Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

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DougBidlack
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Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by DougBidlack » Fri Feb 26, 2016 5:37 pm

NTS,

after our conference ended on Thursday afternoon (11th of February) we had lunch at a great little BBQ place in Savannah before heading off to Congaree. As we neared the park we saw that the road that we wanted to take was closed due to damage from a great deal of flooding. We had come up from the southeast and now we were directed to go north instead of west like we wanted. We tried this for a while but Ellen got the great idea of using an app called waze..at least that's what I think it was called. This app gave us very up to date info on all the road closures and what would be the fastest route around them and it ended up working very well for us. We first went to check if Jess had arrived at the camping spot he had picked out. He wasn't there but we did find his reserved site and we left a note saying that we'd be back at 7:30 in the morning. We meant to check out the visitor center as well but it was already after 5 and so we just decided to take a short walk before getting dinner and heading off to our hotel room near Columbus. At the visitor center is this funny Mosquito Meter and it reminded us of one reason that this park is especially good to visit at this time of the year.
Congaree 1.jpg
We walked out back and onto the boardwalk and we were soon surrounded by a forest with many familiar trees like American beech, American holly and white oak among others. But we also started seeing lots of loblolly pines and sweetgums and these were not familiar to us at all. The boardwalk continued to go lower in elevation and into the swamp. We were now seeing plenty of water tupelo and baldcypress. Here is a picture of me next to a baldcypress.
Congaree 2.jpg
Not long after this the boardwalk was under water and we decided to turn back. We were left wondering how much wading we would have to do tomorrow.

The next morning we met Jess a little after 7:30 and by 8 or so we were happily on our way. Jess didn't seem to think that the water was as high as he thought it might be and that we might have a relatively easy time walking along the trails and maybe even off the trails. While on the boardwalk we had a red shouldered hawk fly just in front of us and we heard another with it's distinctive call off in the distance. This species is quite familiar to us as we have a pair that come back every year and nest practically in our backyard up in the red maples at the edge of a swamp. We also saw and heard an incredible number of other birds, especially woodpeckers, much to our delight. Soon we got off the boardwalk and onto a dirt trail as we headed towards the National Champion loblolly pine. It turns out that the pine can be easily seen from the trail and we were there before too long. Here is a picture of Ellen next to this amazing tree.
Congaree 3.jpg
Ellen said that the loblolly pines reminded here of the ponderosa pines that we had seen out west and Jess agreed that they do look quite similar. Now we were ready to measure our first tree but I realized that I had forgotten my tripod and reflectors back at the car! So, we hiked back to the car, picked up the tripod and reflectors and Ellen asked if I was sure I had everything. Naturally I was now sure I had everything because I had specifically packed my little backpack with all the measuring equipment I needed the night before. We headed back to the giant loblolly pine and began to get our stuff out to measure. Oh oh! Where was my Trupulse laser? That's right, it was back in the car because it didn't fit in my backpack after I'd already stuffed it full of books and my other equipment. Ellen asked Jess if she should kill me or would he prefer to do it. Jess just said that maybe we should just walk around and look for new trees off trail and get quick measurements and do the more involved measuring of this loblolly and others tomorrow. Ellen would later recount to others that "Jess was just a Saint!" So we left the tripod and reflectors at the base of the tree and headed in an easterly direction offtrail to look for nice trees. The first one that Jess spotted was a nice sweetgum that he measured to 143" x 148.0'. Here is a picture of Ellen next to this nice tree.
Congaree 4.jpg
After a little more walking Jess found a nice Possumhaw that he decided to measure. Off in the distance I spotted a large oak and I went to measure it. The oak turned out to be a swamp chestnut oak and it was 17.1' (205") in girth x 126' in height shooting straight up. What an incredible tree! Here is a picture of Ellen and the base of this swamp chestnut oak.
Congaree 5.jpg
The possumhaw that Jess measured turned out to be 29" x 44.2'. I would later learn that Tyler had already measured the swamp chestnut oak to 17' in girth not long ago but I don't know if he measured the possumhaw. So far the walking was actually quite easy with no wading required although it was quite muddy. We were almost always able to find a sort of 'bridge' over every little stream or bit of low ground that we encountered. Here is a picture of Jess crossing just such a bridge and Ellen not far behind him.
Congaree 6.jpg
I started asking Jess about each one of the oaks in Congaree and how the height stacked up against the tallest known anywhere. He basically said that it would be easier to talk about the bottomland oaks that were not tallest at Congaree! Here is a quick list of the tallest bottomland oak species in Congaree that I took from Tyler's excellent Congaree list.

160.2' Cherrybark Oak
157.6' Shumard Oak
144.7' Willow Oak
142.4' Overcup Oak
140.3' Swamp Chestnut Oak
134.0' Water Oak
130.1' Swamp Laurel Oak

This is what the list looked like before this particular trip and all but the willow oak and water oak were National height champions. The tallest willow oak is only slightly taller at 144.9' at Ocmulgee Flats in Georgia and the tallest water oak is 138.4' tall at Croft State Park in South Carolina. Of course there are bottomland oaks of eastern North America that just don't occur in Congaree like Nutall's, pin and swamp white oaks. Still, Congaree is a true Mecca for anyone that loves oaks, especially bottomland oaks!

Since Jess knew that I especially liked oaks he was going to show me some very nice ones. The first that we would encounter was a giant overcup oak. I think this might be the largest in the park but I don't remember. Here is a shot looking up at this tree.
Congaree 7.jpg
And a picture of me next to this overcup oak. Ellen was hoping for an action shot of me falling into the water while making my way to the base of this tree. Sorry to disappoint!
Congaree 8.jpg
Before long we were walking on trails again and we came upon this nice slough scene.
Congaree 9.jpg
We soon came to another impressive overcup oak. Here is a picture of the full tree.
Congaree 10.jpg
And another shot of the base of the tree.
Congaree 11.jpg
After more hiking on the trail we came to a large fallen cherrybark oak that took quite a bit of earth with it and we thought it would make for an odd photo.
Congaree 12.jpg
Not much farther along we came to another large cherrybark oak right along the trail. Jess described the characteristic long, clean bole of this species with an incredible crown spread way up top. Here is a shot looking up at this truly regal species.
Congaree 13.jpg
Here is Ellen standing next to this tree.
Congaree 14.jpg
Jess also mentioned that sweetgums are the dominant trees of the Congaree and here is a picture of some tall ones that we saw after walking off the trail a little bit.
Congaree 15.jpg
Not far away we saw a nice sycamore which is relatively uncommon in Congaree as compared to the bottomland forests that I'm used to seeing in places like southern Illinois and Indiana. Here is a picture of it shining in the sun.
Congaree 16.jpg
Very close to where I took this picture Jess was busy measuring a boxelder. He measured it to 93" x 89.2' and I believe he thought this was a remeasure. Here is the boxelder.
Congaree 17.jpg
Although most people don't generally think much of this species I very much like the purplish or bluish new growth of boxelders in Winter or early Spring. Jess said that the new growth is green rather than blue in the Congaree. And I believe he said this was the only or perhaps one of the only tree species native in all 48 contiguous states. A very adaptable species to be sure.

Eventually Jess led us to the largest cherrybark oak in South Carolina. Here is a picture of me next to this enormous cherrybark.
Congaree 18.jpg
While we were walking out of the park Jess found a really tall pawpaw right along the trail. It measured 20" x 60.9' and I believe it is now the tallest known pawpaw. Here is a picture of the base of the tree. Unfortunately the full tree shot turned out to be nearly useless in the fading light of the forest.
Congaree 19.jpg
After reaching the parking lot we decided to meet up again at 7:30 AM and start directly for the national champion loblolly pine. I'll say more about this in part 2.

Doug

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dbhguru
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by dbhguru » Fri Feb 26, 2016 8:01 pm

Doug,

Great report. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. One forgets just how impressive the Congaree trees, and especially the oaks are.

Bob
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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Will Blozan
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by Will Blozan » Fri Feb 26, 2016 8:08 pm

Doug,

Excellent! Man, I do wish I could have joined you all.

BTW- there are two taller paw paws known, one in TN 62' and one in MD ~64'.

Will

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tsharp
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by tsharp » Sat Feb 27, 2016 12:26 am

Doug, Will:
Pawpaw 67.4' at Scotts Run Nature Preserve in Virginia. Where is the one in Maryland?

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Will Blozan
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by Will Blozan » Sat Feb 27, 2016 8:12 am

tsharp wrote:Doug, Will:
Pawpaw 67.4' at Scotts Run Nature Preserve in Virginia. Where is the one in Maryland?
WOW!!! I missed that one- holy moly. Darian Copiz hit one on the C&O Canal NHP, MD side.

-Will

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Lucas
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by Lucas » Sat Feb 27, 2016 1:32 pm

Great report.

So I assume that all trees over 140' have been found and measured in Congaree.
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

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DougBidlack
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by DougBidlack » Sat Feb 27, 2016 5:55 pm

Bob,
I finally got to see what all the fuss was about and every time Will, Jess, Tyler or anyone else posts on Congaree I'll get the same wonderful trip down memory lane.

Will,
wish you could have made it too! Maybe next time. I completely forgot about those other pawpaws even though I think Jess mentioned the one in MD when we were talking about them.

Turner,
man I really need to check our own database! I completely forgot about that tree in VA too. I really need to start putting my own measurements into the database...it really wouldn't take too long.

Lucas,
do you mean tree or tree species? I'm sure the answer to both is likely no but I should let those who know the park much better answer your question.

Doug

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bbeduhn
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by bbeduhn » Mon Feb 29, 2016 8:42 am

What a fine ENTS excursion! The tallest water oak is the one at Congaree. The Croft measurement must have been a measurement of a taller tulip crown behind a water oak. On subsequent measuring trips, the tallest water oak I found was 119'.
Brian

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Tyler
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by Tyler » Mon Feb 29, 2016 10:38 am

Doug,

I measured that fallen cherrybark back in 2013 to 17' 4" X 145'. Here's a pic of it. The shumard oak in the foreground is the other tree that went down when the cherrybark fell over.
DSCF0019.JPG
Tyler

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Tyler
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Re: Congaree National Park, SC (Part 1)

Post by Tyler » Mon Feb 29, 2016 10:41 am

Lucas,

I think there are a few more species capable of reaching 140' that have not been confirmed yet. Water Hickory, Green Ash and possibly the tallest water oak as it hasn't been measured in eleven growing seasons. Water Tupelo may be another as the tallest are second growth and still growing rapidly.

Tyler

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