Beech Creek, Overflow National Wildlife Refuge, AR

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Jess Riddle
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Beech Creek, Overflow National Wildlife Refuge, AR

Post by Jess Riddle » Fri Jul 04, 2014 9:28 pm

Canopy height model of Overflow National Wildlife Refuge
Canopy height model of Overflow National Wildlife Refuge
Nts,

I was disappointed when I saw that map, because it indicates that the vast majority of Overflow National Wildlife Refuge is nowhere to look for tall trees, or even large trees. However, the one bright spot on the map was intriguing. That nub of the refuge extends into the Gulf Coastal Plain while the dark bulk of the refuge lies within the Mississippi Alluvial Plain in southeastern Arkansas. I was surprised to learn that that nub was also an area I had already read about, Beech Creek. Mary Byrd Davis in her survey Old-growth in the East describes Beech Creek as one of the few old-growth stands remaining in southern Arkansas. The 230 acre tract’s unusual species composition also stood out to the previous timber company owners, and helps explain why the stand still shows up as a bright spot.

Driving to Beech Creek you get no hint that there might be an old-growth forest in the area. Loblolly pine plantations and nothing else border Beech Creek. The short statured conifer plantings abruptly give way to the tall hardwood dominated forests of the bluffs that delineate the Beech Creek bottomlands.
One of the few loblolly pines growing on the bluffs, 9’4” cbh x 132.2’ tall.  Note the pine plantation in the background.
One of the few loblolly pines growing on the bluffs, 9’4” cbh x 132.2’ tall. Note the pine plantation in the background.
The bottomland forest stands out from typical Arkansas Coastal Plain bottomlands much more in the stature and age of the trees than in species composition. As usual, sweetgum fills more of the canopy than any other species, and cherrybark, water, and swamp chestnut oaks are common associates. American elm, sycamore, and loblolly pine are less common, but still locally important in the overstory. Similarly, paw paw dominates patches of the understory, but hornbeam likely outnumbers all other trees in the forest. Grape vines hang off of all those species while poison ivy and Virginia creeper climb up them.

The unusual species come in on the 15 to 40’ high bluffs that run along both sides of floodplain. Florida maple, rare in southeastern Arkansas, competes with hophornbeam in the midstory. Above them, mockernut and bitternut hickories are common on both bluffs, white oak dominates the bluffs along the west side of the stream, and shumard oak is common along the east side. The stream’s name also traces back to the bluffs on the eastern side where one stretch supports substantial numbers of the namesake tree. Part of that area also supports a much smaller population of tuliptree, only a couple dozen individuals. While beech are uncommon enough in the area for them to identify the stream, tuliptree are so scarce that the area doesn’t even appear on the standard range map for the species.

The distribution of beech and tuliptree at the site confounded my expectations. I had anticipated any unusual drought-sensitive species would be concentrated on cooler and moister north and east facing slopes, but both species grow primarily on hotter western aspects. An uneven distribution of silty loess soil, which would buffer the trees from drought stress, may provide an explanation. Winds from the west deposited loess in the region, so exposed, west facing slopes intercepted the most silt. Several miles farther east, the largest loess deposit in southeastern Arkansas also supports the only mapped tuliptree populations in the region.
BeechCreekMeasurements.JPG
The largest loblolly pine at the site: 11’4” cbh x 135.5’ tall
The largest loblolly pine at the site: 11’4” cbh x 135.5’ tall
On comparable sites in the region, trees can reach those sizes in a little over 100 years. There are no gnarled crowns or patches dominated by late successional species to suggest older forest. So, while the growth may be old within a regional context, no evidence suggests the site avoided the touch of the saw. Likely representing the exception, a few baldcypress grow in the relatively inaccessible middle of the creek channel, and outdistance all other trees in the forest in diameter and scars from storms past.
Remnant baldcypress growing on edge of an abandoned stream channel
Remnant baldcypress growing on edge of an abandoned stream channel
The hophornbeam and water oaks are the tallest I’ve been able to find in Arkansas, and the uncommon species may be difficult to top in the West Gulf Coastal Plain. However, the find of the day though was the winged elm. The tree sets both height and diameter records for the species in the state, and even with no points for crown spread, out-points the current state champion by 36 points! The only larger winged elm I’ve ever seen is the current forest grown girth record holder in Congaree National Park, a 9’4” cbh tree.
9’5” cbh x 120.7’ tall water oak
9’5” cbh x 120.7’ tall water oak
Potential state champion winged elm: 8’1” cbh x 112.7’ tall.
Potential state champion winged elm: 8’1” cbh x 112.7’ tall.
Jess

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ElijahW
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Re: Beech Creek, Overflow National Wildlife Refuge, AR

Post by ElijahW » Sat Jul 05, 2014 7:44 am

Jess,

Well done. I've been reading your reports of late, and it's interesting to see what's in Arkansas beyond the pine plantations and scrub oaks and pitch pine in the western part of the state. Nice job with the winged elm; I haven't identified one of those before, and would probably not be able to distinguish it from American elm, though from your photo, the bark may cause me to take a closer look. If you have plans to continue farther south into Louisiana or perhaps Texas, I'll be excited to read about what you can did up. Thanks for sharing,

Elijah
"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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Jess Riddle
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Re: Beech Creek, Overflow National Wildlife Refuge, AR

Post by Jess Riddle » Mon Jul 07, 2014 9:15 pm

Hi Elijah,

You're probably not missing any winged elms. They don't make it as far north as New York, or even adjacent states. They're actually fairly easy to tell apart from American and slippery elms, because the leaves are only about half as long.

It's about a three hour drive to the edge of Texas, so I don't have any trips planned their right now. I've visited one site in Louisiana that I found fascinating, but I'm probably going to wait to post about it until I have a chance for a return trip this fall. For now you'll have to settle for my next post, a description of a site about 20 miles from the Texas border.

Jess

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Larry Tucei
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Re: Beech Creek, Overflow National Wildlife Refuge, AR

Post by Larry Tucei » Tue Jul 08, 2014 8:06 am

Jess- Another good report and congrats on the Winged Elm. The Florida Maple is really scarse and I've only seen them in Northwestern Florida. It's amazing to me how most of the southeastern Forests have the same types of trees in a 200,000 sq mile area, est. I can only imagine what they once looked like. Nice Cypress tree! The Pines are as tall as any I've measured in Ms or Florida. Larry

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edfrank
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Re: Beech Creek, Overflow National Wildlife Refuge, AR

Post by edfrank » Mon Sep 01, 2014 3:45 pm

Jess,

Your reports are always fantastic and I look forward to reading them when they appear. These are the type of reports that ENTS members should strive to emulate when describing a site.

Ed
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

Johnmichaelkelley
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Re: Beech Creek, Overflow National Wildlife Refuge, AR

Post by Johnmichaelkelley » Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:49 pm

I just visited here this weekend. I found many of the same trees as Jess Riddle and caught some diameters on them and others. The original cypress was 20' 1" in diameter above buttress. I got a different height, but my methods were probably less precise. Fantastic tree with full unmolested canopy. All my photos have dummies for scale so I will spare you. Did the Winged Elm become champion?

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