Oswego County, NY Nov. 15, 2015

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Oswego County, NY Nov. 15, 2015

Post by tomhoward » Mon Nov 16, 2015 2:53 pm


On this sunny, but cold and windy Sunday Nov. 15, 2015, Elijah Whitcomb and I visited the grounds of Fort Ontario State Historic Site in Oswego, at the edge of vast, open Lake Ontario. We went there to re-measure the huge Cottonwoods there, especially in a group in and around Fort Ontario Cemetery. These big trees were planted in 1904 when the Army re-modeled the grounds of Fort Ontario. They look older than that, with rough, deeply ridged bark, big spreading limbs, but they are known to be no older than 1904. A photo taken in 1911 shows these giant trees as saplings. They are in an exposed location, being constantly battered by winds off Lake Ontario, and it is amazing that they are as big and tall as they are. The tallest Cottonwood is in the southeast corner of the Cemetery, and is 14’10” cbh (56.7” dbh) and 121.4 ft. tall, as far as I know the tallest non-conifer on the Lake Ontario shore in the USA and Canada. Only a few White Pines in the Boat Launch Pine Grove at Selkirk Shores State Park, also in Oswego County, are about a foot or 2 taller.

Elijah got 116 ft. on a 14’2” cbh (54.1” dbh) Cottonwood across the Cemetery fence. I got 113.7 ft. on another Cottonwood to the north across the fence (13’9” cbh, 52.5” dbh). Elijah got 110 ft. on a 15’11” cbh (60.8” dbh) Cottonwood in the same area. A Cottonwood just east of the tallest is 109 ft. tall and 11’1” cbh (42.4” dbh), looking like a mere stick compared to the giants near it. The biggest diameter Cottonwood is in the southwest corner of the Cemetery, is 16’6” cbh (63” dbh), with a big limb coming out from low on the trunk, but is only 82 ft. tall. A more slender Cottonwood just east of this tree is 90 ft. tall. The contrasts in heights among the same-aged Cottonwoods at Fort Ontario Cemetery are striking from a considerable distance. The tree in the southeast corner is obviously the tallest when seen from a long way away.

Elijah and I walked around the walls of the old fort to the north (the oldest earthworks of Fort Ontario were built by the British in 1759), and came to the c.1900 Signal Tower, which I measured to about 75 ft. tall.

Most trees in the 2 rows of large Cottonwoods south of the Lighthouse Keeper’s House, south of the walls of old Fort Ontario, are gone. These trees were planted by the Army from about 1884-1915. The largest and tallest in the northern part of this group remains, 109 ft. tall (and obviously taller than the other trees in this section) and 15’2” cbh (57.9” dbh). A big Cottonwood in this group just above the Fort Ontario Maintenance Building is 48.9” dbh (12.8 ft. cbh). In this same section I counted about 90 rings on the 1’9” intact radius of a 2’3” total radius freshly cut Cottonwood stump. The outer rings are extremely wide.

After we left Fort Ontario, we went across the Oswego River to a park called Franklin Square, which was laid out in 1798. There are many young Pin Oaks in the park, 3 of which we measured to 76 ft., 87 ft. 82.2 ft. The biggest trees in Franklin Square are 2 huge old White Oaks, that have crooked, battered limbs, gnarly crowns, balding bark. According to an Oswego newspaper account from c.1888, 4 big White Oaks were left standing when the park was laid out in 1798, and these trees were still standing in 1888. 2 of these big White Oaks fell in the ice storm of Apr. 2003, and the other 2 are the trees Elijah and I examined today. They should easily be at least 300 years old, among the oldest trees in Oswego County. We measured them both to 85.8 ft. tall. One White Oak is 12’7” cbh (48.1” dbh), and the other 13’ cbh (49.7” dbh).

We took NY 48 south to Fulton, along the Oswego River, by many young Red Oaks. At the Oswego Country Club on NY 48 are 2 huge American Elms, that I believe are shown in a 1903 photo as large trees. The biggest and healthiest looking of the Elms, the tree to the west, has a classic umbrella shape, and should be the largest Elm in central NY. We could not measure it as there was no place to park, and the Country Club is not usually open to the public as far as I know.

We continued to Fulton, to Recreation Park, by Lake Neahtawanta and near Fulton High School. This park has a group of 20-25 very large old mostly open-grown Red Oaks. This was the site of the Oswego County Fairgrounds from about the 1860s to the 1920s, and photos from that time show that the Oaks were scarcely smaller then.

A typical Red Oak is 13’9” cbh (52.5” dbh).

There are 2 smaller Pignut Hickories in the midst of the Oaks. One of them (which still has most of its brown leaves) is 7’3” cbh (27.7” dbh) and 96.6 ft. tall. The other Pignut is 8’6” cbh (32.5” dbh) and 99.9 ft. tall, the tallest tree we would measure at Recreation Park.

One of the more slender Red Oaks is 92.7 ft. tall. A Red Oak 10’5” cbh (39.8” dbh) is 94.5 ft. tall. Another Red Oak is 11’7” cbh (44.2” dbh), and another Red Oak is 13’1” cbh (50” dbh) and 97.2 ft. tall, and another is 12’2” cbh (46.5” dbh). A Red Oak 13’11” cbh (53.2” dbh) is 92.3 ft. tall. Another Red Oak is 12’10” cbh (49” dbh). The oldest tree is possibly a big Red Oak with spiral grain near the parking lot; it is the only spiral grain tree we saw in this group. It is 14’5” cbh (55.1” dbh). It looks the same size in a photograph taken in 1887. It has a broken top, and is now only 69.4 ft. tall. A squat Red Oak between the picnic pavilion and the lake is 15’5” cbh (58.9” dbh). A low Red Oak near the lake is 13’1” cbh (50” dbh).

It was nearing twilight and we took NY 48 south to the Radisson area. South of Fulton we went by an inlet of the Oswego River, which is lined by big Red Oaks, giving that area a New England feel. South of there young White Pines that seem to be at least 100 ft. tall are frequent in the woods.

All trees measured on this day are single trunked.

Trees measured in Oswego County Nov. 15, 2015:

At Fort Ontario, Oswego:

Cottonwood 121.4 14’10” cbh
Cottonwood 116 14’2” cbh
Cottonwood 113.7 13’9” cbh
Cottonwood 110 15’11” cbh
Cottonwood 109 11’ 1” cbh
Cottonwood 82 16’6” cbh
Cottonwood 90
Cottonwood 109 15’2” cbh

At Franklin Square Park, Oswego:

Pin Oak 76
Pin Oak 87
Pin Oak 82.2
Old White Oak 85.8 12’7” cbh
Old White Oak 85.8 13’ cbh

At Recreation Park, Fulton:

Pignut Hickory 96.6 7’3” cbh
Pignut Hickory 99.9 8’6” cbh
Red Oak 92.7
Red Oak 94.5 10’5” cbh
Red Oak 97.2 13’1” cbh
Red Oak 92.3 13’11” cbh
Red Oak 69.4 14’5” cbh

Tom Howard

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Re: Oswego County, NY Nov. 15, 2015

Post by dbhguru » Mon Nov 16, 2015 5:29 pm


You and Elijah keep finding big cottonwoods. All of New York seems to be awash in them. Would you like to start a cottonwood database comparable to my black birch database?

Robert T. Leverett
Co-founder, Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
Co-founder, National Cadre

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Larry Tucei
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Re: Oswego County, NY Nov. 15, 2015

Post by Larry Tucei » Tue Nov 17, 2015 5:34 pm

Tom- It is amazing how large a tree can become in just 100 years! Given the right conditions. Nice finds! Cottonwood is one of my favorites! Larry

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