Frozen Head State Park, TN

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Jess Riddle
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Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by Jess Riddle » Fri Nov 27, 2015 7:16 pm


From a distance, Frozen Head State Park and the surrounding Cumberland Mountains in northeastern Tennessee look like they could be part of the Blue Ridge Mountains or the Catskills. They have the same crumbled appearance and densely-forested, steep slopes. However, winter reveals one stark difference: Frozen Head is deciduous. Deciduous trees are at home in other eastern mountain ranges, but conifers maintain enclaves on high peaks or dry rocky ridges. Around Frozen Head, entire mountain slopes go bare as the days shorten. Oaks cover the ridges while tuliptree, basswood, buckeye, black cherry and other moist site hardwoods fill the coves. Scattered ferns and moss, isolated patches of mountain laurel, and hemlocks along the streams at the foot of the mountains are the only winter green. Crinkled, papery leaves clinging to the widespread understory sugar maples are the only leaves that remain aloft.
Oak forest on ridge with New York fern
Oak forest on ridge with New York fern
Flame azalea
Flame azalea
Soils are often rocky, but seem rich over much of the park. Nutrient demanding species like yellowwood and shagbark hickory are common in the mature, second-growth forests. However, tree height drops off rather abruptly going up the slopes. We encountered few trees of notable height above 2500’ elevation, and the tallest trees for most species were around 2000’ or lower. Contrastingly, the Smokies, not much farther south, maintain excellent growing conditions for many hardwoods up to around 3600’.
FrozenHeadMeasurements1.JPG (62.04 KiB) Viewed 2100 times
FrozenHeadMeasurements2.JPG (66.5 KiB) Viewed 2100 times
Rucker 10 height index
Rucker 10 height index
FrozenHeadRuckerIndex.JPG (30.34 KiB) Viewed 2100 times
6’8” cbh x 113.1’ black gum
6’8” cbh x 113.1’ black gum
I think the shagbark hickory is the most significant tree since it’s within only a few feet of the all-time record for the species. Ironically, it was the first tree I measured in the area, and I didn’t think it was going to be significantly tall at the time. I’d like to remeasure that tree and search the surrounding area more carefully. The white pine was one of the few scattered amongst the hemlocks at the base of the mountains. The other species generally fall short of the Smokies and Savage Gulf, though the chestnut oak isn’t far off of a height record and the black cherries are consistently tall. Combined though, the Rucker Index of over 140’ is impressive.

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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by bbeduhn » Sun Sep 17, 2017 2:49 pm

What trails did you take? I didn't go there to measure trees but observed primarily old growth forest with a likely TN record red hickory. I didn't see many huge trees but large trees are common. Big sugars and buckeyes inhabit steep slopes at the east end of the natural area. I'll try to get there this winter to measure.

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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by ElijahW » Sun Sep 05, 2021 9:29 am


As a few of you know, I recently moved to Tennessee. I haven’t posted anything in a while, but rest assured, I have been busy in the tree-measuring department.

My first project is an update of the survey of Frozen Head State Park & Natural Area that Jess Riddle reported on a few years ago, which I effectively completed the first week of September. Though I plan to revisit and re-measure some areas after leaf-off this fall, I’ve covered roughly 44 of the ~45 miles of hiking trails within the Natural Area, and believe a report now is appropriate.

I’ll present the numbers first and wrap up with a few general thoughts.

Here’s what I found:

Red Maple Acer rubrum

Sugar Maple Acer saccharum
133.4’ x 7.52’

Yellow Buckeye Aesculus flava

Pawpaw Asimina triloba
31.5’ x 0.82’

Black Birch Betula lenta
104.6’ x 4.48’
109.0’ x 7.55’

Bitternut Hickory Carya cordiformis
134.8’ x 7.20’

Pignut Hickory Carya glabra
126.2’ x 6.83’
127.6’ x 6.05’

Red Hickory Carya ovalis
132.5’ x 12.58’
135.5’ x 7.14’
147.3’ x 7.77’
152.7’ x 7.88’

Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata
130.5’ x 5.57’
143.8’ x 6.25’
165.5’ x 8.20’ (Re-measure of Jess Riddle’s tree)

Mockernut Hickory Carya tomentosa
119.5’ x 5.22’

American Beech Fagus grandifolia

White Ash Fraxinus americana
111.4’ (dying)

Biltmore Ash Fraxinus biltmoreana
149.0’ (Dead)

Black Walnut Juglans nigra
139.7’ x 6.55’

Mountain-laurel Kalmia latifolia
18.0’ x 0.92’

Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua
133.5’ x 7.15’

Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera
106.5’ x 14.38’
170.1’ x 9.54’

Cucumber Magnolia Magnolia acuminata
120.0’ x 11.48’
131.1’ x 8.94’

Blackgum Nyssa sylvatica
76.5’ x 8.15’
93.1’ x 8.46’
120.2’ x 7.05’

Sourwood Oxydendrum arboretum
65.5’ x 4.05’

Shortleaf Pine Pinus echinata
98.3’ x 5.24’

Eastern White Pine Pinus strobus
144.1’ (double trunk; likely Jess Riddle’s tree)

American Sycamore Platanus occidentalis

Bigtooth Aspen Populus grandidentata

Black Cherry Prunus serotina
121.6’ x 12.33’
142.5’ x 7.26’

White Oak Quercus alba
135.3’ x 9.67’
138.6’ x 10.07’

Scarlet Oak Quercus coccinea
120.2’ x 7.78’

Chestnut Oak Quercus montana
133.6’ x 5.96’
135.8’ x 7.47’
150.7’ x 7.53’ (Re-measure of Jess Riddle’s tree)

Northern Red Oak Quercus rubra
135.5’ x 10.78’
140.1’ x 9.41’
145.3’ x 8.86’

Black Oak Quercus velutina
140.2’ x 7.00’ (likely Jess Riddle’s tree)

Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia

White Basswood Tilia americana var. heterophylla

Eastern Hemlock Tsuga canadensis

Slippery Elm Ulmus rubra

Rucker 10 Height Index: 151.8’

Rucker 20 Height Index: 143.9’

The obvious stars of the show at Frozen Head, at least height-wise, are the Shagbark Hickory and Chestnut Oak. The Shagbark, barring an unreported impressive growth spurt by a Savage Gulf tree, is a species record. The Chestnut Oak ought to be pretty close to a species record as well, though I don’t know how close. Both trees (and most of the tall trees in general) are growing along rocky streams near the bottom of steep drainages. My guess is that both trees are second-growth, as most of the Natural Area has a history of heavy human disturbance (logging & mining).

Red Hickory is the sleeper here, at least to me. I listed five trees over 140’ tall above, but I actually measured several more at least as tall and didn’t record them. A 160’ Red Hickory is a possibility here, especially given the species’ habitat flexibility and the amount of suitable areas existing away from marked trails.

As Jess mentioned in his report, conifers are largely absent from Frozen Head as a whole. White Pine, Virginia Pine, and Hemlock are readily found in the lower elevations of the State Park (outside the Natural Area), but only White Pine (and really only sapling examples) seem to persist as elevation increases. The Shortleaf Pines were found in a small area on the Ross Gap Trail, in a dry, Chestnut Oak-dominated stand.

Native Tree Species (& Tree-Sized Shrubs) Observed but Not Measured:

Common Persimmon
American Holly
American Chestnut
Flowering Dogwood
+ A Few Forgotten Species

Last edited by ElijahW on Sun Sep 05, 2021 8:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by BeeEnvironment2020 » Sun Sep 05, 2021 1:59 pm

That is surely a nice place Elijah! I never knew you moved to TN, but I confidently believe you will make great contributions from there!

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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by ElijahW » Sun Sep 05, 2021 8:42 pm


Thanks. After years of complaining about and being disgruntled with certain things in New York, I finally got serious and left. I’ll still be back from time to time, but Tennessee is my home now.


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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by BeeEnvironment2020 » Mon Sep 06, 2021 8:10 am


Yeah, I have heard some certain negative things about New York as well. Glad to know that you will be contributing from beautiful Tennessee!

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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by bbeduhn » Tue Sep 07, 2021 11:22 am


Whoa! I didn't know you had moved to Tennessee. I have spent just a little time at Frozen Head but I have some ideas on where else to look for trees. There's quite a bit of old growth in Frozen Head. I didn't get off trail anywhere but I did notice an outstanding stand of tulips on the eastern side of the park. The old growth I saw didn't appear to have exceptional height but some of it is quite steep and may yield results further down than I was. Northern hardwood forest dominated on the eastern side and oak/hickory dominated on the western side.

The shagbark is absolutely incredible! The chestnut oak is only the second to surpass 150'. A nearly 160' sycamore and 150'+ red hickory, a 140'+ black oak and black cherry, and bigtooth aspen! I believe the Smokies in TN, has a few areas with BTA. You're going to enjoy tree hunting this year!

Edit: You single handedly moved Frozen Head from #20 to #9, passing Congaree for RHI! Tennessee is now just 1' behind South Carolina for #2 among states. NC is still way in front.

I think you're right about red hickory going taller. I would expect 160'+, perhaps even approaching 170'. The shag and the oaks have grown very quickly. They're not inching up by any means. You may find a couple of more height records in the next few years. Hickory dominated sites often tend not to have exceptional tulips. Tulips just barely beat out the hickories in the best hickory sites, and in SC, hickories sometimes even beat tulips. Bitternut seems to drop off considerably as you head west in Tennessee. It's tall in the Smokies but drops at Frozen Head and the Cumberland Plateau. Mockernut should go higher at Frozen Head. I believe that is the second tallest walnut recorded. The chestnut oak is just 3' off the record.


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Erik Danielsen
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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:02 pm


It's great to see a survey like this at a highly productive site in the Cumberland plateau, and especially the diversity of tall species. I mentioned on the phone before how the cumberland and allegheny plateaus are two segments of more or less a single formation, so you may have moved hundreds of miles but in a certain geographic sense you really haven't left "home," just went down the hall to a warmer room. I look forward to reading more of what you'll turn up in the region. Measuring Yellow Buckeye must be a treat!

Shagbark and Chestnut Oak make a nice duo. In both cases there's a big gap between the tallest and next-tallest you've listed- do you think there are more intermediate individuals, or at the tallest real standouts compared to the rest?

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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by ElijahW » Mon Sep 13, 2021 8:03 pm


I measured at least one additional Chestnut Oak over 140’ tall that I didn’t record, but it was in the same area as the tall one. I also didn’t focus on girth measurements for that species and probably should have; several individuals were over 10’ CBH.

Shagbark Hickory is a different case, and I do believe that the tallest tree is an anomaly. Another Shagbark might be found to reach 150,’ but anything over that is doubtful, in my opinion. I would put money on a Red Hickory reaching 160’ before another Shagbark.


Thanks for the encouragement. After some communication with Jess, I fully agree with your take on the growth rates at Frozen Head. As I understand, Jess’s measurements were from 2008, and many of these trees should keep on growing at a good pace, making for the possibility of more height records to come.

The only marked trails I didn’t cover are about 0.2 miles of the Old Prison Mine Trail and the trails to what is labeled “The Garden Spot.” I also covered only a small portion of the marked Jeep trails.

I got into some old growth, but it was only in small pockets and generally close to the ridge line (around 3000’ of elevation). The largest ring count I got from a fallen tree was a Red Hickory, at 200, approximately 20’ up the trunk. I had several ring counts dating trees back to around 1890 in the more productive areas, corresponding roughly to the commencement of the prison/mining activities on the mountain. The lower elevation trees seem much younger, probably dating back to the mid-twentieth century. I would really like to see some old Yellow Buckeye, as most of the ones I came across looked fairly young.


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Re: Frozen Head State Park, TN

Post by bbeduhn » Wed Sep 15, 2021 10:18 am


Much of the old growth is along the Old Mac Trail. I recall red, white, and black oaks, along with some red and mockernut hickories. I didn't see any serious height but there is definitely some girth along that trail.

The beautiful Northern hardwood forest is along the Lookout Tower Jeep Trail. It's east facing at the top of Straight Creek. The terrain is fairly steep and has an abundance of rocks. It's very lush and looks old growth in spots but I didn't see any large trees. Lower altitude may hold some larger and taller trees. Looking at Google Earth, the forest appears to be second growth but it's tough to tell from the resolution and presence of leaves.

Armes Gap, on Rte. 116, Petros Highway, is where the Jeep Trail and Gillontine Trail intersect the road. The Gillontine Trail heads east to the powerline cut. Just past the powerline cut, a tributary of Flatrock Creek has a nice looking stand of tulips. I was doing a race at the time and couldn't investigate them, but they appeared to be large for second growth, and they gave me the impression of Smokies tulip stands. The cove is northeast facing, ideal for tall tulip growth.


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