Corson's Brook Woods, Staten Island

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Erik Danielsen
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Corson's Brook Woods, Staten Island

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat Dec 05, 2015 11:59 am

Corson's Brook Woods is a tiny island of sanctuary in the sea of urban development and industry that dominates the landscape of Staten Island's west shore. Just 21 acres stretched along the bottom of the College of Staten Island campus, this forest has remained relatively untouched for over 200 years in spite of repeated threats of development and a lack of formal protection. The larger Willowbrook Park across a street to the west may contain some forest in continuity with Corson's Brook Woods but the canopy in google earth suggests a mostly very-young forest. The Greenbelt Park lies across a major road just to the east and may similarly have some continuity but is mostly more recent regrowth surrounding the ruins of the old Farm Colony, which closed in 1975.

An article from 2008 in the Staten Island Advance put Corson's Brook at the top of my list of sites to visit, with references to Bruce Kershner's love of the site and notes about undisturbed glacial erratics indicating that the land had never been put into cultivation. An incredibly intact and diverse assembly of spring ephemerals typical of rich mesic forests (unlike the heath-family dominate dry forests and barrens that dominate the island) make Corson's Brook unique here and are further suggestive of its minimal level of disturbance (in relative terms- this is NYC, after all). I also found mention of mature american elm, and of course these two paragraphs were tantalizing:

"The stark, tall trunks and the light filtering through the leaves above creates the essence of a cave, but one that is airy and spacious. The smooth bark of the beech, the gruff texture of the shag hickory and the corrugated tulip stood democratically - separate but equal.

The beech and hickory rise about 70 feet in the air; the tulip tree over 90. The leaves aren't much lower. Brown's binoculars come in handy - not for birding, but for scanning leaves to distinguish between the black and the red oak."

200-year old forest-grown beech, hickory, and tuliptree on rich soils, of course, can be depended on to handily exceed the heights mentioned, of course, but the author can be forgiven out of the general lack of solid knowledge of tree heights- that's what the NTS is here for! So with all of that in mind, I managed to snag an hour in the woods on 11/8 to do some measuring. I believe I did cover most of the tallest section of forest but was selective in measuring due to time constraints. The small size of the forest makes it a good candidate for a more comprehensive measuring in the future.

Northern Red Oak:
White Oak:
American Elm:

A consistent pattern in any of Staten Island's more mesic forests is that tuliptree is absolutely dominant for height and commonly between 120'-130', with sweetgum just barely topping the oaks, which tend to top out between 105-115' in height regardless of age and diameter. White-Oak group species trend towards being a bit less tall than red-oak group species. No beech or sugar maple stood out in my walkthrough; I wonder if bark disease and asian longhorn beetle have reduced their presence (there is large deadwood on the ground in varying states of decay).

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Matt Markworth
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Re: Corson's Brook Woods, Staten Island

Post by Matt Markworth » Sat Dec 05, 2015 4:48 pm


Wow, cool to see that 130.3' tree! What's the tallest tree you've measured in NYC?


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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Corson's Brook Woods, Staten Island

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat Dec 05, 2015 5:03 pm

A 133.5' tuliptree in the nearby greenbelt park. I have a strong suspicion that there's a 140' tuliptree in here somewhere. There's one in queens that was previously measured to over 140', but I haven't gotten out there yet.

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Corson's Brook Woods, Staten Island

Post by Erik Danielsen » Fri Apr 01, 2016 7:59 pm

Today I had the chance to spend a couple hours more comprehensively surveying Corson's Brook Woods. It is a small site, just a few minute's brisk walk across the long way- I'd estimate I've now measured at least 40% of the tall trees in this forest and at least 70% of the species represented. It is an unusual set of species for Staten Island, more of a rich mesic hardwoods composition than the more typical dry oak-hickory. Nonetheless, red oak inevitably dominates the canopy, with the usual tuliptree emergents, sweetgum perhaps the next most important canopy component but past that the mixture here is unusually varied, with red maple, sugar maple, beech, bitternut hickory and white ash common in the wetter parts and black oak, white oak, and black birch where it's dryer. Black Tupelo and sassafras are less numerous while Swamp White Oak and Royal Pawlonia are present as single specimens. Spicebush and Ironwood are major understory components along with a number of heath-family shrubs I can't ID yet. The ground flora is already getting lush- abundant wild ramps, skunk cabbage, trout lily in flower and spring beauty getting ready.

This forest does provide an excellent "Old-Growth-Feel," with a healthy proportion of thick-boled stag-crowned specimens. Perhaps moreso than any other forest on the island. The tulips do get tall, and the whole forest certainly feels especially tall when you're wandering through it- but canopy heights here are not quantitatively higher than other locations. With gentle topography and plentiful edge exposure, the main driver of height here is probably the plentiful ever-reaching tuliptrees. Sites combining tall tulips with more sheltering topography and less plentiful light drive the tall canopies of sites like High Rock and Clove Lakes. The Pawlonia is the tallest I've measured so far, but I wouldn't be surprised to find a 120'+ specimen in the area eventually, given their incredible rate of growth. One incredible reaching black birch was a nice surprise. Highlights out of 62 measured:
Red Maple
Sugar Maple
Black Birch
Bitternut Hickory
American Beech
White Ash
Tuliptree 10 over 120' so far
Black Tupelo
Royal Pawlonia
White Oak
Swamp White Oak
Northern Red Oak
Black Oak
American Elm

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Corson's Brook Woods, Staten Island

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Aug 08, 2016 9:58 am

I've spent the leafed-out season preoccupied with herbaceous plants and invertebrates and very little tree-measuring. In pursuit of some rare ferns and some beautiful insects I wandered into the far western end of Corson's Brook woods, which I had somehow assumed was a lower-canopied, more disturbed section. I was surprised to find, instead, a wonderful collection of white ash trees of stature that's usually reserved here for large tulips. In their midst was one of the only large sycamores I've found on the island, and two very substantial elms that were clearly not in line with the island's more typical American Elms. Breaking strips of bark revealed solid chocolate-brown layers to confirm Slippery Elm, which is a bit of a rarity on Staten Island. I decided I'd have to return with my rangefinder ASAP.
Ebony Jewelwings haunt the deep shade of Corson's Brook
Ebony Jewelwings haunt the deep shade of Corson's Brook
8/7 I did so and was able to do some rough measuring. Hitting tops is nearly impossible with the dense midstory and canopy. I expect most of these to top out at least a few feet taller, particularly the Sycamore, and it's likely at least on Ash will break 110'. The exception is the tallest Slippery Elm, which is dying and therefore nearly bare of leaves. I'm glad I measured this tree when I did- the crown will probably see a lot of breakage this winter as it transitions to being a standing snag. The other, healthy slippery elm appears to be older and has a lot more mass, but is probably not as tall. It dominates the maples and oaks that share its canopy space, while the dying elm grew in competition with the tall ashes. After leaf-off I'll have to get the full heights and add girth measurements.
The base of the tall Slippery Elm
The base of the tall Slippery Elm
Bitternut Hickory
White Ash
London Plane Unusual to find in the forest interior
Swamp White Oak Substantial girth
Scarlet Oak
Northern Red Oak
Slippery Elm

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