Beetree Creek, GSMNP, NC   Jess Riddle
  Oct 07, 2006 16:08 PDT 
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Beetree Red Oak:  Beetree QURU: The largest northern red oak on Beetree Creek at 18'4.5" cbh and 116' tall. The trunk tapers slowly, so the tree is likely the third largest volume northern red oak known.

Beetree Creek flows southwest off Thomas Divide into Deep Creek above Bryson City on the North Carolina side of the Smokies. Gentle slopes line the upper half of the stream and much of its main tributary, but the drainage becomes much more gorge like approaching Deep Creek where hemlocks and rhododendron line the banks. However, a much more open hardwood forest dominates the upper slopes. Even though Thomas Divide remains near or above 5000' elevation for all of the 3.5 miles between the main crest of the Smokies and Beetree Creek, only scattered young
red spruce grow along the crest, and none creep down into the Beetree Creek watershed. Instead, large northern red oaks and colonies of beech dominate, many of them dead from beech bark disease, and beech sprouts, witch hobble, and blackberries underneath them. In between the slopes, the stream starts out braided on a narrow valley bottom and provides habitat for the only yellow birches, hemlocks, stinging
nettle, jewelweed, and bee-balm in the immediate vicinity. When the stream reaches the broader gentle slopes starting at 4400' elevation, the nettle greatly expands its coverage, but also mixes with many more herbs on the richer soils. Blue cohosh, yellow mandarin, waterleaf, and plantain-leaved sedge thrive in the flats and adjacent slopes underneath basswood, buckeye, the remaining beech, sugar maple, black birch, silverbell and a few white ash. Only a few northern red oaks remain in the canopy, but they reach even greater size than those on the slopes above.

The rich forest, which would qualify as northern hardwood in the
southeast, continues only a few hundred yards downstream before the
flats become substantially drier. From 4200' to the confluence with
the main tributary at 3800', few herbs hide the forest floor, but
dog-hobble obscures the ground along the stream, indicating more
acidic soils. In the same section, the parasitic buffalo nut is the
primary shrub in the flats, and somewhat surprisingly given the
elevation, red maple and tuliptree form the overstory. The tributary
is no richer with hemlocks along the stream and dog-hobble creeping
farther up the slopes. However, basswood, sugar maple, and buckeye
again grow prominently in some of the small coves above the tributary.

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A yellow birch on upper Beetree Creek with unusual growths on a root.

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A 16'5" cbh x 120.1' tall northern red oak growing in the rich flats.

Few trees were measured on the trip; while the soils were rich and
well watered in the upper flats, the elevation was too high for most
species to approach their maximum dimensions. Above the flats, a
somewhat swollen, 17'10.5" cbh northern red oak was the most
eye-catching tree. In the flats, a full-crowned, vigorous northern
red oak will likely be larger than the tree upstream since the tree is
already 16'5" cbh x 120.1' tall. 

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The base of the largest northern red oak on Beetree Creek: 18'4.5" cbh x 116' tall. (full tree image above)

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Some mushrooms growing on a serviceberry snag by the largest
northern red oak.

However, that tree was dwarfed by
another columnar northern red oak in the flats that is 18'4.5" cbh x
116' tall. The arrow straight trunk gradually tapers to a massive
fork about 65' up, one side of which has been torn off by some storm.
I know of only two other northern red oaks likely to exceed the tree's
volume. An 8'6" black birch that topped 90' tall was the only other
conspicuously large hardwood in the flats.

Jess Riddle