Kanati Fork & Cliff Branch, GSMNP, NC   Jess Riddle
  May 23, 2006 19:27 PDT 


Except in Cataloochee, parallel drainages separated by large,
north-south ridges form the North Carolina side of the Smokies.
Consequently, that section of the park harbors smaller north facing
than the Greenbrier, Townsend, Big Creek, and Cataloochee districts.
However, Thomas Divide, above Cherokee NC, descends slowly from the
Smokies' main crest, and two peaks that jut out from the ridge produce
large north facing slopes in the Collins Creek and Kanati Fork

A few weeks ago, I measured a 142.1' basswood, a 167.1' tuliptree, and
a 156.9' black locust from the trail that passes through small, east
facing coves above Kanati Fork. In March, we returned to see the
forest on the sheltered, gentle slopes along the stream. Tuliptrees,
white basswood, black locust, and black birch thrived at the lower
ends of the coves along the stream, and walking fern carpeted one
north facing boulderfield. However, tuliptree and black birch
dominated the narrow, open understory flats along Kanati Fork itself
to the near exclusion of all other tree species. The tuliptrees did
not reach the heights the individuals higher in the coves; trees
commonly reached 150', but taller individuals were absent. Similarly,
black birch frequently reached 100', but not significantly taller.
The yellow birch listed below is the tallest known second growth
individual and tied for second tallest overall.

Species                    Cbh       Height
Basswood, White    5'3"       136.1'
Basswood, White    5'8"       136.7'
Basswood, White    4'3"       138.3'
Basswood, White    5'7.5"    144.7'
Birch, Black            4'1"       107.1'
Birch, Yellow          4'2"      109.3'
Locust, Black          5'0.5"    153.6'
Oak, Northern Red NA        131.7'
Silverbell                4'2"       111.0'
Sycamore                4'8"       143.9'
Tuliptree                 NA        155.1'
Tuliptree                 7'0"       162.7'
Tuliptree                 9'5"       163.1'
Tuliptree                 7'4"       164.7'

Somewhat disappointed by not finding trees surpassing those initially
seen along the trail, and having several hours of daylight left, we
decided to explore the nearby Cliff Branch. Cliff Branch flows off
the northeast side of the unnamed 4564' peak that shelters the east
side of Kanati Fork. The peak's northeast consists of narrow ridges
that descend rapidly to the northeast, and a broad, steep, 1000' high,
north facing slope. Cliff Branch forks around one of the ridges and
drains the broad slopes. While both forks contain tuliptrees over
160' tall, the fork at the large slope's base is noticeably more
productive. Black birch, silverbell, sugar maple and basswood form
the canopy with many tuliptrees and a few yellow buckeye along the
small stream. Black locust formerly thrived higher in the watershed,
but most have died. Mountain maple grows in some boulder strewn parts
of the cove, but the understory is generally open. Walking fern also
grows on some of the boulders, and acute leaved hepatica and sedge
leaved plantain were blooming lower in the cove.

Species                   Cbh        Height
Ash, White             5'11"      129.6'
Ash, White             6'5"        131.9'
Ash, White             7'9"        135.6'
Ash, White             4'5"        136.7'
Ash, White             6'3"        137.7'
Basswood, White   NA         123.9'
Basswood, White   5'4"        131.8'
Basswood, White   6'6"        136.1'
Basswood, White   5'5"        139.7'
Beech, American   7'0"         121.0'
Birch, Black           4'2.5"     104.7'
Birch, Black           4'4"         115.9'
Buckeye, Yellow   6'9"         131.4'
Buckeye, Yellow   7'10"       139.1'
Cherry, Black         7'6"        123.2'
Cucumbertree         5'4"        141.1'
Cucumbertree         6'7"        146.8'
Hickory, Bitternut 11'1"      139.0'
Locust, Black         5'2"         133.1'
Locust, Black         6'6"         144.5'
Magnolia, Fraser    6'1"        121.5'
Maple, Red             5'4.5"     125.5'
Maple, Sugar          8'6"        118.2'
Maple, Sugar          7'6"        123.8'
Silverbell                4'11"      110.3'
Tuliptree                 9'2"        154.2'
Tuliptree                 6'4"        154.5'
Tuliptree                 9'6"        154.7'
Tuliptree                 9'0"        160.1'
Tuliptree                 NA         160.5'
Tuliptree                 9'0"        160.7'
Tuliptree                 7'0"        161.5'
Tuliptree                 7'7"        161.8'
Tuliptree                 9'11"      165.0'
Tuliptree                 8'3"        165.9'
Tuliptree                 8'10"      166.7'
Tuliptree                 7'10"      167.0'
Tuliptree                 10'9"      171.2'
Tuliptree                 9'4"        172.4'
Tuliptree                 7'11"      173.3'
Tuliptree                 NA         176.1'

Rucker Index:        139.54'
Tuliptree                176.1'
Cucumbertree        146.8'
Black Locust          144.5'
White Basswood    139.7'
Yellow Buckeye     139.1'
Bitternut Hickory   139.0'
White Ash              137.7'
Red Maple              125.5'
Sugar Maple           123.8'
Black Cherry          123.2'

The tallest tuliptree is the second found over 175' outside of the Big
Creek watershed. All of the tuliptrees over 170' grow in a small
cluster, and appear under 100 years old.

The bitternut hickory is a potential North Carolina state champion.

The fraser magnolia is a new eastern height record.

Jess Riddle & Will Blozan
Re: Kanati Fork & Cliff Branch, GSMNP, NC   Jess Riddle
  May 24, 2006 13:11 PDT 

Hi Dale,

Locusts down here tend to be straight, but not conspicuously straight,
as say tuliptrees are. The trunk form is essentially similar to many
other overstory hardwoods. They do differ in never being massive
trees and having consistently small crowns.


On 5/23/06, Dale Luthringer wrote

I still can't get over your black locusts down there. In NW PA, ours
are often not straight trunked, kind of like a flat S-shape. Are your
black locusts of similar form, or do they tend to be more straight

Those are some sweet tulips at Cliff Branch!