Hen Wallow Creek    Jess Riddle
   Jan 29, 2006 14:49 PST 


In the northeastern Great Smoky Mountains, near Cosby, Tennessee, the
steep slopes of the large mountains begin around 2600' elevation.
Below that level, the land slopes gently north and down to the park
around 1800' elevation without major sheltering ridges. Farmers
settled extensively on those broad flats, and the current vegetation
suggest the adjacent mountain slopes retain considerable more moister.
Threetop Mountain and Gabes Mountain, the latter actually more of a
ridge, deviate from that general topographic pattern by jutting north
from the main mountain mass. Between them, Hen Wallow Branch drains
the unusually sheltered, northwest facing, low elevation cove.

Remnants of chimneys and stone walls attest to the extensive use of
the lower north-facing slopes within those coves. Tuliptees now form
an almost pure overstory on those slopes. Small hemlocks the
understory on the small spur ridges that break up the cove while
striped maples fill in the understory in moister areas, and
rhododendron lines the main stream. On the west side of Threetop
Mountain, above past farming activity, pitch pine and oaks form a
canopy of a dense heath layer. The steep, upper slopes on the north
side of Gabes Mountain also avoided agricultural use. Cliffs outcrop
in several of the subsidiary coves on the slope, and old-growth forest
remains above them. Below the cliffs, grape vines swarm over small
ridges and tuliptrees still dominate the coves. The tuliptrees are
larger than the ones farther downslope; and they compete with
silverbells; black walnut; and a few white ash, basswoods, and sugar
maples. The abundance of buckeyes and yellowwoods in the midstory
indicate the richness of the soils below the cliffs. Black walnuts
usually grow near low elevation settled areas in the park, and are
generally viewed as imports to this part of the park. However, the
scarcity of walnuts in the more settled portion of the cove and
frequency of walnuts in the richest area of the cove suggest they may
be native to the cove.

One north facing side cove on Gabes Mountain had especially large
trees. A 57' high cliff and adjacent steep slopes provide the cove
great sheltering and shade from the south, but the ridges on either
side are too low to provide substantial shelter; storms in the past
few years felled several overstory trees on the west side of the cove.
Since then, a profusion of young yellow buckeyes and silverbells have
grown in the understory. All of the trees listed below, except the
113.5' and 132.0' walnuts, grow in this side cove.

Species Cbh Height
Ash, White 11'9.5" 129.2'
Tuliptree NA 154.1'
Walnut, Black NA 113.5'
Walnut, Black 7'9" 127.9'
Walnut, Black 5'9" 132.0'
Walnut, Black 8'0" 136.1'
Walnut, Black 13'9" 144.3'
Yellowwood 7'4" 92.8'

The yellowwood is a potential Tennessee State champion and is the
second tallest ENTS has documented. The carcasses of similarly large
yellowwoods lay nearby. The previous height record for black walnut
in the Smokies and in Tennessee was 135'. The 13'9" x 144.3'
individual is a potential Tennessee state champion and the tallest
individual ENTS has found of the species. The tree grows a short
distance up a 38-degree side slope, and arches over a 150' tall
tuliptree growing in the middle of the cove. The short spread is 65',
and the long spread is 127.6', a new record for the species in the
east. The great range in the spreads resulted from an approximately
three foot dbh tuliptree that used to grow just upslope from the tree.
Consequently, the crown was only half of a hemisphere. To huge
branches that do not grow fully opposite each other form the long

Jess Riddle