Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

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Jess Riddle
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Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by Jess Riddle » Sun Mar 20, 2016 5:46 pm

14’5” circumference, 164.7’ tall second-growth tuliptree
14’5” circumference, 164.7’ tall second-growth tuliptree
Nts,

Conventional wisdom would not predict the spectacular forests of Tamassee Knob. Plains and valleys are the domain of agriculture, yet at Tamassee it is on the steep slopes specifically that the normal limits to tree growth are relaxed. This inversion of growth patterns traces back to a narrow band of rocks compressed between the land masses of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Piedmont. Some of the rocks in this band, the Brevard Belt, are rich in calcium and magnesium, and nutrients are more easily obtained by plants in the near-neutral soils they produce.
View north from Tamassee Knob across the surrounding Piedmont to the Blue Ridge Escarpment
View north from Tamassee Knob across the surrounding Piedmont to the Blue Ridge Escarpment
This situation also sets up a delightful study in contrasts along the trail to Tamassee Knob. The trail starts on a gently rolling plateau in Oconee State Park, and passes through an obviously acidic forest of 70’ tall scarlet oaks and shortleaf pines. As trail leaves the plateau and begins to follow the narrow ridge out to Tamassee Knob the forest changes dramatically. The dense evergreen understory of mountain-laurel and dwarf rhododendron gives way to red buds and silverleaf hydrangea, and you can see down the steep slopes on either side into forests of towering tuliptrees, oaks, and hickories. The big trees march so far up the slopes that even from the trail on the ridge-crest you have to look up to see their crowns.
Typical diverse, open cove forest on the slopes of Tamassee Knob.  The yellow leaves in the foreground are paw paw.
Typical diverse, open cove forest on the slopes of Tamassee Knob. The yellow leaves in the foreground are paw paw.
A mile to the south, the steep slopes fold in instead of jutting out and produce Station Cove. A popular trail leads through the broad flat bottom of the cove to a cascade where Station Creek tumbles into the cove. Here again, the big trees are associated not with the gentle terrain of the cove bottom, but with the steep slopes around its edge.


These areas used to be my regular stomping grounds when I lived in northwestern South Carolina, and they set the standard how well trees can grow in the “upstate”.
http://nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips ... e_knob.htm
http://nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips ... ter_nf.htm
http://nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips ... visted.htm
http://nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips ... ssee05.htm
http://nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips ... ctions.htm
http://nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips ... astend.htm
http://nativetreesociety.org/fieldtrips ... n_cove.htm

These trees had not been visited in over 10 years making them ripe for remeasurement. The intervening years allowed me to see the site with fresh eyes. I was struck by the shear abundance of large and tall trees. The forests generally seem slightly older than most second-growth in the Southern Appalachians, and large trees simply fill the coves. The consistent productivity of the coves is also striking. There is not a pocket of excellence with gradual diminishing growth moving away from it. Instead, almost every north facing cove has a record tree or near record tree (or several), and many of the south facing coves do too. Finally, the breadth of species that flourish at this site is remarkable. Rich cove species like tuliptree and bitternut hickory thrive, but so do shortleaf pine and a whole gaggle of oaks.

A few notes on the remeasurements. Measuring to a different top, different mid-slope position, and changes in how I read and steady the clinometer may all affect the height measurements. Overall, I suspect height growth is slightly overestimated. Circumferences should be more directly comparable, but they are still affected by lack of consistency in mid-slope position.
TamasseeMeasurements1.JPG
Current and historical measurements.  Gray cells indicate dead trees.  Trees that were not previously measured have “NA” listed for previous measurements.  All other trees were previously measured.  No attempt was made to relocated many other trees that were previously measured.
Current and historical measurements. Gray cells indicate dead trees. Trees that were not previously measured have “NA” listed for previous measurements. All other trees were previously measured. No attempt was made to relocated many other trees that were previously measured.
Where to start with the significance of these measurements? The mimosa and bitternut hickory are all time height records, and the shortleaf pine is essentially tied for the record. The pignut hickory is the second tallest known, and the tuliptree is tied for the tallest known tree in South Carolina. The pale hickory and black walnut are also state height records.
Tallest known bitternut hickory, 7’10” cbh x 166.3’ tall
Tallest known bitternut hickory, 7’10” cbh x 166.3’ tall
One of the two tallest known shortleaf pines, 6’9” cbh x 148.5’ tall
One of the two tallest known shortleaf pines, 6’9” cbh x 148.5’ tall
One of the two tallest known trees in South Carolina, a 9’7” cbh x 177.1’ tall tuliptree
One of the two tallest known trees in South Carolina, a 9’7” cbh x 177.1’ tall tuliptree
And then there are the oaks. The black, white, and chestnut oaks are all NTS height records, and the northern red oak is only a foot off. Interestingly, they are currently growing much faster than the tuliptrees in both height and girth; the tallest chestnut oak in particular is an extremely vigorous tree.
Tallest known black oak, 8’10” cbh x 145.2’ tall
Tallest known black oak, 8’10” cbh x 145.2’ tall
Second tallest known northern red oak, 9’6” cbh x 155.4’ tall
Second tallest known northern red oak, 9’6” cbh x 155.4’ tall
Tallest known chestnut oak, 9’1” cbh x 153.6’ tall
Tallest known chestnut oak, 9’1” cbh x 153.6’ tall
I was pleased to see survival was so high among the tallest trees. Of trees in the Rucker Index 10 years ago, nine are still standing. However, less common species have not fared as well. We may have already seen the peak in diversity of tall trees.
The former height record slippery elm.  The circumference has changed little since first measured, but the height is now considerably less.
The former height record slippery elm. The circumference has changed little since first measured, but the height is now considerably less.
TamasseeRucker.JPG
The Rucker Index just surpasses Savage Gulf placing it second among all sites in eastern North America. The only other reference I've seen to superlative forest in this area is from L. L. Gaddy's "A Naturalist's Guide to the Southern Blue Ridge Front". I believe these numbers paint a portrait of one of the most remarkable and unsung forests in the southeast.

Jess
Last edited by Jess Riddle on Sun Mar 20, 2016 7:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Lucas
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by Lucas » Sun Mar 20, 2016 7:39 pm

Geology is a key just like it is for lime, trout streams, and big trout.

Amazing numbers on those trees.
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by Erik Danielsen » Mon Mar 21, 2016 5:32 am

What an incredible place! The fantastic upward stretch of relatively thin trunks is tangible in your photos, really helping to conceptualize the numbers. I've become partial to chestnut oak and look forward to seeing how tall they might eventually grow there. Vigorous old-second-growth sites like this are just as exciting as old growth. That said, the primary forest on such soils must have been a sight to see...

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dbhguru
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by dbhguru » Mon Mar 21, 2016 7:39 am

Jess,

What a phenomenal place! I recall when you began reporting on Tamassee Knob years ago and shined the spotlight on that little corner of South Carolina. The region gained prominence in the minds of us Ents, but our outreach is limited, so Tamassee's role as a Mecca for tall eastern trees remains off the radar scope of the environmental and forestry organizations. Few have a clue. It is a little like Matt Markworth's report from the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Where does one hide a 178.9-foot tall white pine? How is it that 177-foot tall tuliptrees can go virtually unnoticed? And for that matter, how did we all miss 100-foot tall black birches until we refocused our vision, tuning out and tuning in?

These are not questions with a disguised criticism of others who haven't yet recognized these forest superlatives, but a desire to understand how the images of such trees impinge on our sensory systems. If we are to make our contribution matter in both the worlds of science an sport, we've got to unlock the mystery of how our minds judge physical dimensions.

Several days ago John Eichholz stopped by the house here for a visit. When he stepped out on the deck and looked at the oaks, tuliptrees, and pines on the property, he exclaimed aloud. He instantly saw them as having exceptional stature for trees in one's back yard. But John's got an eagle eye, a masters in mathematics, and years of experience. A more common response is "nice woods."

I'm still working to set up a meeting with Harvard Forest to get a serious scientific database started where we can supply a top notch forest scientific research organization with our data. We can continue to post on the BBS and clap for each other, but the big jump will be when our data is accepted as the gold standard for site measurements and individual species maximums. In the interim, thanks for the outstanding work you've done over the years.

Do you plan to get back to Flattop Mountain in North Georgia and see if any of the tulips have broken 170? Also, do you have a height to age profile in your mind for the tulips where they reach their maximums and then start to lose height from crown breakage? Limbs get too heavy and brittle - or whatever?

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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Josh Kelly
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by Josh Kelly » Mon Mar 21, 2016 10:37 am

Great Report, Jess! I visited Tamassee Knob two years ago at you and L.L. Gaddy's recommendation. It's a wonderful place. I think I saw the 14.6' tulip tree if it is on a south-facing slope.

Maybe a trip to remeasure Wadako is also in order? Patrick McMillan can get us access to 300 acres of private land on the north side....

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bbeduhn
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by bbeduhn » Mon Mar 21, 2016 2:39 pm

Jess,
That red elm obviously isn't the one I measured at Station. My red elm is just over 100 yards from the bitternut, across the stream from the trail. It has a large, spreading crown. Is the elm also the downed tree in the bitternut photo? I expected it to be close to the bitternut but the tallest I found was a good bit down trail. Is your 151' pignut also at Station, just across the creek? I got 149' this past summer and had trouble topping 148' recently but I figured it'd go above 150'.

The oaks continue to amaze. The chestnut shatters the record and the white just gets it.
Brian

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Jess Riddle
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by Jess Riddle » Mon Mar 21, 2016 9:59 pm

Bob,

Flat Top Mountain is high on the list of places to revisit. Not sure if I'll be able to get over there before things leaf out or not. Interesting questions about the tuliptree age-height relationship. I'm not sure that I've seen enough of them near their maximum height to know when it occurs, and I expect that peak age range to be fairly broad. Definitely well over 100 and less than 250, but I'm really not sure beyond that.

Josh,

Yes, the big tulip is on a south facing slope and quite prominent from the trail. Wadakoe is high on my list of places to remeasure too.

Brian,

Hmm, you're talking about different trees than I measured. Yes, I think the log in the bitternut photo was the red elm. Was the elm you measured just a few yards downstream of where the trail crosses the stream? The tall pignut is in a cove over a ridge from Station Cove. I was paying close attention to the hickories this time, and am confident red hickory is the most common species in the coves. Pignut is scarce, and all the individuals I saw were on ridge-tops, except for the one super tall one.

Jess

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bbeduhn
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by bbeduhn » Tue Mar 22, 2016 12:25 pm

Jess,
The elm is just a little downstream of the stream crossing. The hickory right by the stream crossing on the southerly facing side is clearly classic red. The others don't even resemble red in bark features. I did realize they didn't look classic pignut either but certainly appeared to be much closer to pignut. Habitat wise, pignut also makes more sense. I assume you looked at nuts but at this time of year it'd likely be inconclusive. I know red has tight bark on occasion but why would there be such a classic red, albeit low in the cove but still southerly facing, and then a totally different bark in a habitat more likely to grow pignuts just across the stream? I noticed the same pattern at Lee Branch. The first hickory I measured was classic red hickory on a drier slope. I saw hardly any others. One gave me pause as it had a bit of the deep, red bark around the bottom but I settled on pignut. The rest looked pignut.

Have you been to Big Creek since you originally measured there? Will called the ashes on the flats and the southeastern facing unnamed cove green ash. The Park Service sent in a Park botanist and called them Biltmore ash. Again, habitat favors green and the bark is clearly green vs. Biltmore as is the form. Biltmore tends to have alternating patterns. These green ash are consistent and their shape is a bit bendy, unlike white or Biltmore ash. That also brings up the ash at Station. Its bark looks clearly white ash. Biltmore is far more common in South Carolina. Why does that particular ash not even resemble Biltmore ash in bark features? I know you may not have answers for all of these questions but there is a need to bring them up.

It's not necessarily a bad thing for multiple Ents to visit a site.
Brian

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Jess Riddle
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by Jess Riddle » Tue Mar 22, 2016 9:17 pm

Brian,

Does your elm have a pronounced lean and a clump of rhododendron underneath the lean?

What do you consider typical pignut habitat?

Good question about the Station Cove Falls ash. I looked around for twigs underneath the tree, but I had trouble finding ones in good condition. I found just enough to make me lean towards Biltmore ash, which is the expected species in the area. I agree though, the bark doesn't really look like Biltmore, and is a good fit for white. This situation reminds me of Shakerag Hollow in Tennessee. Biltmore ash is common and the site, but the two largest and oldest ash had typical white ash bark. One possibility is that as Biltmore ash ages, the bark more closely resembles white ash. I'm not ready to bank on that idea yet though. It would be good to get some more definitive samples from the Station Cove tree.

I don't want to put words in Will's mouth, but I think he identified the Big Creek trees as green ash before any of us were aware of Biltmore ash. I disagree about the habitat and bark. Green ash is typically on sites that flood on at least a somewhat regular basis (at least in the southeast) and the bark of the Big Creek trees looked like typical Biltmore to me. Biltmore is also common at low elevations on other tributaries of the Pigeon River. I don't know of any reason to question the Park botanist's ID of the trees.

Jess

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bbeduhn
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Re: Tamassee Knob and Station Cove remeasurements, SC

Post by bbeduhn » Wed Mar 23, 2016 11:08 am

Jess,
Typical pignut habitat obviously covers a lot of ground. They can certainly grow on ridge tops and beside streams as well as most well drained areas in between. Red typically grows well above streams in the mountains. I always find it on higher ground, typically somewhat steep (yes, pignut likes that habitat as well). I can't imagine it would grow differently at a lower altitude, further south, in a very rich cove. I was surprised to see a classic red hickory near the falls but it is on the side that gets more direct sunlight. In Greensboro, in the Piedmont, the very few reds I've seen have been in dry, very well drained, higher areas, but is also associated with pignut. Near Asheville, reds and pignuts intersect on slopes and appear to have intermediate bark and fruits. With the fruits, it may just be the time of year. 3/4 dehiscent doesn't really prove anything to me. Some fruits just may do that naturally for either species. I'm dealing with a very tiny sample.

The white or Biltmore ash at Station is perplexing. I haven't seen big, old growth Biltmore ash. I certainly wouldn't expect the bark pattern to change to a more uniform pattern, rather a more patchwork pattern than usual. The green ash at Big Creek have a very uniform pattern, quite different from the Biltmore ash I see elsewhere ( Asheville area and South Carolina). Incidentally, they also have a greenish hue to them. They don't typically make it up into coves but Big Creek is a bit of an anomoly. There are plenty of these ash on the alluvial flats as well. I don't know how typically these flood. I've been at Big Creek at fairly high water and the flats were not flooded but after remnants of a hurricane pass through, I assume these would be flooded. These alluvial ashes also don't look like Biltmore ash. The forms are not a straight as I see from Biltmore either. They have more of an alligator pattern, which Biltmore can certainly get, but there is no change in pattern like I invariably see on Biltmore ash. In the cove, they don't make it very high. The ashes stop above a certain point. Biltmore grows well up into coves all over North Carolina, but I haven't yet observed it in the Smokies. While I have no reason to believe otherwise, I just haven't spent that much time in the Smokies since I started measuring trees.
On the south side of Big Creek (northerly facing), white ash is the only ash species I've seen. In Pisgah National Forest, white ash is typically in north facing coves at higher altitudes. There may be a different dynamic in the Smokies.
Brian

Edit: I'll be at Big Creek tomorrow and will get photos and twigs from the ash.

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