Historical Sizes of Trees   Ernie Ostuno
  Aug 21, 2004 02:44 PDT 



I've always wondered if records were kept by the lumber companies of the
sizes (probably in the form of board feet of lumber from an individual
tree) of trees cut. Would it be possible to glean actual measurements of
height and girth of various tree species that were harvested way back in
the logging era? Or are word of mouth estimates going to be all we have?

I picked up a couple really interesting publications at the Pennsylvania
Lumber Museum up in Potter County that had information on railroad
logging era, including detailed histories of the Goodyear Lumber
Company. There's a photo of a huge hemlock log from about 1906, said to
be the largest hemlock ever cut up by the sawmills. In the photo it
looks to be close to 6 foot in diameter. I wonder if there are any other
historic photos showing how big the biggest of the hemlock and white
pine were in the original forest of Pennsylvania.


White Pines Present and Past   Robert Leverett
  Aug 23, 2004 10:17 PDT 


     The questions surrounding maximums for Pinus strobus, past and
present, has been a research interest of Will Blozan, Lee Frelich, Bob
Van Pelt, Dale Luthringer, Colby Rucker, and myself for a long time.
With me it has been more an obsession than an interest. But interest or
obsession, the above group probably has the largest and most accurate
body of data on the subject of white pine maximums in existence and the
body of data is increasing daily.

     Our collective research that now includes literally thousands of
tree measurements has given us a pretty good profile of the species in
so far as its present day capabilities are concerned. Lee, in
particular, is impressed with the white pine's adaptability across its

     What are the numbers? Today, the white pine can reach 200 feet (and
has), but only on very rare occasions, and I do mean very rare. We haved
broken 200 feet only once in all the searching and measuring that we
have done.

     Our current data shows that mature white pines in favorable growing
conditions commonly reach 125 to 145 feet in the Northeast. You can add
a few feet to that height range for the Southeast. Will Blozan has a lot
of white pine data for the southern hot spots, but I'm unsure of what he
concludes on the overall height distribution.

     In the Northeast, I've come to commonly expect populations in the
height range quoted above. Stands with taller trees, i.e. trees 150 feet
and over do occur, but in the Northeast, there is a very limited number
of them. More on their exact locations later.

     In the Northeast, between latitudes 40 and 43 degrees latitude,
stands with trees above 165 feet are rare and the number of 170-footers
are confined to a single location - Cook Forest State Park. In the
Southeast, 170-footers are more common, but still exceptional. So my
conclusion is that the normal maximum for the species is 165 to 180 feet
throughout the Northeast. Any pines we might confirm above that
threshold would be extreme statistical outliers. Incidentally, so far
we've confirmed one pine over 180 in the Northeast and 3 or 4 in the
Southeast. It is interesting to realize that these maximums are in
keeping with the research that Dr. Gordon Whitney compiled in writing
his book "From Coastal Wilderness to Fruited Plain" (I think that is the
title). Obviously someone in the past was keeping tabs.

      Were there giants in the Earth in colonial and pre-colonial times
with respect to the species? Presently, I give little credence to the
numbers that have come from accounts of past giants - regardless of
their source. I feel certain that there were a few over 200 feet, but I
doubt that there were many. I suspect that 220 feet is the upper limit
and that height would have been reached by an infinitesimally small
number of pines. Supposedly the Camelius Pine of Camelius NY was 230.
Pines in New Hampshire and Vermont have had outlandish numbers quoted
for them - up to 264 feet. Bah Humbug! Don't believe it. Could such
heights have existed? I assume it is genetically possible for there to
be a few statistical outliers that surpass the normal maximum by 165 to
180 feet by as much as 100 feet, but more proof is needed that
quotations from articles from the past.

      Why do I feel so smug about the inaccuracy of numbers quoted in
past accounts? Well, measurements made today by presumably qualified
people have been in gross error. Much of the ENTS reputation has been
built on correcting the flawed measurement methodology that timber
specialists have employed. Clinometer and tape measure just don't hack
it. End of story. Yet, grossly over-measured trees are still reported by
a largely un-attuned group of tree measurers and big tree recorders of
the state programs. If over-measurements are made today by presumably
qualified people, what would have been different in the past. Well,
maybe measurements were taken on the ground and maybe they weren't. Lee
Frelich has interesting views on the units of measure that were used in
the past. Maybe he'll come forth and recount them.

       Stands in the Northeast that have confirmed 150-footers include
the following. I make allowances for what may be left to find. The lower
number is generally what we've inventoried to date (based on my memory).

       Cook Forest State Park, PA       100 - 120 trees

       Mohawk Trail State Forest, MA   68 - 70 trees

       Claremont Stand, NH     undetermined, but maybe more than Cook,
possibly 150 to 200

       Hearts Content, PA                    16 - 18 trees

       Elders Grove, NY                        6 - 8 trees

       Anders Run, PA                         6 - 10 trees

       Bryant Homestead, MA              3 trees

       Ice Glen, MA                             3 trees

      Pine Park, NH                            2 trees

      Monroe State Forest, MA            1 tree

      Cathedral Pines, NY                   1 tree

      Dartmouth College, NH                1 tree

      Heminway State Park, NH           1 tree

      I suspect there is a half dozen to a dozen stands left to confirm
in the Northeast with a few trees each over 150, but collectively they
still will be an infinitesimal percentage of mature pines. I suspect the
Adirondacks alone have 2 or 3 sites with 150s left to substantiate.New
Hampshire should have 2 or 3. Pennsylvania should have 2 or 3 and
somewhere in Maine and Vermont there shoulod be a stand or two. The
surviving trees of the Cathedral Pines of Cornwal, CT don't quite make
140 feet. The Gold Pines and Bally Hack in CT each have trees over 140,
but none over 150.

      I'll stop at this point and turn the podium over to Will, Lee and
the others.