Winterthur Gardens measuring trip 9/10/2010
On September 10th I met up with Scott Wade and George Fieo at Winterthur Gardens in Delaware for the first ENTS foray at the site. Scott had previous work experience at the site but since it was pre-ENTS no measurements were taken.http://qa.winterthur.org/
Winterthur has been on my tree hunting radar for nearly 15 years. Back in the late nineties I was in email communication with someone there concerning a tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) measured to be 187’ tall. This tree was claimed among other things as the tallest tree in the east, etc… Of course, I was into the SINE method of height measuring and since the tree was measured via tape drag and clinometer I was not convinced it was that tall. The late Colby Rucker comments on this tree in his “Great Eastern Trees Past and Present” compilation. This tree was the primary focus of the trip and the first tree we visited.
A had begun my journey to Winterthur from NC at 2:30 in the morning, and arrived (quite groggy) on site by 11:30 am via a flight to Philadelphia. Scott and George arrived shortly thereafter and we inquired about tree locations. The attendant staff was excited and very helpful and hooked us up with the staff arborist who knew of the tall tree’s location. We also learned of the “William Penn Tree” a tree thought to date into the late 1600’s. This was also a tuliptree which will be discussed later.
We walked the trail from the visitor’s center to the grounds of the main mansion. The trail passed through a very impressive tuliptree and black oak (Quercus velutina) grove that we would later return to measure. The vast mansion lawn was dotted with venerable specimens of enormous tuliptree and other species both native and exotic. The “big tree” was obvious. We met up with the arborist who quickly proclaimed it to be the tallest tree on the property. Scott was aware of a climber who crudely tape dropped the tree several years ago and found it to be ~150’ tall. Straight-up laser shots did not reveal a height close to 187’.
While Scott and the arborist talked I scanned the crown and found a solid laser hit to the highest twig. Under perfect conditions the 76.6” dbh (20’1”) tree was measured to 150.7 feet. Keep in mind this was after many, many years of growth from the initial 187’ measurement. This tree illustrates that the tangent method in unqualified hands just does not work. No significant crown damage was observed. Certainly, 150 feet is impressive for an open-grown tree and made us wonder what may lie out there in the acres and acres of old woodlands…
Meanwhile George was scouting other giants and a nearby tuliptree measured 74.1” dbh (19’5” cbh) and 141.6’ tall. I noted a nice American holly (Ilex opaca) and measured it for James Parton; 24” dbh X 67.6’ tall. Gorgeous, stately tree! We passed by many large specimens both native and exotic to proceed to other areas to make best use of our short time.
We proceeded to the Pinetum area to measure the state champion Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). It also was easy to find and was an impressive 63.4” dbh (16’7” cbh) X 105.9’. I noted some fine tiger-tail spruce (Picea torano); the largest was 32.6” dbh X 83.2’ tall. This species is the alternate host for hemlock woolly adelgid in Japan. The pinetum had old specimens of Sawara false-cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera), some of which formed little forests around them from layered branches.
We wanted to focus the bulk of our time in the woodlands. One main goal was “Chandlers Woods”, a preserved forested site since the late 1800’s. On the way to one of the adjacent woodland areas we stopped to admire the huge sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) at “Sycamore Hill”. This large tree is just getting started as a giant and with ample room to grow will likely get very, very large. It is already over 19’ cbh and about 130’ wide.
The first forested tract we surveyed was on the south bank of the small creek running through the property. We immediately took note of very mature woods and large trees. Tuliptree dominated most of the areas at the site but impressive northern red oak (Quercus rubra v. rubra), white oak (Quercus alba), and pignut hickory (Carya glabra) were mixed it. American beech (Fagus sylvatica) was also locally abundant and as you will see later reached impressive heights.
Scott and I had a copy of the Champion Trees of Delaware and routinely consulted the list as we found impressive specimens. Winterthur has a large number of state records and we tried to find them or larger ones. We found it was easier finding larger ones. The first new champ I found was a black birch (Betula lenta) the previous champ was a mere 115 points and one literally hanging over the entrance road was 86.4” cbh X 90’ tall X 44’ spread for 187 points. We scouted the rest of this small tract and found the larger tuliptrees were routinely ~140’. We speculated that a rich, sheltered site would produce some tall trees!
We crossed a field and entered another tract by a barn. I spotted a tall hickory crown from the field and easily found the tree. It was a real pain to measure but was not less than 8’2.5” cbh X 130’ tall. This tree set the benchmark for the species which as it turned out was not the tallest or largest we would find. Scott surveyed along a creek while George and I stayed up on the slope. I measured a huge American beech to 38.5” dbh (10’1” cbh) X 130.7’ tall. Scott exclaimed he had found a tall pignut so we joined him below. With a base sighting through the brush we measured the 8’ cbh tree to 144’! This tree was also a (temporary) new state record for the species with ~250 points (current champ 244 points).
The tall hickory was just the start of the “grove of glory”. A steep ravine on both sides of the small creek harbored the mother lode of towering tuliptree and beech. Straight-up laser shots indicated trees over 150’ grew in this small grove. We excitedly began searching out the tallest trees. The full set of leaves did not help matters but we were able to find solid shots from high up the slope. A skinny beech 27.1” dbh caught my eye and upon finding a window to the top found it to be 138.2 feet tall! This is the tallest beech I have ever measured and among the tallest known to ENTS. Scott and George measured a 157.2’ tuliptree which set a temporary height record for the day.
I proceeded up stream and just before the grove ended in a field I spotted a huge tuliptree. This wishbone-shaped tree soared above the surrounding beeches and lasered out to 162.3’! Not only was it tall but a whopping 67.6” dbh (17’8” cbh). Long spread was 110’- not bad for forest grown! This same grove also had impressive white oak, the largest and tallest being 12’3” cbh X 132.1’ tall. George measured a 122.7‘ sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). Several other beeches exceeded 120’ overtopped by numerous tall tuliptrees.
We lamented the fact that the rest of the ravine was cleared for a field as the topography would have supported some massive trees. We continued up a road into a small forested area that had a large pignut hickory 38.4” (10’1” cbh) X 135’ X 65’. This 272 pointer tree crushes the current state champion by 28 points! This area was one of the few that supported a relatively intact herb layer and a thick layer of duff. Most the Winterthur forests were earthworm-induced wastelands full of bare soil and exotic plants.
We took a break for a quick lunch before exploring Chandlers Woods and looking for the William Penn Tree. An old road bed traversed the site which was rolling hills and small ravines dominated by tuliptree and red oak. This area maintained the tall tulip super-canopy but mixed in were thrifty red oak on the upland areas and a more diverse mix in the lower coves.
Not long after starting up the trail we encountered the massive “William Penn” tuliptree. This beast was by far the largest tree seen (by volume) and had classic old-growth characteristics. It reminded me of the giants back home in NC- and it would be a tree of note even in the Smokies. The untapered stem was 17’5” cbh and rose to a craggy top 156.3’ high. I estimate with limb/branch volume this tree would easily reach 2,000 cubic feet. It may indeed date back far enough to have been alive during the life of William Penn (1644-1718). It is possible this tree was the tree listed as 187’- the girth matches up with the current DE listing.
Up the trail the red oaks were very impressive and held their own with the dominant tuliptrees. Many exceed 120’ tall and we located a number over 130’. We all set our eyes on three separate trees in the same grove and all were close to 140’. Scott nailed the first 140 footer with a tree 7’8.5” cbh X 140.4’. My 28.6” dbh tree reached 140.7’. Unfortunately Scott had to leave at this point but George and I continued down slope into a small cove. Here, red oak was the most impressive species and many towered to over 125’.
We meandered across the gentle slopes and began a hunt for species to fill out the Rucker Index. The site was so dominated by tuliptree and also not very diverse so finding tall representatives proved difficult. However we did pick up a few new species but did not find any taller specimens of species already measured. George found a nice black walnut 18.8” X 103.7’ and white ash 18.5” X 118.2’ while I picked up a scarlet oak 37.3” X 122.6’ and blackgum 32.2” X 121.6’. It turns out the Rucker is composed of an unusual species mix but understates the impressiveness of the average canopy.
We did come across a tree neither of us recognized. It was not a native species and was spreading around like an invasive. I did some internet searching and have settled on Korean Evodia (Evodia daniellii). It is a nice looking tree but may be a nasty invasive as well.
George and I made a point to traverse every forest we could get to. All were unique in some way or another and reflected past disturbance or management. The last area to see was the famous Azalea Gardens near the Visitor Center. This highly manicured woodland was again dominated by towering tuliptree and nice red and black oaks. Black oaks neared 130’ and tuliptree held a continuous 140’+ canopy. A mulched trail wound its way through the knoll and allowed easy access to see the whole stand. It was weird for me to see huge, forest grown trees pruned of all deadwood and the artificial look added a surreal feeling to the garden. What a job that would be though, to prune 140-150’ tuliptrees!
The last tree I measured was the first I spotted in the morning. It was an impressive black oak that looked to be 130-ish. I measured it from a bridge and yep, 130.6’. It was a remnant fork of a double tree over 4.5 feet in diameter.
So, finally the site has been given an ENTS overview. A winter trip would probably yield taller trees and heights of individuals measured in this first round (I gathered GPS coordinates for virtually all trees measured). There is still one tract as yet unexplored, and MANY (exotic) state champs to be measured and submitted. More to see!!!
Rucker 10 index
N. red oak 140.7
A. beech 138.2
White oak 132.1
Black oak 130.6
White ash 118.2
Rucker 10 133.3