Initial forays on Staten Island

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Erik Danielsen
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Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by Erik Danielsen » Tue Sep 22, 2015 4:30 pm

At long last I am fully moved and settled into my new home for now- Staten Island, New York City's "forgotten borough." Though only 14 miles long and 7 miles wide, this island is a complex place in terms of culture, history and biology alike and I'm only just beginning to get a feel for it. Staten has the most parkland and forest out of the 5 boroughs, and I have been getting into the woods whenever I have the time. It's a radical departure from the wet shale gorges and their beech-maple-hemlock dominated forests in WNY. The woods here are much dryer, thoroughly dominated by tuliptree, sweetgum, and a variety of oaks. Outcroppings of serpentine geology result in the presence of certain plants otherwise unique in NY state, such as Willow Oak. Settlement here began in the 1640s, which also requires a very different approach in interpreting the age and ecology of a given forest- any tree in WNY dating back past 1805 is undeniably a relic of the region's primary forest. A tree that germinated in the year of Staten's first settlements would now be 374. Whether any such ancients lurk in these woods is an open question; certainly not an acre of primary forest has persisted in a minimally disturbed fashion. There is, however, very old regrowth developing old-growth characteristics, as well as at least one tract of forest that may be ecologically continuous with the primary forest, though subject to significant disturbance over the centuries and unlikely to host any individuals surpassing that 374-mark.

The week before I moved I was honored to meet Helene Kershner, wife of the late Bruce Kershner whose work in WNY I have found so inspiring in the last couple years. I mentioned my upcoming move and was surprised to learn that Bruce grew up here on Staten Island! A copy of his "Secret Places of Staten Island" will have to join "Secret Places of WNY" on my bookshelf shortly. I also came upon this old New York Times article describing an adventure Bruce and Bob Leverett had with two notable NYC tuliptrees, including one here on Staten Island- http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/10/arts/ ... iants.html

On saturday 9/19, I traveled with my girlfriend to Clove Lakes park to find and remeasure the great tuliptree from the article. When the article was published in 2000, the measurements from Bob stood at 119' in height and 21.4' cbh. The tree is doing well and my new measurements are 123.5' tall and 23.4' cbh.
Melissa and the big Tulip
Melissa and the big Tulip
The tree in full. With full measurements, this tree is probably the proper NYS champion tuliptree.
The tree in full. With full measurements, this tree is probably the proper NYS champion tuliptree.
On monday 9/21 I traveled to two parks to follow up on reports of possible old-growth tracts. I had mentioned my interest to a biologist friend on the island who then told me that some assert the forest surrounding Wolfes Pond to be old-growth, though he personally felt doubtful. My visit confirmed that while this is an excellent forest that I'll have to report on more thoroughly, it is definitely old secondary-growth. The creek gorge leading down to the pond is lined by impressive tuliptrees and slightly smaller sweetgum (one typical tulip measured 128' tall and 11.78'cbh), with the upper edges of the gorge populated by tall but somewhat younger seeming tulip and sweetgum punctuated by occasional very large oaks of a more open-grown form. The greatest indicator is a single tuliptree partway down the gorge with a much thicker bole and more weathered bark than any of the others, its trunk branching into a broader open-grown form at perhaps just 30 feet high. This tree grew in the open and may well be a primary seed source for the impressive tulips that now dominate. Some of the oaks may be its contemporaries.

Next I headed to North Mount Loretto State Forest, whose potential as an old-growth site was communicated by a far more authoritative source- Bruce again, in a 2002 report on these boards: "Tipped off by a report of "impressive" beech trees, Bruce Kershner and Ned Barnard (author of New York City Trees) drove to this rural area near the south end of Staten Island. The one square mile property has been owned by the Catholic Diocese since 1870, which has operated an orphanage at the opposite end. As soon as we drove by, we knew it looked promising. At first only scattered beeches appeared, but the forest got older as we walked. Huge beech trees with stag-head crowns, buttressed roots and knarly burls covered a 25-acre area. Their ages all appeared to be 170 to 230 years old. Old growth white oaks were also present, along with ancient black gum, swamp white oak, black birch and red maple. We concluded the site was probably logged during the Revolutionary War by British soldiers, and then left virtually untouched since then. Unfortunately, the Church can choose to sell this property at any time to developers. Environmental groups must try to get this stately woodland protected."

I didn't have time to do a thorough walkthrough, just one of the northern portions where satellite images displayed promising crown structure, but it did not disappoint. If I had to make conjecture as to what forest on Staten is likely to have the strongest ecological linkages with the island's pre-settlement forest, it would be this one. Visibly aged beech along with white oak, red oak, chestnut oak, less impressively massive than the trees in the gorge at Wolfe's pond but the distinctive sense of an "old" forest much more present. A typical white oak near a major trail, about 2'dbh and tall, had recently fallen across the trail and the trunk was cut to move out of the way. At a cut about 15' up the trunk (the based had a large charred hollow) the growth rings were incredibly dense, with a small span of swift growth at the center- perhaps this oak shot up in the wake of tree-cutting by soldiers during the revolutionary war. I will be back to this forest soon.
Mount Loretto State Forest
Mount Loretto State Forest
Another site of impressive old secondary-growth is the Greenbelt Park. I have begun measuring there and the numbers impress compared to what I'm used to, but I do suspect that the tallest specimens are yet to enter my viewfinder. Some numbers as they stand-

Tuliptree:
133.5'/12.6'cbh
128.7'
122.9'/8.8'cbh
116.5'/10.8'cbh
Sweetgum:
115.6'/7.45'cbh
White Ash:
111.2'/8.96'cbh
Northern Red Oak:
110.2'/8.43'cbh
105.1'
98.5'/12.6'cbh
Black Oak
105'/8.66'cbh

I have a lot of unfamiliar oaks to learn, since there is such a variety here. That and a lot of shrubs!

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tomhoward
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Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by tomhoward » Tue Sep 22, 2015 7:47 pm

Erik,

Those trees are awesome, especially that giant Tuliptree - you're right - I think it should be the NYS champion.

The Sweetgum, I think, is the tallest in NY.

Tom Howard

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Lucas
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Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by Lucas » Tue Sep 22, 2015 8:14 pm

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/10/living/10TREE.html

I have just read this and flipped to here by fluke. There be the tree in the article.
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by Erik Danielsen » Wed Sep 23, 2015 8:48 am

Lucas, it's interesting how things just seem to line up in time, isn't it? Much like my meeting Helene, along with other events of the last couple weeks... if time could be visualized as a stream of water, some sections of streambed are remarkably smooth and refreshing, flow coming easily to the events of life.

Tom, there is not a doubt in my mind that there are sweetgum trees in the greenbelt and probably at wolfe's pond that top 120' in competition with taller tulips. The mid-atlantic coastal region which Staten Island seems to be part of the northern reaches of seems to put up some serious heights in Delaware and New Jersey- I think I've only scratched the surface here. I'm heading back out after lunch today, rangefinder in hand.

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Rand
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Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by Rand » Wed Sep 23, 2015 10:43 am

Melissa and the big Tulip
Heh, at first glance at the picture I mistook her for a little girl standing beside that huge tree. Then I read the text and zoomed in.

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Lucas
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Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by Lucas » Wed Sep 23, 2015 11:49 am

Rand wrote:
Melissa and the big Tulip
Heh, at first glance at the picture I mistook her for a little girl standing beside that huge tree. Then I read the text and zoomed in.
So did I.

Whoa! that is a honker.
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

Joe

Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by Joe » Thu Sep 24, 2015 3:51 am

When I see photos of such gigantic trees in the east- I can only wonder what the forests looked like before the "pale faces" arrived and destroyed just about everything.
Joe

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by Erik Danielsen » Thu Sep 24, 2015 8:10 am

Rand wrote:
Melissa and the big Tulip
Heh, at first glance at the picture I mistook her for a little girl standing beside that huge tree. Then I read the text and zoomed in.
Admittedly, she is only 5' tall... is it cheating to date short people and then use them for "scale" photos?

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bbeduhn
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Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by bbeduhn » Thu Sep 24, 2015 10:52 am

Looking at the picture, the big tulip didn't look super old. Learning that it put on two feet of girth in 15 years confirms this. It has plenty of time to keep growing. I's never expect a tulip that size to be growing in a NYC park, of course the Queens Giant is even more surprising!

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Initial forays on Staten Island

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Sep 25, 2015 8:11 am

Agreed, certainly not as old as the queens giant. That said, approaching 300 years (the age the parks department claims, with no apparent qualification or source) is really not out of the question. There are some areas of balding and a non-threatening wound in the lower trunk that are not suggestive of youth, either. There are other tuliptrees here on the island that are probably older, though not as large. One tuliptree on the grounds of the Mount Manresa jesuit center (among many other beautiful trees of similar vintage) was found by coring to be well over 300 years old (which then fell victim to a classic developer vs. community battle in which they spitefully cut the trees at first opportunity even before the permits were approved to demolish the buildings, clearly aiming to demoralize their opposition).

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