Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, TN   Jess Riddle
  Jun 02, 2006 16:36 PDT 


cypress_scene3.jpg (127846 bytes)
Ancient relic cypress with cherrybark oak on bluff

Fifteen miles north of Memphis, Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
protects approximately 13,000 acres of mostly forested land along the
Mississippi River. That area includes 9,000 of floodplain and 4,000
acres of Chickasaw Bluff Number 3. The bluff, slightly over 100'
high, consists of silty sediments driven by winds from the west.
Consequently, water easily erodes the unconsolidated sediments, and
small streams have incised a network of branching, narrow ravines into
the bluff leaving broad, flat-topped ridges between them. Water
flowing from the smaller ravines leaves little impression on the
floodplain while the larger streams form the bayous that meander
across the floodplain towards the river. Overall, the floodplain
features fewer bayous and is flatter than smaller river floodplains in
the southeast. Elevation changes of only one to two feet produce
broad inundated areas whereas many smaller floodplains have more
confined wet areas associated with elevation changes of approximately
five feet.

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140'+ cottonwood and sycamore

We only had time to explore a fraction small fraction of the
floodplain near the bluffs, and species composition near the river may
be markedly different. Cherrybark oak, swamp chestnut oak, and a
variety of other hardwoods dominate some areas, but eastern cottonwood
is the most common species over larger areas. Sycamores frequently
grow amongst the cottonwoods and pecan forms a lower canopy below the
faster growing trees. Other canopy layers are largely absent, but
within 500' of the base of the bluffs, boxelder forms a well developed
midstory. Chinese privet, spicebush, free standing tangles of
greenbrier are locally abundant, but the understory is largely open.
Other common vines include trumpet creeper and Virginia creeper, which
hang off of many trees and reach large sizes. The forest floor ranges
from grey cottonwood leaves to a cover of some short, yellow flowered
spring ephemeral that resembles the Dicentras. A few stout, low
branching, odd baldcypress remain along the edges of depression and
bayous, but most of the forest appears 70 to 90 years old.

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Ancient cypress knees
img_5898a.jpg (114028 bytes)
Relic cypress; 22'11" X 120.6' tall

A forest of similar age occurs on the bluffs comprised of species
typically termed bottomland hardwoods, even on the ridge tops.
Cherrybark oak and white oak grow abundantly on the ridges and upper
slopes while tuliptree and beech are more prevalent in the ravines.
Some of the larger ravines have flat areas in the bottom where species
more common in the floodplain, like sycamore and cottonwood, also
thrive. The midstory is sparse throughout and the understory is
poorly developed in many areas, but red buckeye covers some ravines.
In early spring, trilliums and a Claytonia are among the most common
herbs. On both the floodplain and the bluffs, many other tree species occur
at lower densities; in one day of tree measuring, we saw 61 tree

A fuller, but less site specific description of the forests can be found at

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Measuring crown spread on a huge persimmon
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One of many huge Virginia creepers

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Trumpet creeper on 149' cottonwood

Floodplain forest
Species Cbh Height
Baldcypress 22'11" 120.6'
Baldcypress NA 121.7'
Boxelder 6'11" 89.0'
Boxelder 5'0" 89.6'
Boxelder 7'8" 91.7'
Boxelder 4'7" 92.7'
Boxelder 3'9" 93.5'
Boxelder 5'1" 94.7'
Boxelder 5'4" 95.9'
Boxelder 4'1" 98.3'
Boxelder 4'3" 101.3'
Cottonwood, Eastern 8'8" 134.3'
Cottonwood, Eastern 10'6" 141.9'
Cottonwood, Eastern 13'3.5" 142.8'
Cottonwood, Eastern 15'3" 146.1'
Cottonwood, Eastern 13'8" 147.1'
Cottonwood, Eastern 10'8" 147.8'
Cottonwood, Eastern 13'7" 148.7'
Cottonwood, Eastern 8'2" 148.8'
Cottonwood, Eastern 11'11" 149.4'
Cottonwood, Eastern 9'9" 149.7'
Cottonwood, Eastern 12'2" 150.0'
Cottonwood, Eastern 10'0" 151.4'
Cottonwood, Eastern 10'1" 153.6'
Dogwood, Swamp 1'1" 22.6'
Elm, American 10'6" 114.3'
Elm, Cedar 7'4" 99.3'
Elm, Cedar 8'4" 105.1'
Elm, Cedar 6'4" 106.8'
Honeylocust 5'8.5" 106.2'
Honeylocust 6'3" 107.1'
Honeylocust 9'0" 115.1'
Honeylocust 6'6" 115.4'
Honeylocust 11'8" 116.8'
Honeylocust 6'11" 120.6'
Honeylocust 9'1" 124.4'
Honeylocust 8'5" 124.7'
Honeylocust 8'2" 127.4'
Honeylocust 7'3" 129.9'
Maple, Red 11'2" 119.6'
Maple, Red 9'3" 121.1'
Maple, Red 8'10" 123.2'
Oak, Cherrybark NA 118.0'
Oak, Nutall 10'0" 115.8'
Oak, Nutall 11'5" 122.3'
Oak, Overcup 8'1" 119.1'
Oak, Overcup 9'10" 126.6'
Persimmon 5'2" 113.2'
Persimmon 6'0" 116.3'
Persimmon 7'6.5" 118.1'
Sycamore 8'11" 136.3'
Sycamore 9'8" 138.0'
Sycamore 7'2" 140.0'
Sycamore 8'1" 143.2'
Sycamore 13'0' 152.9'
Virginia Creeper 1'8" NA
Virginia Creeper 2'1" NA
Virginia Creeper 2'3" NA

The boxelders grew more upright and appeared much more vigorous than
commonly seen in southeastern floodplains. They have little dieback
in the crowns and consistently reach heights that would be exceptional
for smaller river sites.

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150 foot tall cottonwood with huge trumpet creeper

The cottonwood stands far surpass any stands of the species I have
seen elsewhere. The stands extend unbroken over dozens of acres, and
in places cottonwood forms pure groves. Those areas support an
unusual density of stems over three feet in diameter, all of the
overstory trees, and have average canopy heights of over 140'; prior
to these trees and one Bob Leverett found at Big Oak Tree State Park
in Missiouri at the same time, no eastern cottonwoods had been
measured over 140'. The cottonwoods appear to have accumulated that
great volume of wood in under a century.

The swamp dogwood is a potential national co-champion.

The cedar elms only grew scattered in the more oak dominated sections
of the floodplain. The species was easily identifiable by their
dense, tortuous crowns of fine twigs.

img_5875.jpg (72929 bytes) Classic Honeylocust

The long, large trunks of the honeylocusts were extremely impressive
to someone accustomed to seeing the species only in ornamental
setting. The 129.9' height exceeds the few previously measured

img_5932a.jpg (71149 bytes) Tuliptree roots

The red maples had the tight bark and dense crowns typical of the
species grow in low elevation areas. They occurred primarily in small
groups on the edge of depressions.

Bluff forest
Species Cbh Height
Basswood, White 6'10" 129.0'
Beech, American 9'1" 117.5'
Beech, American 8'9" 120.7'
Beech, American 7'5" 126.5'
Blackgum 6'5" 111.6'
Buckeye, Red 1'9" 33.1'
Buckeye, Red 1'9" 33.4'
Cherry, Black 9'0" 118.6'
Coffeetree, Kentucky 5'7" 115.8'
Coffeetree, Kentucky 4'7" 116.7'
Coffeetree, Kentucky 6'10" 121.2'
Cottonwood, Eastern 10'11" 154.4'
Elm, Red 4'10" 118.6'
Hickory, Bitternut 6'5" 119.9'
Hickory, Bitternut 6'11" 123.3'
Hickory, Bitternut 5'7" 128.9'
Hophornbeam, Eastern 2'9" 68.3'
Magnolia, Cucumber 5'3" 114.8'
Maple, Florida 6'7" 103.3'
Oak, Cherrybark 7'4" 127.2'
Oak, Chinquapin 6'6" 113.2'
Oak, Chinquapin 7'3" 113.8'
Oak, Chinquapin 5'11" 114.7'
Oak, Chinquapin Burl 115.6'
Oak, Chinquapin 8'5" 120.8'
Oak, Northern Red 6'1" 121.6'
Oak, Northern Red 5'5.5" 127.8'
Oak, Northern Red 6'9" 128.5'
Oak, Northern Red 8'1" 130.3'
Oak, Shumard 9'1" 134.4'
Oak, White 10'1" 127.2'
Oak, White 6'3" 131.0'
Sassafras 5'2" 112.8'
Sassafras 6'7" 115.5'
Sassafras 5'2" 118.5'
Sweetgum 7'7" 137.2'
Sweetgum 6'7" 137.8'
Sweetgum 8'9" 143.7'
Sycamore 8'1" 140.9'
Sycamore 9'1" 141.4'
Tuliptree NA 135.6'
Tuliptree 9'7" 139.1'
Tuliptree 9'4" 144.4'
Tuliptree 8'1" 145.9'
Tuliptree 10'6" 151.5'
Walnut, Black 7'0" 117.2'
Yellowwood 5'6" 83.0'
Yellowwood 5'2" 103.5'

The red buckeyes listed above grow in a small parking area; understory
individuals only infrequently exceeded 10' in height.

The black gum is within one foot of the state height record.

ENTS previously had data on Kentucky coffeetree only from Beall Woods
in Illinois. The Meeman-Shelby trees easily exceed the heights of
those at Beall Woods.

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Beech roots:  the loess just erodes away so large trees likely do not last long!
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Beech clinging to the soft soils

Cottonwoods are far less common along the streams dissecting the
bluffs than in the floodplain, but the 154.4' tree in the bluffs is
the tallest known eastern cottonwood.

The 120.8' chinquapin oak is a new state height record, and less than
a foot shorter than the current height record for the species.

The white oak ties for the state height record.

ENTS has now measured five sassafras between 118' and 120' tall; three
of those trees grow in the Smokies and the other two grow in

The 103.5' yellowwood shatters the previous height record of 93.4'
held by a tree in North Carolina.

Rucker Height Index 138.6'
Eastern Cottonwood 154.4'
Sycamore                   152.9'
Tuliptree                    151.5'
Sweetgum                  143.7'
Shumard Oak             134.4'
White Oak                  131.0'
Northern Red Oak      130.3'
Honeylocust                129.9'
White Basswood 129.0'
Bitternut Hickory        128.9'

Rucker Girth Index    12.6'
Baldcypress               22.9'
Eastern Cottonwood 15.25'
Sycamore                   13.0'
Honeylocust               11.7'
Nutall Oak                  11.4'
Red Maple                  11.2'
American Elm            10.5'
Tuliptree                     10.5'
White Oak                  10.1'
Overcup Oak              9.8'

The site is considerably more impressive than the Rucker Indexes
suggest. Several other southeastern sites surpass the height index,
but the variety of species reaching great heights and the number of
height records at Meeman-Shelby stand out as exemplary. Additional
searching should substantially increase the indexes, especially the
circumference index which was not a focus on this trip.

Jess Riddle & Will Blozan

RE: Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, TN   Joshua Kelly
  Jun 03, 2006 04:58 PDT 


Thanks for a very informative trip report. Meeman-Shelby seems like an
ideal place to track as the canopy height and basal area will probably
continue to increase for decades, and also because bottomland hardwoods have
recieved less attention that other forests of the east. Sites like this
suggest to me that bottomland hardwoods may produce more biomass/acre than
any other eastern forest type.

That little yellow herb that resembled Dicentra was most likely a Corydalis
(same family) and probably Corydalis flavula. I'm hoping that you will be
hounding the Southern Appalachians to bring the yellowwood height record
back home. It just doesn't seem right to have have Cledrastis growing out of
rocky soiled mountians!

May you have the vigor of a cottonwood at Meeman-Shelby,
RE: Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, TN   Robert Leverett
  Jun 05, 2006 04:51 PDT 


Utterly phenomenal. What is still so amazing to me is that far more
ordinary forests receive wide publicity and absolute jewels like
Meeman-Shelby have been sitting there virtually unnoticed. It makes me
wonder how many more jewels are out there waiting to be found.