Baxter Creek Spring 2008 Wildflowers, GSMNP  

TOPIC: Baxter Creek

== 1 of 3 ==
Date: Sun, Jun 8 2008 6:04 pm


In April at the ENTS rendezvous in Black Mountain, North Carolina, the group of us staying at the boy scout camp split up and went on separate field trips. Monica, Ed, and I went to Baxter Creek in the GSMNP to view wild flowers. None of us were up to slashing through the rhododendron hells that faced the others on a companion trip. I also wanted to remeasure the Rucker tuliptree, presently awarded the title of tallest tuliptree known. The Rucker tulip had a very bad last year and I wanted to see what kind of damage it had suffered - hopefully minimal or none.

In addition to tall tuliptrees, the Baxter Creek area is known for the extravagent display of its spring wild flowers, and I'm pleased to say that the site didn't disappoint us. From the parking lot, it is a fairly short walk into the area of super tall tuliptrees, which was just fine for the three of us on that particular day. For my part, my sciatic pain was letting me know that I would pay for any heroics.

No sooner had we departed our vehicle and crossed Big Creek than we encountered impressive displays of spring flowers. The flower spectacle was the principal reason Monica had wanted to attend the rendezvous - that and to reacquaint herself with the Blue Ridge Parkway. I wasn't worried that she would be disappointed, and I do think the abundance and luxuriance of the Baxter Creek flower show met her expectations. Maybe she will say a few words on her impressions of Baxter Creek at some future point. She had a special tuliptree moment on our way back when she experienced the ambience of a grove of young, arrow-straight tulips with their bright green foliage. Monica is very sensitized to natural beauty and can tune in to the essence of a place, especially if there is water close by. I'm accustomed to her pausing to catch the soothing babble of a mountain stream. Her trained musical ear catches more than mine and puts her into a trance-like state. I think Baxter Creek satisfied he
r need for the sound of water flowing over rocks.

By the time we finished our trek, we had identified 42 species of wild flowers, many in large patches. Many were the typicals such as false solomon's seal, several species of violets, etc. I can't show them all, but would like to give everyone an idea of what we saw. Below are several of Ed's photos showing some of the more impressive flowering spectacles.

Crested dwarf iris

Yellow trillium

Purple fringed phacelia

Doll's eyes

Trillium erectum (white form)


Anyone who walks the trails of the Smokies in different seasons and at a range of elevations can attest to the abundance and variety of flowers. The Smokies are called the jewel of the Appalachians for good reason. However, on any given outing, one sees only a tiny sample. On that April day, we saw what was blooming at low elevations. I wish we had had the time and energy to climb up into the more northerly forest types. The trail runs for 6 miles and climbs to the top of Mount Sterling at a lofty 5,842 feet. The climb from the trailhead gains a whopping 4,000 feet of elevation, one of the greatest climbs in the East. That climb will have to wait for another day. On our day, 400 feet elevation gain seemed like a lot.

There are many observations one could make about the attractive features of the Baxter Creek trail. To name a few, there are, of course, the towering tuliptrees, the lavish displays of spring wild flowers, the exotic combination of big and small leaf plants, and picturesque Baxter Creek itself. But simple lists of superlatives never do the Smokies justice. The peaks create a gestalt that must be experienced in its totality to be fully appreciated. One cannot be over- focused one one or two features as so many visitors are. Clouds on the high peaks, mist in the coves, the ambience created by a truly superlative, tall canopy forest all create a timeless feeling in those mountains that transcend individual features. With my focus on tall trees, I'm preaching to myslef as earnestly as to those who only see the flowers, hear the birds, or just mindlessly hike for distance.

I did succeed in remeasuring the Rucker Tuliptree, but couldn't get over 177.5 feet. An average of multiple shots would have been around 177. Very likely, Colby's poplar can no longer lay claim to the tallest of its species that we know about. Yet, that hardly matters. It certainly wouldn't have mattered to Colby. Besides, the cove where Colby's tree grows in combination with a cove or two beyond sports a dozen or so 170-footers. I have forgotten the exact count, but I think Baxter Creek still holds the record for the most 170-footers.

If there is a sour note in any of this, it is the poor record of the GSMNP in presenting its superlative trees to the public in such a way as to get the message across that among eastern forests, the Smokies truly rule.


== 2 of 3 ==
Date: Sun, Jun 8 2008 6:17 pm
From: James Parton


I gotta make it to Baxter. I have not visited it yet. It sounds

What is the current height holder for Tuliptree? Where is it?

James P.

== 3 of 3 ==
Date: Sun, Jun 8 2008 7:04 pm
From: Gary Smith


177 feet is still SO impressive for any tree in the East, most likely
a good 35 feet higher than anything I've ever seen in the deep South.

I wonder what the general consensus among the cognoscenti is as to the
maximum heights tulip trees and eastern white pine were in pre-
settlement days....190-200 ft perhaps?


TOPIC: Baxter Creek
== 2 of 7 ==
Date: Mon, Jun 9 2008 5:40 am


I think the official record holder is still the Rucker, by maybe inches. Jess and Will know of contenders though and at least one other tuliptree reaches 177 feet.


== 4 of 7 ==
Date: Mon, Jun 9 2008 6:36 am
From: "Gary A. Beluzo"


For my images of the Smokies this past April and also 3 videos (2 bear
and 1 deer) go to Try the carousel
mode for the images...SMOKIES RULES!!


== 5 of 7 ==
Date: Mon, Jun 9 2008 6:08 pm
From: "Will Blozan"

Bob, Gary, James, etc.

Jess found a tuliptree on Big Fork Ridge, NC-GRSM that we carefully measured
to 177.6 feet on 3-14-2007. It was an old-growth specimen 14'9" in girth.
However, Jess has also found one near Smokemont, NC that may be closer to
179 feet. He had one shot ~180'. This tree is on the top of a fall
measurement list! I saw the 177.6 footer three weeks ago and it is looking
good. The frost last year probably resulted in no net growth but this fall
it will be revisited as well.

Basically, the champ is undecided. There is also a super thrifty tree on Big
Creek that I last had at 177.1 feet in 2005. Another young tree on Mouse
Creek, NC-GRSM growing on a railroad bed was over 174 feet in 2004. Some
ENTS needs to come over this Fall for a detailed measurement of all the


== 6 of 7 ==
Date: Mon, Jun 9 2008 8:07 pm
From: James Parton


179-180? Cool! Smokemont? I have heard of it. Where is it located in


== 7 of 7 ==
Date: Mon, Jun 9 2008 8:11 pm
From: "Edward Frank"


Excellent report. I enjoyed the hike very much. Thanks for inviting me along. I am still not sure of the species of some of the flowers I photographed. Too bad the silverbell photos did not turn out better.  [Identifications by Jess Riddle below - Bob and Monica Leverett identified them using a field guide while hiking, but I missed getting a copy of the ID's.]

fernleaf phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida)

fernleaf phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida)


false solomons seal a.k.a solomons plume  (Maianthemum racemosum),

yellow mandarin (Prosartes  lanuginosa)

stonecrop (Sedum ternatum)

giant chickweed  (Stellaria pubera)

resurrection fern (either Polypodium virginianum or P. appalachianum)

TOPIC: Back to Gary Smith on historic tree heights

== 1 of 2 ==
Date: Mon, Jun 9 2008 5:35 pm


Numbers like 200 feet have been tossed around for the tuliptree as having been historically achieved and I even read quotes of heights in that range today. We have not been able to verify even 180 feet although I think it is just a question of time. I personally believe the absolute limit of the species lies between 180 and 190 feet, but I have no way of proving it.

White pines are touted to have grown to heights in excess of 260 feet in colonial times. I've seen 264 feet listed. That's the highest number I've seen in print. However, there is no reason to believe such claims. What can we believe? I expect that a few Pennsylvania whites and some in North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia topped out at between 210 and 220 feet - but darn few. Trees in that height class would have been on the extreme tail of what is a heavily skewed statistical distribution.

A large part of the ENTS mission is to determine legitimate species maximums. That is a big part of what is driving our efforts to engineer better field measurement techniques and to spread our knowledge around. As I have often stated, "it ain't rocket science, folks." However, winning converts has been surprisingly slow. If money were involved and people had to pay up for being wrong, we'd see converts to our methods by the scores. But shy of putting money down, progress will remain a foot at a time.


== 2 of 2 ==
Date: Mon, Jun 9 2008 7:50 pm
From: Gary Smith


Thanks for getting back with the answer to my question. Eastern white
pine does not naturally occur down my way, but I sure hope to see some
hemlocks and whites this September.

ENTS definitely has a worthy mission. Maybe the 2/09 Congaree
expedition will make for a major break through on the "winning
converts" issue.

Gary S.

TOPIC: Baxter Creek

== 1 of 3 ==
Date: Wed, Jun 11 2008 8:35 am
From: "Jess Riddle"


The first two shots are fernleaf phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida),
the fourth photo is false solomons seal a.k.a solomons plume
(Maianthemum racemosum), the fifth is yellow mandarin (Prosartes
lanuginosa), next is stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), then giant chickweed
(Stellaria pubera), and finally resurrection fern (either Polypodium
virginianum or P. appalachianum, I can't tell).


== 2 of 3 ==
Date: Wed, Jun 11 2008 10:14 am
From: James Parton


Thanks for the ID's. I will remember this.

Resurrection Fern also grows on trees like Live Oak? Right? I saw
ferns like these growing on a large Post Oak in SC.

James Parton.

== 3 of 3 ==
Date: Wed, Jun 11 2008 6:17 pm
From: JamesRobertSmith

I love the Baxter Creek section of the park. I've hiked up to Sterling
and along Sterling Ridge a number of times. Just over the ridge down
in Raven Fork is probably one of the prettiest and least accessible
parts of the park I've ever backpacked.

That's a nice climb--have you ever done the mile-high from Gatlinburg
city limits to the summit of LeConte? That's a real chore! I did it in
March 2005. I think I'm right in saying that it's the only vertical
mile hike on the east coast.