2011 Update: Wissahickon Valley Park, Pa.

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#1)  2011 Update: Wissahickon Valley Park, Pa.

Postby George Fieo » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:06 pm


Wissahickon Valley Park is one of 63 parks within the Fairmount Park System located in the Northwest section of Philadelphia.  The Wissahickon Creek flows seven miles through the parks 1400 acres.  The creek has carved a 160-240' deep gorge and has been a popular scenic attraction for more than 150 years.  The terrain is steep and rugged with many large outcrops.

Near the ridgeline looking west over the Wissahickon Creek.

P1030624 Stitch.jpg
Large outcrops.

Will Blozan, John Eichholz, and Scott Wade have all posted reports of this park between 2003 and 2006.  I made a dozen measuring trips to the park between October and December of 2011 and several in the Spring of 2012.  I located many new height records and a few new state champs so I'll try to keep it short. Will's predicted heights for several species was right on the money!

Black birch is common throughout much of the park and is a new Pa. height record.  John measured the previous height champ in 2005 within the park at 8' x 113.5'.  The first tree I measured to surpass this height is along the bank of a severely eroded drainage.  It's girth is an estimate and measures ~6' x 114.9'.  The new state height champ measures 5'4" x 115.4'.  The largest Black birch weighed in at 8'5" x 106'.

Black gum has some impressive individuals.  I documented three specimens with girths over 8' with heights exceeding 100'.  The tallest is 8'4" x 119.3' and a new NE height record.

Eastern hemlock compliments the ruggedness of the gorge.  They are frequent through most of the park but are most prevailant along the creek's eastern slopes.  Hemlock commonly reach a height of 100'.  I documented  twelve specimens that surpassed 120', there are likely more, and three of those where more than 131'.  The tallest measured 8'9" x 138.1'.  Two hemlocks had girths over 10' and measured 10'1" x 117.9' and 10'7" x 125.3'  The majority of hemlocks appeared healthy with lush dark green crowns.

My brother Rob with the 8'9" x 138.1' Eastern hemlock.

Sassafras in the Wissahickon have excellent form with slender, clean straight boles.  Some of the best examples I've seen in SE Pa.   Many have girths of 5' or more and heights between 80-90'.  The largest forest grown specimen measured 10' x 97.6'.

P1030558 Stitch.jpg
Me with a 10' x 97.6' Sassafras

Oaks are a major component of the park's forest.  Five species of oak were observed and include black, chestnut, northern red, scarlet, and white.  All species have one or more specimens with girths over 11'.  The largest is a Northern red measuring 13'5" x 121.5'.  The oaks have a RI5 of 129.08'.  The tallest is a 10'8" x 136' Black oak growing in a nearly pure stand of Tulip poplars.  The tallest Northern red oak measured 10'8" x 135.9'.

DSCF0130 Stitch.jpg
Rob with an 11'10" x 121.3' Scarlet oak.

Four species of hickory occur in the park and they are noticeably sparse.  Bitternut is commonly found along the Wissahickon Creek.  Although it's the most abundant of the hickories, I measured only one specimen.  It's a new NE height record and only the second hardwood species in Pa. to reach a height of 150'.  It measures 7'8" x 150.1'.  I walked past this tree several times before I realized it was a bitternut.  Pignut is infrequent, usually in small stands on the upper slopes and ridges.  Two specimens recorded girths over 10'.  The largest is a new Pa. state champion at 10'9" x 133.8'.  Shagbark and mockernut are rare.  I saw three individuals combined.

Susan G Komen 022.JPG
Canopy view of the 7'8" x 150.1' Bitternut hickory.

DSCF0167 Stitch.jpg
Rob at the base of the new state champ pignut hickory at 10'9" x 133.8'

Two species of ash inhabit the park.  White ash is found primarily between mid-slope and the ridgeline.  I was unable to locate a white ash taller than the 7.3' x 135.7' specimen Will located in 2003.  I sampled more than three dozen ash saplings throughout the park.  Of those only two were white ash and were found near the ridgeline.  While green ash saplings are widely distributed, reaching the upper slopes, mature trees are found along the creek and drainage bottoms.  Three green ash had heights over 139'.  The tallest may be a new East Coast height record at 9'8" x 146.4'.      

Canopy view of the 9'8" x 146.4' Green ash.

Naturally occuring stands of White pine are long gone but instead are found in a half dozen plantations scattered throughout the park.  The majority of these plantations have pines in the 120's with the exception of one.  This grove is on a north facing slope along the Cresheim Creek.  Pines here average in the upper 130's with several surpassing 140'.  The tallest measured 6'6" x 141.9'

Plantation with 140' White pine.

Sycamore is most prevailant along the banks of the Wissahickon where it attains it's largest size.  They are also commonly found along Cresheim Creek which is a tributary of the Wissahickon.  About a mile upstream of it's confluence with the Wissahickon is where sycamore achieves it's greatest height.  The tallest measures ~10'1" x 148.3' and rivals the Baker Island state height champion in the Allegheny River.  I believe the Baker Island sycamore was last measured in 2008 at 12.1' x 147.7'.

Tulip poplar is the true monarch of the Wissahickon Valley.  No other species can match their height and girth.  Tulips 148' in height are common and widespread.  I typically document every species that meets the 12' x 100' criteria.  I did not have the time or energy to tackle this task with the tulips so I decided to hunt a much larger quarry, 12' x 150' tulips.  A sheltered cove in the northeast section of the park supports a 13' x 140', a 15' x 140', two 14' x 150', and three 17' x 140' poplars.  I was able to locate and document six tulips into the elusive 12' x 150' club.  Two tulips with heights of 160' were located  between the Wissahickon Creek and Forbidden Drive.  This is the area where Will documented the 158.6' tulip back in 2003.  The tallest tulip measured 10'7" x 162.3'.

Two large Tulip poplars with the last of their fall foliage.

DSCF0154 Stitch.jpg
Rob with a 15'1" x 150.7' Tulip Poplar.  What appears to be the lowest limb is actually a supressed poplar growing near the base of the giant tulip.

P1030687 Stitch.jpg
Me at the base of the 10'7" x 162.3' Tulip poplar.

Large carpets of english ivy, euonymus, pachysandra, and periwinkle can cover as much as several acres.  Non-native shrubs and trees are also associated with these coverings.  They mark the sites of old dwellings that once existed in the park.  One of these sites has two exceptionally tall London planetrees.  The tallest measured 10'6" x 146.8'.  It's possibly the tallest non-native hardwood along the East Coast.

Understory species are impressive as well.  Devils walkingstick is everywhere and is a new state champion.  It measures 1'11.5" x 37.6'.  Witch hazel is also a new state champ and measures 2'.5" x 37.1' with a whopping spread of 42' x 57'.  Umbrella magnolia is widespread, often in large colonies.  Two specimens recorded heights over 70'.  The tallest measured 2'10" x 72.1' and could be a new East Coast height record.    

New state champion Witch-Hazel at 2'.5" x 37.1"

Wissahickon Valley Park currently has a Rucker Height Index of 142.85'.  

Wissahickon Valley Park Site Index
Species                      CBH          Height         Comment
Ailanthus                    6'6"           103.7'         Clean, straight bole
A Beech                      12'3"         107.7'          
A Beech                      10'7'          126.2'
A Beech                      7'2"           130.1'
Big Tooth Aspen          6'4"           106.6'          
Bitternut Hickory         7'8"           150.1'         New NE Height
Black Birch                  8'5'            106'
Black Birch                  ~6'            114.9'
Black Birch                  5'4"           115.4'         New PA Height
Black Cherry(2x)          ~7'            108.8'
Blackgun                     8'4"           103.8'
Blackgum                    8'5"           104.3'
Blackgum                    8'4"           119.3'         New NE Height
Black Locust                6'5'           117.7'
Black Oak                   10'6"          126.5'
Black Oak                   10'8"          136'            New NE Height, With 140' tulips
Black Walnut               9'6"           111.6'         Great form
Black Walnut               6'3"           122.7'         Tree Will first measured?
Chestnut Oak              7'3"           121.8'
Chestnut Oak              10'6"         124.3'
Cottonwood                12'5"          104.8'
Devils Walking Stick  1'11"          37.6'            New State Champ
E Hemlock                 10'1"          117.9'
E Hemlock                 8'10"          121'
E Hemlock                 8'2"            123.5'
E Hemlock                 6'10"          123.6'  
E Hemlock                 9'2"            123.9'
E Hemlock                 9'11"          125.1'  
E Hemlock                 10'7'           125.3'
E Hemlock                  7'8"           126'
E Hemlock                  7'5"           126.7'
E Hemlock                  NA            127.2'
E Hemlock                  7'1"           131.6'
E Hemlock                  9'6"           132.3'
E Hemlock                  8'9"           138.1
Green Ash                  9'              139.4'
Green Ash                  9'10"         144'
Green Ash                  9'8"           146.4'          New East Coast Height?
London Planetree        10'6"         146.8'          New East Coast Height?
Mockernut Hickory      5'6"           116.1'
N Red Oak                  11'4"         130.5'
N Red Oak                  11'2"         134.2'
N Red Oak                  10'8"         135.9'
Pignut Hickory            10'7"         110.8'
Pignut Hickory            6'2"           123.6'
Pignut Hickory            10'9"         133.8'          New PA State Champ
Red Maple                  7'5"           97.8'
Sassafras                   10'2"         91.8'
Sassafras                   10'            97.6'          Forest grown
Sassafras                   8'3"           99.6'          Forest grown
Sassafras                   5'6"           100.1'        Forest grown
Scarlet Oak                11'11"        112.1'
Scarlet Oak                11'8"          113.1'
Scarlet Oak                11'10"        121.3'
Scarlet Oak                9'              124.7'
Shagbark Hickory       5'7"           122.4'
Sugar Maple               9'10"         104.6'         Planted
Sycamore                   6'9"           131.3'
Sycamore                   9'3"           132.9'
Sycamore                  ~10'1"        148.3'         New PA Height?
Tulip Poplar               11'11"        153.7'
Tulip Poplar               9'8"            154.7'
Tulip Poplar               7'11"          156.3'
Tulip Poplar               7'9"            160.9'
Tulip Poplar               10'7'           162.3'
Umbrella Magnolia     3'                55.5'
Umbrella Magnolia     2'8"             70.4'
Umbrella Magnolia     2'10"           72.1'          East Coast Height?
White Ash                11'11"          130.9'
White Oak                11'7"           118.3'
White Oak                9'4"             121.4'
White Oak                10'3"           121.6'
White Oak                9'3"             123.4'
White Oak                10'1"           124.5'
White Pine                9'               120.8'
White Pine                6'5"            140'
White Pine                7'2"            140.3'
White Pine                6'7"            141.3'
White Pine                6'6"            141.9'
Witch Hazel              2'.5"            37.1'           New PA State Champ

Wissahickon Valley Park 12' x 100' Club
Species                     CBH            Height
A Beech                     12'3"           107.7'
Ash spp.                    13'5"           124.3'
Black Oak                 ~12'2"          121.6'          Ivy on trunk
Black Oak                  12'              129.4'
Chestnut Oak            12'6"           103.2'          Upper crown is dead
Cottonwood              12'5"           104.8'
N Red Oak                13'5"           121.5'
N Red Oak                12'8"           126.6'
N Red Oak                12'4"           130.3'
Tulip Poplar              14'1"           133.5'
Tulip Poplar              16'8"           134.6'
Tulip Poplar              16'7"           138'
Tulip Poplar              13'2"           140.9'
Tulip Poplar              14'3"           140.9'
Tulip Poplar             ~17'1"          141.8'          Ivy on trunk
Tulip Poplar              14'7"           143.5'
Tulip Poplar              17'1"           146.4'
Tulip Poplar              15'4"           146.5'
Tulip Poplar              12'2"           148'
Tulip Poplar              17'              148'
Tulip Poplar              12'10"         149.3'
Tulip Poplar              12'1"           149.6'

Wissahickon Valley Park 12' x 150' Club
Species                    CBH            Height
Tulip Poplar              12'9"           150.5'
Tulip Poplar              14'1"           150.5'
Tulip Poplar              14'6"           150.6'
Tulip Poplar              15'1"           150.7'
Tulip Poplar              12'9"           151'
Tulip Poplar              14'9"           153.2'      
Wissahickon Valley Park Rucker Index
Species                    CBH             Height        Coordinates                            Measurer
Tulip Poplar              10'7"            162.3'         N40 02.720 x W75 12.725        Fieo          
Bitternut Hickory      7'8"              150.1'         N40 04.119 x W75 13.298        Fieo
Sycamore                 ~10'1"           148.3'         N40 03.709 x W75 11.954       Fieo
Green Ash                9'8"              146.4'         N40 04.125 x W75 13.295        Fieo
White Pine               6'6'               141.9'         N40 03.114 x W75 12.600        Fieo
E Hemlock                8'9"              138.1'         N40 03.937 x W75 13.238        Fieo
Black Oak                 10'8"            136'            N40 02.036 x W75 12.055        Fieo        
N Red Oak                10'8"             135.9'                                                      Fieo
White Ash                7.3'               135.7'                                                      Blozan
Pignut Hickory          10'9"             133.8'        N40 02.030 x W75 12.286         Fieo

RI                                                142.85'

For this message the author George Fieo has received Likes - 6:
Chris, Larry Tucei, sjhalow, Steve Galehouse, tsharp, Will Blozan
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#2)  Re: 2011 Update: Wissahickon Valley Park, Pa.

Postby dbhguru » Tue Nov 06, 2012 9:00 am

Holy Quacamole, George! You are a measuring machine. What an incredibly productive trip. You don't post often, but when you do, you set the bar higher for the rest of us. And a RI of 142.85! I'm green with envy. Fantastic report. We now know what a special forest southern PA can produce.

Robert T. Leverett
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Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
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#3)  Re: 2011 Update: Wissahickon Valley Park, Pa.

Postby bbeduhn » Tue Nov 06, 2012 2:16 pm

Damn, George, I didn't think some of those figures were possible in the Northeast.  Black oak at 136'?  Black birch at 115'?  Black gum at 119'?  The ashes are spectacular as well, along with the usual suspects.  Excellent work and thorough work!
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#4)  Re: 2011 Update: Wissahickon Valley Park, Pa.

Postby ElijahW » Thu Nov 08, 2012 9:31 pm


Those are some incredible trees!  Well done and congratulations on the fruits of your labor.  That hemlock resembles the form of a forest-grown fir or spruce from a distance (fairly straight bole, not much for lower limbs).  Very impressive.  

How did you find out about this place?  Is it difficult to access?  I'd like to visit sometime, if possible.  Keep up the good work.

"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks
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#5)  Re: 2011 Update: Wissahickon Valley Park, Pa.

Postby sjhalow » Fri Nov 09, 2012 9:49 pm

Really incredible trees.
Must've been a lot of fun documenting all those monsters!
Neat to see hickories better than 150' in the northeast.
I've find a lot of bitternuts up to 130' in my area, and have been wondering what there ultimate height potential might be.
Perhaps if they are left to grow for another 50 years or so, they will rival Wissahickon.
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#6)  Re: 2011 Update: Wissahickon Valley Park, Pa.

Postby Larry Tucei » Mon Nov 12, 2012 12:00 pm

George,   Wow what a superb report!  So many large and tall trees. The listing you established is amazing, I would love to see Wissahickon someday.  Good photos to! Larry
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#7)  Re: 2011 Update: Wissahickon Valley Park, Pa.

Postby greenent22 » Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:11 am

Great work! I had always heard that place had tons of large, old and very tall (thanks to the terrain) trees in it.
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