Sand Branch, GA

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Jess Riddle
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Sand Branch, GA

Post by Jess Riddle » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:18 pm

I recently explored some privately owned coves in an area I’ll call Sand Branch. Sand Branch is not a place you inadvertently stumble upon. Several miles of dirt road separate the small watershed, only about a mile long, from the nearest highway, but the stream does not lie near any wilderness area either. Judging from a topo map, the surrounding mountains do not stand out as remarkable for north Georgia. From a base at Lake Rabun, elevation 1690’, the highest peaks in the area rise to only around 3000’.

The fog on the day I visited added to the feeling of a secluded and forgotten area. Water dripped from the dark green leaves of the rhododendrons that line much of the quiet road that bisects the watershed. On the slopes above and away from the road, the understory remains dark and evergreen, but the species composition changes to mountain laurel and dwarf rhododendron. In a few north facing coves and adjacent northeast facing slopes, the locations that likely retain the most nutrients and moisture, the color switches to the tan of dead leaves, and the understory transitions to a deciduous mix of buckeye and silverbell. On the most sheltered of these sites, only two coves, tuliptree excludes all other species from the overstory, but on slightly less productive sites that species is a minor component of forests dominated by white, northern red, and black oaks, pignut and mockernut hickory, many of them well formed and 120’ tall. Moving downstream black birch, eastern hemlock, and eventually white pine enter the canopy, and moving towards drier positions upslope chestnut oak dominates the overstory with a few pitch pines mixed in on the larger ridges.
Sheltered tuliptree dominated stand.  The cove quickly transitions to hickory dominance just below this area.
Sheltered tuliptree dominated stand. The cove quickly transitions to hickory dominance just below this area.
SandBranchMeasurements.JPG
I think I made an error when recording my angles and distances for the mockernut history, but the listed height is consistent with what I obtained by shooting vertically from beneath the tree. A taller pignut hickory is known from the Smokies, but the identification on that tree needs to be double checked. I didn’t recognize the largest pignut hickory at first, because the bark was much lighter than I am accustomed to; in general, the tree closely resembles a bitternut, but lacks the yellow buds. Other pignuts in the area had darker bark and fruits with a pronounced neck. Since I could not find any fruits from the largest hickory, there is still some possibility that this tree is actually a sand hickory.
Bark of the tallest pignut hickory.
Bark of the tallest pignut hickory.
9’10” x 156.9’ pignut hickory.
9’10” x 156.9’ pignut hickory.
At 140.8’, the site has the second highest Rucker index in Georgia, just surpassing Cliff Creek, even though black birch is the tenth species. More searching of the lower reaches would likely substantially improve the index. Basswood, present in the Rucker index for most montane hardwood sites and almost always present, appears to be completely absent from this watershed. Overall, this site struck me as one of the finest oak-hickory forests in north Georgia, and probably has more tall mockernut hickories than another other site I have visited.
The tallest known chestnut oak.  There is an incised stream just out of site in the foreground, and a small cove of tuliptrees immediately behind the oak.
The tallest known chestnut oak. There is an incised stream just out of site in the foreground, and a small cove of tuliptrees immediately behind the oak.
Jess

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dbhguru
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Re: Sand Branch

Post by dbhguru » Tue Jan 17, 2012 9:08 am

Jess,

Thanks to you and Eli, Georgia rises to fill its rightful roll. I'll bet the discoveries will continue in 2012.

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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bbeduhn
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Re: Sand Branch

Post by bbeduhn » Tue Jan 17, 2012 9:10 am

I've never seen hickories so thoroughly dominate. They even top tuliptrees. Any guess as to the ages of the hickories and the taller oaks. I assume they grow faster in Georgia than they do in the Smokies. I'd expect tulips to either dominate or exert stronger influence in that type of setting. Do they lose a bit of their dominance in Georgia?
Brian

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Bart Bouricius
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Re: Sand Branch

Post by Bart Bouricius » Wed Jan 18, 2012 8:39 am

Jess,

Interesting that only two of these tall trees are between 9 and 10 feet in circumference and all others are below 9 feet. Possibly this means that there is tremendous long term potential here.

Bart

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Jess Riddle
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Re: Sand Branch

Post by Jess Riddle » Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:28 pm

Brian,

I think the forest in this area is slightly older than is typical for north GA, probably 100-125 years.

Your question about tuliptree dominance and growth rates is a tricky one. I don't have any good core data to go on, but there are substantial difference between different watersheds in Georgia. In the Kelly Ridge Roadless Area, Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area, and Cohutta Wilderness Area, tuliptrees attain similar dominance and possibly growth rates to those in the Smokies. In other areas, notably the Chattahoochee and Chattooga River watersheds, tuliptrees are much less dominant and likely have significantly lower growth rates. I attribute most of the difference to soil conditions, although high summer temperatures may also play an important role.

Bart,

I hadn't given the diameter distribution at this site much consideration. Would you mind elaborating?

Jess

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eliahd24
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Re: Sand Branch

Post by eliahd24 » Fri Jan 20, 2012 5:33 pm

What a fantastic hidden gem! When we started finding state height records in Atlanta for Northern Red Oak, Pignut Hickory, etc... I felt sure that areas in N. Georgia mountains would top those numbers. Sure enough- here they are! Impressive girth on those hickories too. They seems to grow so slowly compared with the Tuliptrees and some oak species.

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