Welch Branch, GSMNP

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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by gnmcmartin » Fri Apr 08, 2011 9:35 am


On the topic of slopes, steep or otherwise, and tree growth, there has been some research done. Just one example: I talked to a forest research scientist at SUNY Syracuse a good number of years ago now, and I have forgotten his name, and he may now be retired. Our conversation focused on plantations of European larch and favorable site factors. He said that European larch growth was very highly correlated with the overall depth of the solum (basically, the rooting zone of a soil). But, he added, that larch growing on a slope, regardless of aspect (the steepness was not specified), could have growth as good as that of larch growing on much deeper soils.

Obviously, not all species respond to slope in a similar way. The site factors study done at SUNY Syracuse for Norway spruce did not show the same kind and/or degree of correlation between slope and growth. On central NY site, the growth of Norway spruce was not affected by aspect, as it is with most other species.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of research that has not been published. At the time, the research on larch done by the man I talked to remained unpublished.

It would be good if we had a soil scientist available to examine the soils at sites producing unusual tree growth. Perhaps we could measure slopes where we find superior growth, including the grade, the aspect, and perhaps also the length of the slope, and other elements of the landform.

As for former agricultural sites: I am not sure that former cultivation of a site would always be a negative. Soil erosion for many species would have a sharp negative effect, But eroded soil may have accumulated on some portions of formerly cultivated sites, and/or sites below those actually cultivated, resulting in a deeper soil, and perhaps, but not necessarily, an improved growing site for some kinds of trees.


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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Rand » Fri Apr 08, 2011 11:12 am

There are so many areas in the Smokies where tuliptrees dominate. Some are much younger but there will be many Kilmer-like areas in the future. It is amazing to see how some coves are 80 to 90% tuliptrees. It'll take a while for diversity to exert itself on these sites.
I see this sort of dominance in the hills of southern Ohio too. The difference is, the tree are ~40' shorter. Whether the ages are comparable is anyone's guess.

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Josh Kelly
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Josh Kelly » Fri Apr 08, 2011 1:35 pm


Regarding the dominance of poplar in the Appalachians: there are certainly many more tall poplars than white pines, yet exceptional white pines remain some of the most exciting trees out there. The Boogerman Pine being a prime example back in its heyday at 207'. I've got my eye on some big whiteys in the Eagle Creek section of the Park that could go 190'+. The LiDAR points there are around 180' and white pine is a species that LiDAR tends to underestimate: the tallest hit at pine flats in Cataloochee is like 168'. It will take a while to get over to that remote location, but stay tuned!


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Jess Riddle
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Jess Riddle » Fri Apr 08, 2011 6:47 pm


Excellent write-up, and amazing forest. Knowing the logging dates is especially interesting. Is the big red oak growing on the edge of the tall tuliptree area where conditions become slightly drier, and does the tree appear to be the same age as the surrounding forest? I’m wondering how fast that tree is putting on biomass.
Regarding soils, tuliptrees are apparently more sensitive to soil texture than soil nutrients (Silvics Manual), which may explain why we haven’t documented particularly tall tuliptrees in floodplains. However, as you’ve noted, it seems like soil nutrients are important for those last 10-20’ of maximum height. Concave landforms should collect not only water but also nutrients, so the tall trees near the base of steep slopes makes sense. Ulrey’s dissertation from NC State (available online), has some nice research on how soil nutrients relate to topography and influence plant communities in the southern Apps.

On the Tennessee side of the Smokies, tuliptrees on old farm land are routinely 120-130’ while adjacent unfarmed but logged coves support 140-150’ trees. The difference probably doesn’t have as much to do with soil depth as it does with phosphorus, which is depleted by farming. Of course, farming also alters soil structure.


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James Parton
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by James Parton » Sat Apr 09, 2011 12:24 am

All I can say is " WoW! Like Bob has said, the tuliptrees seem to be getting an upper hand on the great white pines. However it is that great 156.3 ft tall Northern Red Oak that impressed me the most.
James E Parton
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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by Neil » Sat Apr 09, 2011 8:28 am

awesome stuff, Josh!


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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by greenent22 » Tue Apr 19, 2011 7:34 pm

Incredible stuff! The forest looks gorgeous. I always had a good feeling the Fontana branches might be cool, even since I saw a photo in an old book from the 50's (the photos were from no more recent than '58 and they look more like earliest 50s or quite possible even well back into the 40s, so I imagine so areas were likely cut earlier than the 1909 date) that showed impressive looking forests overhanging a minor branch of Fontana and an interesting looking steep, heavily wooded hill behind. Something about the photo capture my imagination.

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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by eliahd24 » Wed Apr 20, 2011 7:14 pm

Reports like this really make me believe that there are some MUCH taller Tulip trees in North Georgia than we currently have data on. Jess documented one to 169' and change. I recently found one in the city of Atlanta to be 165.9'. There have to be some super productive coves in the Chattahoochee National Forest near the NC border that hide some giants waiting to be discovered!

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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by bbeduhn » Tue Jan 22, 2019 3:52 pm

I had two goals on this trip. They were to find the 187' tulip and the 156' red oak. Unfortunately, I missed the red oak.
I did find the tall tulip and expected it to top 190'. On the upside, it is in excellent health. On the downside, it hasn't hit 190'.
Obligatory Road to Nowhere Tunnel shot
Obligatory Road to Nowhere Tunnel shot
The Road to Nowhere leads to an extensive trail system and to Welch Branch. When I got there, I was searching for a way in that didn't involve a hundred yard bushwhack of rhododendron. I was just about to commence battle when I noticed a trail. It led right to an old homesite. When I arrived, I was greeted by a large black animal, but it was not the usual suspect. This one had very fast moving little legs.
boar rooting
boar rooting
boar rooting
boar rooting
The boar took off quickly and I didn't hear from him again. The homesite had a canopy of just a hundred or so feet, giving no clue to what was in the coves above. I climbed up into the cove above the homesite and it had some decent heights but nothing too impressive. Heading south, each successive cove was a little more impressive until I entered the last cove. This one was loaded with tall tulips. I tried to locate the tall red oak, but to no avail. I did see a couple of 140's red oaks but not the 156'.

Some of the tulips were twins. One set topped 180' from both sides. I assume this is a first. I just did a cursory measurement. I'm including some trees at the base of Welch Branch as well.

Liriodendron tulipifera

188.4' 182.0' 181.7' 180.8' 180.8' 180.5'
177.9' 176.5' 176.4' 175.5' 174.3'
double trunked 180.8' and 180.8',
180.5' and 182.0', 177.9' and 167.6',
158.3' and 161.9', 181.7' and 162.3'
166.5' and169.2'

Quercus rubra

148.8' 148.6' 141.3'

Pinus strobus


Acer rubra


Robinia pseudoacacia


Pinus echinata


Quercus alba


Carya cordiformis


Platanus occidentalis


Halesia monticola


Oxydendron arborea


Betula alleghensis


Betula lenta

180' double
180' double
180' double
180' double
The prevalence of tall doubles is peculiar. 5 of the 6 180's were doubles.

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Re: Welch Branch, GSMNP

Post by dbhguru » Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:09 pm


You do us proud!! Those are amazing numbers and they speak to the capability of the tulips to climb above 180 feet in the southern Apps. Have you kept track of all the locations where we've confirmed 180-footers? I've lost track entirely, but it could be an important list to help us determine the value of the species as a great sequester of carbon. Here's some seat of the pants analysis.

Assuming we have stand-grown tulips, a tree with dimensions of CBH = 9 ft. height = 180 ft is likely to have a trunk and limb volume of around 450 ft^3, maybe a little more. Reaching a circumference of 10 feet and a height of say 182 will likely kick upon the volume to around 590 ft^3. A tulip that's 12 feet in circumference and 184 feet tall is likely to hold around 870 ft^3. The question. is when the tree achieve these volumes. There's a good chance that at 50 years, the tulip on a track to reach 870 with have about 235 ft^3. If it takes 150 years to make 870, then in 100 years (50 to 150 years), the tulip packs on 635 cubes, or 6.35 ft^3/yr. Going from 0 to 235 cubes in 50 years yields an average rate of 4.7 ft^3/yr. These figures are hypothetical, but illustrate the CO2 uptake for a not untypical cove hardwood - I think. Taking a look the Sag Branch Tulip with its over 4,000 cubes, it holds around 29 tons of carbon> This converts to 106 tons of CO2.

Are we better off with one huge tree or lost of smaller ones occupying the same space? If we assume that the Sag Branch holds dominion over 11,300 ft^2 of ground space, how many 50-year old trees could likely fit into that space. My estimate is 15, and that is probably high. However, there will be younger trees growing under the canopy of the Sag Branch and collectively, they probably add another 500 ft^3 - just guessing. But assuming this is correct, we have 4,500 cubes versus 235. So, it would take nineteen 50-year old tulips to equal the Sag Branch's and companion's volume, but only 15 can fit into the space. There seems to be an advantage of allowing the big ones to grow, but alter the assumptions a little and the advantage can swing to a densely packed stand of younger trees. It is stuff to think about, and then there's the carbon in the dead wood and the soil. How it all plays out in this critical period of our planet offers us, with our unique measuring skills, an opportunity to have a voice.

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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