sweetgum 9'9" 148.8'
Sweetgum 8'8" 151.0'
Sweetgum 9'6" 152.5'
Sweetgum 9'5" 155.2'
Sweetgum 9'10" 157.0'
Sycamore 8'11" 131.5'
Sycamore 16'0" 133.6'
Sycamore 14'6" 133.9'
Sycamore 11'0" 143.3'
Sycamore 9'5" 153.6'
Tupelo, Water 13'2" 118.8'
Tupelo, Water 9'11" 124.8'
*Rucker Index 151.01'*
Loblolly Pine 168.9'
Cherrybark Oak 160.2'
Shumard Oak 157.6'
Willow Oak 144.7'
Overcup Oak 143.3'
Swamp Chestnut Oak 140.3'
Bitternut Hickory 137.3'
The 26' circumference baldcypress is the current South Carolina
champion. Previously, the tallest confirmed baldcypress was a
growing in a ravine in Virginia, and the tallest in the Congaree
The larger boxelder is a potential state co-champion and the
thus far in the east.
The swamp cottonwood also sets a new ENTS height record.
The height record winged elm, a 131.1' that grew in the Congaree,
during the year since it was measured. The tree appeared healthy
but some disease, most likely elm yellows, has killed the
tree. Consequently, the 122.6' tree is now the tallest known
The 137.2' water hickory is the tallest ENTS knows of, but the
only been measured at a few sites.
The 96.6' American holly is the second tallest known, and the
tallest so far
found in the Congaree.
The 76.1' hornbeam is also the second tallest known of the
tallest individual also resides in the Congaree.
The 23'6" cbh cherrybark oak is the South Carolina state
tree's asymmetrical crown yields branch spreads of 88' and 150'.
huge, stabilizing, buttressing roots radiate out from the trunk
and inflate the tree's circumference. At the top of the basal
10.5'above the ground, the circumference is 16'4". From
gradually tapers down to slightly over 10' in circumference at
75' above the
ground. Consequently, that lower trunk contains approximately
1066 ft^3 of
The tallest known cherrybark oak, 160.2', has a more modest cbh
but remains 13'8" in circumference just below the point of
branching. That slightly slower taper allows the tree to amass
913 ft^3 of
wood over the first 52' of the trunk. Above that level, the
into tree leads, each at least 2'4" in diameter, and
ascends over 100
The 156.8' cherrybark oak is the second tallest found so far.
Exceptionally large buttress roots support the largest laurel
cracks stretch up the tree's trunk, and the trunk has entirely
at ground level leaving the tree standing only on its roots.
tree still maintains a full crown that spreads 80', and has
enough points by
the American Forests system to qualify as a national champion.
The tree is
also the tallest of the few laurel oaks ENTS has measured.
Previously, ENTS had measured overcup oaks to only approximately
The former height record for shumard oak was 140.0', so that
shattered by 17.6'. The 17'1" cbh tree is a potential state
the former record holder in the Congaree fell.
The willow oak ties the tallest ENTS has measured.
This may sound like a broken record by know, but the 58.8' paw
paw is the
tallest ENTS has measured.
The 7'5" persimmon is a former national co-champion, and
the 131.4' tree is
the current height record holder.
The former state champion loblolly pine has a 15'9" cbh,
and the tree's flat
topped crown rises 143.5' above the ground. The tree's trunk
10' in circumference for the first 75', and is still over eight
circumference 100' above the ground. That long stem gives the
tree a trunk
volume of 1144 ft^3.
The 3'6" possumhaw shows substantial crown die-back. In its
prime, the tree
may have qualified as a national co-champion. The 49.2' tree
former height record by five feet.
Previously, the tallest known sugarberry was 118.4', and the
in the Congaree was 111.6'. We suspected taller individuals were
the Congaree, so John Eichholz focused on the species during
this trip. The
first day of searching yielded several tall individuals
previous finds, all of the individuals listed above less than
115', but no
significantly taller individuals. That day was spent near the
miles from the river. On the following day, when we ventured
river, we found all of the individuals listed above over 115'.
riverside individuals were also far larger in volume than the
trees, and the 13' cbh tree is a new potential state
133.6' tree breaks the old height record by 15.2'.
The former height record for sweetgum was 152.7'.
The 153.6' sycamore was previously measured at 144' tall. All
sycamores listed grow near the river.
The 151.01' Rucker Index slightly surpass that of the central
Zone (150.57') and is the second highest of any eastern US site.
Jess Riddle, Will Blozan, John Eichholz, Marcas Houtchings, and