Baxter Creek, NC GRSM   Will Blozan
  Jun 23, 2002 17:35 PDT 

What a wonderful day in the Smokies! Mike Davie and I returned to Baxter Creek today, home of the tallest known grove of trees in the Eastern US. Average canopy dominant height as measured by Bob Leverett and I in the late 1990's was around 157'. Looks as though we need to raise it 5'. Mike and I measured 38 trees, 25 of which were tuliptree. Tuliptree averaged 162.6 feet with four trees 170' or taller. The tallest tree tickled the clouds at 174.6'. This tree may be taller of course- a return trip is needed. We did not locate the tree Bob and I measured to ~173' several years ago. We are not exactly sure what happened. (Baxter Creek is second-growth for those of you who do not know it)

Anyway, here are some numbers:

Tuliptree heights only:
(Average of 170+= 172.3')
(Average 160+=165.7')
(Average 160>=152.6')

13 other trees of non-tuliptree species are as follows, and average 135.6'
145' New height record? (10'11" cbh)
Bitternut hickory
White basswood
135.3' Second tallest in Park I believe.
Sugar maple
Yellow buckeye
White ash

All trees considered, the stand averages 153.4', though slightly tuliptree biased.

We also took three height to diameter ratio measurements in the old field forest below the "super grove". Some records here!

.8399' diameter @ 115.08'= HDR of 137

.7382' diameter @ 119.35'= HDR of 161.67

.6037' diameter @ 106.5'= HDR of 176.4

That's all!

Baxter Creek, NC GRSM Comments   Leverett, Robert
  Jun 24, 2002 06:17 PDT 

        I am humbled beyond words. Simply humbled beyond words. Well .... not quite. CONGRATULATIONS!!!! YEEEHA!! We both knew that Baxter Creek would continue to produce for us, but by that much? Wow!

        The mighty tuliptree continues to battle it out with Pinus strobus for the distinction of being the East's tallest species. In absolutes, no question that white pine rules. In numbers of 150+ footers though, I have little doubt that "yaller poplar" goes to the head of the list. Even so, I am amazed at the Baxter Creek stand, but not only for its tuliptrees. The 106-foot tall, 0.6037-foot diameter sweetgum blows my mind. HOLY MOLY!   Lee Frelich, DID YOU GET THAT RATIO? 176.4! That's wild. Who could have imagined? I was prepared to see the H/D ratio climb to between 140 and 145, but not more. The young Cataloochee sweetgum is only 22.8 inches in circumference! Its a natural flagpole. Raw sweetgum power.

        The Cataloochee area is producing unbelievable champions for many species. In terms of both past or present ENTS measurements in Cataloochee, we have:

Species                Maximum Height            Age

White Pine                207.0'                        330+ yrs
Tuliptree                    174.6'                       130+ yrs (?)
E. Hemlock               169.8'                       300+ yrs
White Ash                 163.?'                       120+yrs(?)
White Oak                 147.6'                        ????
Bitternut Hickory        146.4'                        ????
Cucumber Magnolia    145.0'                        ????
White Basswood        135.6'                        ????

    I'm sure Will can add others to the list. But, heck folks, do we see any trends here? Why Cataloochee? Please bear in mind, we're talking about a combination of old growth and second growth. Mid-October has to be a Cataloochee rendezvous for a saturation measurement. Calling all Ents! Calling all Ents!

Re: ENTS report: Baxter Creek, NC GRSM   Lee E. Frelich
  Jun 27, 2002 15:49 PDT 
Will et al.:

Regarding the sweetgum you report below (0.6037' diameter @ 106.5'= HDR of

I fiddled with a few equations, and assuming a greenwood density of 46
pounds per cubic foot, and modulus of elasticity of 1.2 million Psi, this
tree has a buckling limit of 266 feet. That is it could be 266 feet tall in
the absence of any wind before it would buckle under its own weight. The
maximum possible H:dbh ratio in a completely calm environment would be
about 437.

Therefore its height safety factor is about 2.5 (266 / 106.5 or 437 /
176).   Therefore the tree is sticking to 40% of its mechanical height
limit to avoid being blown down. Height safety factors of 2.5 are common
for understory hardwood trees in many forests throughout the world.

This is likely more than you wanted to know, but I recently have found that
tree growth form analysis is very interesting. In addition, for the first
time in my life, I now have some way to use what I learned in 8th-10th
grade math classes.


Baxter Creek does it again!    Will Blozan
   Jan 19, 2003 17:09 PST 

Today I continued sampling along the drainage of Baxter Creek, GRSM, NC.
Several new record or near record heights were found for several species.

Baxter Creek can be roughly divided into two areas. The "middle" section (upper is still unexplored) is second growth forest approximately 120-130 years old. It has the highest concentration of tuliptrees over 160' and more over 170' than anywhere else in the park (world?). It is a very diverse rich cove forest with impressive tree heights and the highest average canopy height in the southeast (~160'). The lower section is old field regrowth of primarily tuliptree and sweetgum. Both areas are impressive but the lower, old-field site is getting more and more interesting. Though only about 60 years old, the average canopy (which is dense and well stocked) height reaches close to 130' for all canopy species. Tuliptree may average 140' and has individuals up to at least 150' tall (remember the age!). I just can't imagine what used to grow there! In fact, the lower section is only 20-25' shy of the best heights in the middle section, which is currently the best in the east.

Here are the day's measurements. Included are some trees growing among the lower section but along the stream corridor and appeared to be somewhat older.

MIDDLE SECTION (120-130 years)

N. red oak 13'2" 123.5'
Silverbell 6'3" 128.4' Tallest on record
Silverbell 4'2" 117.6' third tallest known in NC (TN record 117.3')
Sycamore 9'2" 137.1'
Black birch 5'6" 110.7' third tallest known in NC
Black birch 4.8" 108.7'
Cucumbertree 7'1" 134.3'
Bitternut hickory 7' 154.3' New park record, eastern record?

LOWER SECTION (~60 years old)
Sweetgum 4'8" 133.2' New park record height
Sweetgum 5' 132.6'
Sweetgum 5'2" 129.2'
Sweetgum 4'9" 125.9'
Sweetgum 4'9" 125.3'
Sweetgum 5'5" 121.4'
Black walnut 4'7" 128'
Black locust 8'4" 137.8'
Black birch 4'2" 113.8' Second tallest in park (117.3' Cataloochee)
White basswood 5'3" 124'
N. red oak 4'6" 117.6'
Black oak 3'6" 119.6'
Sycamore 5'10" 138.7'
Tuliptree 5'6" 149.8'
Tuliptree 25.2" 108.8671 HDR= 163.05
Tuliptree 27.7" 113.18' HDR= 153.77
Bitternut 4'8" 125.7'

White basswood 7'1" 138.4' NC record, possible park record
N. red oak 9'8" 142.8' Park record height
Black walnut 5' 131.2' NC park record height (TN 135')

I feel there is potential to break 140' for basswood and sweetgum, 120' for black birch, 150' for cucumbertree, 175' for tuliptree, and 140' for yellow buckeye with more searching. Today's lower survey, aside from some cursory measurements with Michael Davie and Paul Jost, was the first intense look at the overall potential. There is still more to do in the middle section and a new terrace I located today by Big Creek that is full of sycamores and tuliptree. I haven't even started on the upper section yet. It could have some really good red oak and more tuliptree and with luck, some tall hemlocks.


Guess Who?    Leverett, Robert
   Apr 28, 2003 06:48 PDT 

The trip to the Smokies and the Cook Forest rendezvous now enters the pages of history. Both were wonderful events. Great trees. Great comradeship. Lots to tell about. I'll be babbling for at least a week. Maybe two. But first, I was tickled to see this morning that our membership stands at 86. We welcome our new members and the return of old ones. Heidi Ricci returned from vacation and came back on the list after a swing by Congaree Swamp NM and guess what? Yep. The madman is back. I saw Joe's address. Welcome back aboard, Joe.

I'll save the Cook Forest rendezvous for my next e-mail and deal with news from the Smokies on this one. On April 21st, the team of Will Blozan, Jess Riddle, John Knuerr, and yours truly headed straight for Baxter Creek - home to a towering grove of tulip trees that we frequently speak about. I hadn't seen Baxter Creek since 1998 and the first thing I noticed was that the trees had grown visibly larger in diameter. With four of us searching, tall tree discoveries/confirmations were destined to pile up and pile up they did.

The Baxter Creek trees form what is probably the tallest canopy hardwood forest in eastern America. It acquired that distinction in 1998 based on several trips by Will Blozan and one by Will and myself. I think Baxter Creek has since widened the gap. I should point out that Will Blozan was originally attracted to the grove because of the towering tulip trees, but as a result of this trip, we're starting to appreciate the diversity of the cove. Here are some examples. Will confirmed a northern red oak to 142, a cucumber magnolia to 143, an eastern hemlock to 149 (I may have confused this one with a tree on Cataloochee), a white ash to 151, and a bitternut hickory to 153 feet (I think that was what it is). A second white ash just exceeded 140 feet. However, as to be expected, the tulip trees of Baxter Creek steal the show. We confirmed 4 new ones over 170 feet in height! Will got 3 and I got one of them. The total number of 170-footers in Baxter now stands at 11 with probably 2 or 3 above 170 left to find and with the probability of a few trees eventually exceeding 180.

We confirmed the tallest tree in Baxter to 176.7 feet, which is a new ENTS record for an eastern hardwood of any species. It is a relatvely slender tree perhaps no more than 110 years of age. The place is truly extraordinary and what is especially exciting is that the Baxter Creek trees have plenty of growing left to do. It is THE stand to watch.

I took a measurement of basal area for Baxter Creek and numbers ranging from 160 to 200 square feet per acre are the norm. However, since the trees are relatively young, diameters are not overwhelming. The diameters we saw range up to 50 inches, but most are 30 to 40. In time the cove will produce a few 60-inch diamter trees. The Rucker site index is presently probably around 145 and destined to climb to the high 140s or perhaps 150. Anyway you cut it, Baxter Creek is incredible.

In an adjacent cove we revisited the 163+ foot white ash that Will nad Paul Jost measured. Slender sycamores there are above 150. So if we were to take the general Big Creek area in the vicinity of Baxter Creek, we can certainly get a Rucker Index of over 150. As previously mentioned, this is the place to watch.

On April 22nd, Will took us to Cataloochee and we made a bee-line for the famous Boogerman pine. Gary Beluzo and family joined is and using many instruments and sets of eyes, we proclaim the Boogerman to be 186.0 feet tall. I confess that Will's calculated figure of 185.9 is more probable, if we believe the upward tuurning of the limb has ceased. Calculated heights of 185.5 to 186.6 were obtained. Not bad. Hemlocks and tulip trees in the area of the Boogerman are over 150 feet. On the way to the Boogerman tree, I confirmed another white pine to just a hair over 170 feet.

A trip to Rough Creek and into moderately heavy rhododendron allowed us to confirm several giant hemlocks including one Will had measured years ago using pre-laser equipment. Our current figure is between 160 and 161. The Rough Creek hemlocks are bulky with circumferences ranging from 11 to 14 feet. One dying giant measured 14.7 feet around and its dead top stands at slightly over 140 feet. Its volume may surpass 1300 cubic feet.

A trip to remeasure the Hoglan Branck pine, which BTW is a devil to measure, produced 176.9 feet and a girth of around 10.7 feet if I remember correctly. The Hoglan tree stands as the second tallest we measured on the Smoky Mountain venture.

We're a long way from getting the measure of what the Great Smokies grow, once grew, and can grow in the future. The answers will have to await many more visits and a more disciplined study protocal. Fortunately with our 3-year study permit from the Park Service, we will be able to pursue a sustained, organized research effort. The trip has certainly energized me in that direction.

I'll close with the following observations.

The Smokies may well be THE temperate deciduous-dominated rain-forest against which all others are compared. That is sometimes asserted by reputable scientists and I think with relatively good reason. Arthur Stupka, former Park naturalist, once said that vegetation is to the Smokies as geysers are to Yellowstone and waterfalls are to Yosemite. I think that is an accurate characterization. I know of no serious naturalist who after a prolonged visit fails to recognize the Smokies as the superlative place that it is. What is especially exciting is that the botanical treasures of the Smokies have yet to be all identified. The species count continues to rise.

The Smokies superbly illustrate how nature creates immensely complicated webs of life, tests many designs, and in the process produces resilient ecosystems that endure for millennia. Places like the Smokies cannot be meaningfully compared to the simple systems that humans create to favor a few species for commercial use and this is a lesson that has to be continually relearned. Every generation seems to have to make the discovery on its own. If nothing else, we need places like the Smokies to allow us to keep our bearings. John, Rob, and I observed one heck of a lot of forest on our trek to the Smokies and back via Pennsylvania and the Smokies continue to illustrate best the value of retaining large blocks of unmanaged forest in the East. It isn't about scenery, historical reference, or even champion trees. It IS about biodiversity. Real biodiversity. The autopoeitic forest system that Professor Gary Beluzo talks about. Such self-maintaining systems are just not possible in human-saturated areas or in multi-use areas manipulated for a few species to insure that every hunter can bag his/her trophy, and in the process, literally destroy the forest understory.

I sympathize with people who thirst for natural areas in close proximity to their homes - little wetlands, stately woodlands, scenic spots. However, highly fragmented natural areas on the fringes of urban America should not , will not, cannot take the place of large intact reserves. It is only in the latter where we see Mother Nature at her finest and I needed this past trip to remind me that the Smokies remain as one of Mother Nature's grandest creations which we in the year 2003 can visit and enjoy. I feel a deep debt to all those throughtful souls who, in the 1930s had the vision to fight for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Had they settled for less, today we would not have the jewel of the eastern national parks to enjoy, study, and keep us somewhat aware that nature is still the grand designer.

Li'l more Baxter Creek   Will Blozan
  Aug 17, 2003 07:43 PDT 

Yesterday I returned to Baxter Creek (Cataloochee District, Great Smoky
Mountains National Park, NC) to remeasure the tallest known tuliptree and
explore some new sections of the drainage. The day was at times drizzly and
seemed to have 400% humidity. I told a hiker that I wish it would rain so I
would be drier (he agreed)! Immense amounts of mosquitoes "swam" their way
to me and apparently hadn't "eaten" in days- thus, I gave some blood
yesterday! Whatever liquid volume the mosquitoes drained from me was quickly
replaced by copious injections from shoulder-high stinging nettle. The
slick, tallus and mucky conditions propelled me on some "Burl Belly Flops"
and "Bust-m-ass Slides" that even the Master Bob Leverett would be impressed
with. Conditions were not ideal by any means.

However, I was able to find a few new trees and remeasure some previous
finds. I also found a new species (to the creek) of tree in Baxter Creek
yesterday. Common paw-paw, Asimina triloba. This is not a typical nor common
species for the area and further indicates the richness of the soils in
Baxter Creek. So far, I have found (at least) 54 species of trees, 11
species of shrubs, and 5 species of lianas in Baxter Creek. These numbers
are not absolute. More will be found with a sharp eye and more exploration.
As it stands, Baxter Creek is home to well over 50% of all the species of
trees and shrubs known in the Park. Walking fern and climbing ferns are
common which I believe are also rich soil indicators. Polypody ferns can
often be found as epiphytes in aerial moss mats on limbs or forks of trees.
There is hardly a surface that is not covered in something with chlorophyll
(or stinging hairs!). Green is the color of the grove from top to bottom.

Ok! As of yesterday Baxter Creek contains at least 14 tuliptrees over 170'
tall. All are in an area of just a few dozen acres. It contains the tallest
known individual (177.4') and nearly two-thirds of ALL the tuliptrees known
(ENTS Certified) to reach 170'in the entire East (although, to be fair, we
haven't heard from Jess Riddle in a while about his summer surveys!). Within
a few years this number may double as many trees are now in the upper 160's.
This is young forest (ca. 130-140 years) so without any storm damage or
hydraulic limitations the majority of upper 160' trees should quickly enter
the 170' class. Will they reach 180'? With good conditions, in 5-7 years I'd
have to say we will have the first. Ironically, the tallest tree is also the
easiest tree to measured as it grows only 10 feet from the trail and the
highest point is visible from the trail as well. This tree is SO easy to get
to and monitor for growth that to ask for a better scenario would be
considered greedy!

On to the trees:

Previously surveyed section:

Species Girth Height
Tuliptree ~11' 177.4' Unnamed tree; tallest in grove/East/World? Any name
Black birch ~5' 113.1' Previously ~110.7. Second tree over 113 in Baxter.
Yellow buckeye 6'11" 140.7' Tallest in Baxter (I think), one of just 3 over
140' known.

New section south of trail switchback:

Species Girth Height
Tuliptree 9'11" 153.9' Dozens more in this height class; I avoided trees
Tuliptree 8'5" 162.5'
Tuliptree 12'5" 166.1' Probably taller, massive tree for second-growth!
Tuliptree 7'2" 168.8' May be over 170'. Only had one shot on one side of
Tuliptree 10'3" 174.3' Another for the 170' Club (#14 in Baxter). Growing
in open-- will get massive!
White basswood 7'3" 140.9' Joins the elite 140' Club for which there are
only 8 trees known.
Virginia creeper ~10" 127' In 130' hemlock. Started to measure vine
heights- could be useful info?

Unnamed stream east of Baxter:

Sweetgum 5'6" 133.4' Perfect site for this tree- could be easily
Sycamore 7'4" 155' Previously measured to ~153.
Sycamore 8'3" 158.6' New tree, second tallest known, SORRY ZOAR VALLEY!

I went to the 149' basswood to remeasure it but the understory was way to
thick and the laser bounces off the mosquitoes made it seem short anyway! It
has very luxurious growth and I hope it will reach 150' after this year's

Will Blozan
New section of Baxter Creek   Will Blozan
  Nov 12, 2003 14:57 PST 

Ed Coyle and I explored a new area of Baxter Creek, GRSM (NC), Cataloochee
District on Sunday. It was an upper prong of the southwest fork above the
trail to Mt Sterling.

The structure was more varied than the lower flats in that more relic old
trees were present. Large, old-growth hemlock (14'), sugar maple (10'7"),
basswood (12'6") and tuliptree (16'2") were scattered about but not common.
Most trees were older second-growth approximately 120-140 years old.

The definite finds of the day were new records or near record heights for
black birch, mountain silverbell, sugar maple and red maple. First, we
remeasured three trees in the lower flats. Ed was very helpful as a base
spotter and thus I was able to get very good shots from long distances to a
known basal height (I know, Colby and Howard, I am going to get a pole!).

We remeasured a black birch I had at 113'. We were able to get 116.4'.
We then remeasured the height champion silverbell. I had ~128', we got
130.2' First ever over 130' (for a 1/2 hour).
We remeasured the height record tuliptree to 177.2', slightly less than this
spring with Bob (177.6', I think).

On to the new section:

The first tree we hit was a tuliptree 9'1" and 166.8' tall. We were soon
distracted by a picture-perfect red maple. Ed had never seen one so big! We
measured the girth to 10'5" and the height an astonishing 142.4'! I
confirmed this height (within 3/100's a foot) from a separate location. Then
another nice tuliptree 9'3" x 162.1 feet. And a bean pole white ash 4'8" x
148.22'. But what really caught our eyes was a skinny silverbell that,
although only 4'2" in girth, soared to a new record height of 132.7'!!!

We continued to pass through forests of tall tulips over 150', hemlocks over
140' and yellow buckeyes over 120'. Tuliptrees 150'+ were common but no 170'
trees were to be found. Then we entered a wide flat with big sugar maples
and bitternuts. The first sugar maple we measured was 10'5" x 138.3'. Not
bad. Then the MAMA showed up! An absolutely perfectly formed 10'7" sugar
maple with a moss covered base and a beautiful, ascending crown. I went way
upslope to see the top and shot it from three sites and got 144.2' tall.
Still upslope, I measured the gorgeous crown of a massive bitternut that was
9' x 150.5'. Another tulip nearby was 8.7" x 163.3'. Also, a 10'5" hemlock
stood at 148.2'. I have not yet been able to locate a hemlock over 150' on
Baxter Creek, mainly because it is primarily second-growth forest. The relic
older hemlocks are beautiful, but not huge or exceptionally tall.

On the way out we measured three more tulips over 160' and one over 170' in
the lower section which may already be documented. If not, it will be #16
over 170'. We also measured an extremely slim sycamore that had a HD/R of
169.85 (.6791' x 115.347'). What do you think of that, Bob!

Here are the raw numbers, less those mentioned above:

Old field section
Black locust 4'9" x 128.95'

Lower flats
Hemlock 9'8" x 143.3'
Hemlock n/a 137.37'
Basswood 9'6" 135'
Buckeye n/a 135'
Tuliptree n/a 162.56'
Tuliptree n/a 161'
Tuliptree n/a 161.87'
Tuliptree n/a 161.2'
Tuliptree 14'4" x 168.73' Largest second-growth tree in Baxter Creek.

Upper southwest prong
Tuliptree 9'3" 153.8'
Tuliptree 10'3" 158.8'
Tuliptree 11'8" 159.39'
Bitternut 7'9" 132.31'
Sugar maple 9'8" 129.24'
Hemlock n/a 131.35'
Fraser magnolia 8'2" 110.04'
White ash 10'4" 139.49'

I will let you all know when I post some photos on the Webshots Gallery. Not
a bad day, and Ed's first Smokies tree hunt!

Will and Ed
RE: New section of Baxter Creek   Will Blozan
  Nov 12, 2003 18:06 PST 


I believe Baxter has two white ash over 150', maybe three.

Baxter Creek 140' plus club:

Tuliptree 177'
hemlock 149'
basswood 141'
Bitternut 156'
white ash 153'
yellow buckeye 140'
cucumbertree 145'
sugar maple 144'
red maple 142'
red oak 142'
black locust 140'
sycamore 156'

I may be forgetting one more. Sweetgum will make it in a few years, and maybe
black walnut.

Long time, no posts...   Will Blozan
  May 16, 2004 10:21 PDT 

Hey folks,

I want to get some trip reports out as I know many of you are awaiting the
news. I have not been out much lately and have been super busy with work and
family. Fortunately, some of my best excursions lately have been work
related, namely the Joyce Kilmer and Kelsey Tract old-growth hemlock climbs
and last week a trip to Mt. LeConte in the Smokies to collect Fraser fir

4/18/04 Baxter Creek, Big Creek, NC, GSMNP (Bob, this trip was saved for

A short trip into the unequalled Baxter Creek to revisit one tree in
particular that Paul Jost and I measured several years ago. I suspected it
would be over 170' by now. It was, and so was a nearby tree, which brings
the total tuliptrees over 170' on Baxter Creek alone to at least 19 trees.
With 2-3 more years of growth, and with a concerted measuring effort, that
number could more than double. I would not be surprised if there were 30
trees right now over 170'. I am anxious to see what the height record tree
(177.3') does this year.

Black birch
5' X 114.6'
Sugar maple
9'8" X 131.5
9'5" X 172.7' and 172.9' Two shots from widely different angles.
~12' X 172' Tree on original survey <170'.
6'7" X 128.4'
Northern red oak
11'4" X 147' New GRSM record height! Perfect tree, still growing.

That's all for now. The tree hunting season has basically closed in with the
spring canopy. I may try to do some volume climbs before it gets too hot and
buggy. I will be in northern Ohio the end of next week so I hope to at least
confirm the giant cottonwoods I saw near Detroit, Michigan while I am there.

I'm sure I will let you all know...eventually...;)

Will Blozan
President, Eastern Native Tree Society
ISA Certified Arborist