Bible Creek, GSMNP   Jess Riddle
  Aug 28, 2004  

Bible Creek flows down the interface where the large mountains of the
eastern two-thirds of the Smokies meet the low, complex ridges of the west
end of the park. The upper tributaries drop over 1000 feet in sheltered
coves before the stream loses only 800’ elevation in its last mile and a
half to its mouth at 1600. White oak, chestnut oak, tuliptree and hickory
inhabit the flats that line most of that 1.5 mile section on stream. The
stream has entrenched itself five to 20 feet below most of the flats on a
very rocky bed. Hemlock and rhododendron border the stream in a narrow
corridor, but young hemlocks, in high concentrations, also occur in the
understory on adjacent flats and slopes. Huckleberry, mountain-laurel,
and upright growing rhododendron also form thickets. 

One area of gentle
slopes at around 2600’ on a tributary with more tuliptree and northern red
oak in the canopy and no hemlock in the vicinity had an understory
consisting almost entirely of buffalo-nut. In that area of gentle
topography, tuliptree reaches up to 14’9” cbh. However, with the possible
exception of a few in the uppermost flat, tuliptrees in the streamside
flat remain much smaller. Similarly, white oaks in those flats typically
do not exceed 2.5’ dbh, and chestnut oaks 3’ dbh, although one of latter
species has grown to 14’4” cbh. 

The lack of size by Smokies standards
does not appear to be a consequence of past human disturbance; while a
road may have accessed the flats immediately around the mouth of the
stream, the canopy dominants frequently appeared over 200 years old and
some probably reached 300 years. The abundance of chestnut oak, presence
of other typically drier site species like mockernut hickory, pitch pine,
and blackgum, up to 10’11” cbh, and the canopy height often below 100’
suggest a relatively dry and not particularly rich environment, probably
resulting in part from rapid draining. 

Contrastingly, one of the much
more sheltered upper tributaries supports a mesophytic assemblage typical
of the park’s middle elevations. In that area yellow buckeye, basswood,
sugar maple and tuliptree mix to form the canopy, and black cohosh, yellow
manderin and other herbaceous species thoroughly obscure the ground. Tree
heights in that area still remain below average for rich forests in the
Smokies with the largest tuliptree appearing to be one of the tallest at
141.8’ x 19’0”. One other tuliptree appeared comparable in size, but few
others reached 15’ cbh.

Jess Riddle