Lower Big Creek update   Will Blozan
  Nov 13, 2004 12:14 PST 
Hello ENTS, NPS staff, et al,

Last weekend Tom Remaley of the GRSM and I revisited some tall trees to
remeasure them and monitor annual growth. This past year has been an
exceptional growing season for the sycamores- one without anthracnose. Our
goal was to remeasure the following eastern height records; the white ash on
Big Branch, the white basswood on an unnamed tributary east of Baxter Creek,
the sycamore and green ash on an unnamed creek north of Big Creek, and a
contender for the tallest known tuliptree further up the same creek. We were
able to visit all but the last tuliptree, which I plan to visit tomorrow if
all goes well. We were also able to measure a few other trees in the
vicinity and take some core samples for age approximations.

What really blows me away is the sustained growth rates of these trees, and
the fact that most of Big Creek, which today has forests to 170' tall, was
essentially denuded of trees at the establishment of the GRSM-NP in the
mid-1930's. I wonder what the early park managers thought as they gazed upon
the denuded and entirely cleared slopes of lower Big Creek. Did they have
any idea of the potential for such phenomenal growth? It must have been
depressing at the time! Well, now the forests can lay claim to many eastern
height records and perhaps the tallest temperate deciduous forests in the
east, if not globally. Average canopy heights will rival or exceeded even
the finest old-growth stands, and these forests will serve as an excellent
study in growth rates (height and volume) and the formation of canopy
architecture both on an individual tree and a forest and landscape level.

Study of these forests will also help us figure out and challenge the ideas
of a maximum canopy height for many species. For example, tuliptree is
well-known to exceed 170'; with over 20 trees in lower Big Creek alone
exceeding this height (probably over 100 can be found on just the first 5 or
6 drainages off lower Big Creek). But of all the 170'+ tuliptrees thus far
identified (~50 park-wide?), only 3 exceed 175', and none exceed 178'. Some
of these trees are less than 70 years old. Since no other tuliptrees in
old-growth forests can top the second-growth forest heights, have the young
trees just peaked, or is there a biological or genetic limit? The height
ceiling for tuliptree is sharp and consistent across the entire park
regardless of forest disturbance history. Does this indicate an intact
genetic base, or the opposite? What makes a 70 year old vigorous tree stop
growing up when all its neighbors are just as tall? Maybe they have not
stopped, but there is no height difference in tuliptree forests 130 years
old and 70 years old on similar sites. I think I need to get up in the trees
and examine the tops in addition to selecting trees to monitor annually.
Also, with enough aerial core samples at various heights, I could
reconstruct height and diameter (volume) gain over many years, and determine
how long a tree (or forest) has been 150' tall (or whatever height chosen)
or greater. Such knowledge would influence management in many ways, both
economically and biologically. Grant money anyone???

Ok, here is a discussion of what Tom and I found.

White ash         11'1" X 167.1'

I have photos to document the incredible growth of this giant tree! (I will
send some photos for Ed to post). Visual estimates of last year's growth
were over a foot, and this tree has grown from 159.1 feet in 1999 to 167.1
this year. Last year the tree was 165.8', indicating a gain of nearly 16". I
firmly believe this figure, and the photos back it up. The tree is super
vigorous, and having measured the tree every year for 5 years I can see that
the formerly "flat" crown is assuming a more upright form, with the north
lead taking over dominance. I had once thought that the canopy would remain
flat and not gain much height anymore. Within 3-4 years this tree will join
tuliptree as the only other eastern hardwood to attain 170'. I suspect
sycamore will join the elite "170 Club" too, and maybe sweetgum and pignut

White basswood            10'9" X 150.3'

With less than a dozen basswood trees known over 140', this is the first one
over 150' and a new inductee into the "150 Club". This tree is an older tree
than the surrounding forest, and grows on the edge of a small patch of older
forest with large sugar maple, ash, buckeye, and bitternuts. The tallest
part of this tree is on an old section, but there is a vigorous sprout
originating from the bent trunk that may soon take over as the highest point
(currently 147.3'). Oddly enough, the highest point of this tree is WAY off
center, and is nearly the furthest point from the base because of the lean.
With a spread of over 60' this tree may be a new NC State Champion.

Sycamore         9'6" X 162.2'

I was not able to confirm any height growth. The tree was still in full leaf
(even though all the neighboring trees were not) and I could not see the top
clearly. I was able to get heights above 161', and will return after leaf
drop. Like the basswood, the top is way off center and not what I would have
expected for such a straight and young tree. However, I have often observed
a "sport" or taller "errant" leader somewhere in the tops of sycamore,
seemingly grown at random. A 153' tuliptree growing next to this tree was 66
years at BH. I have no reason to think the sycamore is any older, or is a
~177' tuliptree just a 100 yards upstream. This unnamed creek has many other
tall trees, with at least three other sycamores over 150' and two green ash
just under or above 140'. Northern red oaks and chestnut oaks reach or
exceed 140', and black birch is just a hair under 118'. We need to name the
creek! More on this site this weekend.

Green ash         9'7" X 141.5'

This tree is the first confirmed above 140', and it is vigorous. It may
someday reach 150' but that is 7-10 years away. The dimensions indicate that
it may be a NC State Champion. Other green ash in the area are comparable in
height (135'+) and vigor, but are somewhat smaller in girth. Fairmount Park,
PA or Congaree Swamp NP, SC may rival this tree's height.

Some other trees of note:

Big Branch

Red elm            6'5" X 126' X 61' Potential new NC State Champion

Black birch        3'5" X 110.3'

            "           4'6" X 113.4'

            "           3'10" X 113.7'

Tuliptree            9'0" X 163.1'      ~70 years old

Tuliptree            5'10" X 151'      Cored: 65 years at BH

Sycamore         8'0" X 157.9'      May be closer to 160'- tallest of three
fused stems from 13' base. Other leader is ~155' tall.

Unnamed creek

Tuliptree            5'10" X 153'       Cored: 66 years at BH, in crown
contact with tallest sycamore, may be taller.

Sycamore         7'2" X 155.6'      The tallest one of several others in
grove over 150'.

Tune in next week.


A little more Lower Big Creek update   Will Blozan
  Nov 21, 2004 10:20 PST 
ENTS, and others,

I was able to get in a little exploration time last weekend to remeasure
three record or near-record tree heights (sycamore, tuliptree and black
birch). I was also able to explore further upstream from the area of the
three trees- as they all grow on the same unnamed creek only about 100 yards
apart. Ed Coyle and I turned back once before for lack of impressive trees
and time, but the map showed a lot more territory to cover- although the
topography and aspect was less than ideal for "super-trees". True to Big
Creek fashion however, the trees did not care so much about the aspect or
topography and continued to be impressive, albeit in a very narrow riparian

I explored from approximately 2200' up to 3000' elevation. The sides of the
SE facing cove were steep but the base near the creek was full of boulders
and pockets of small benches between them. Tuliptrees got huge (for 70-100
years) and reached girths of 13' and heights over 170'. One section of the
creek- where Ed and I turned back before- had three tuliptrees lined up in a
row with a center-to-center span of 29'. Two of the trees were only 8.8 feet
apart, and all three reached over 172' tall. The tallest, a still-ascending
tree only 8'4" in girth, stands at 177.2' tall, with a current year's leader
of 7-8 inches (I have a photo). This tree was measured last year to 176.8'.
I think these trees could be named the "Tree Amigos". They are surrounded by
160' trees and should continue upward and challenge the world record 177.4'
tree on Baxter Creek (not yet remeasured this year). I feel the Baxter Creek
tree has stopped growing, and this younger tree will likely outgrow it next
year. It may hit the elusive 180' mark within 5 years. It is also one of the
easiest trees to measure, as it grows at the base of a very steep slope and
the top and base are clearly visible when viewed from upslope. It also has
an unmistakable dominant leader. The crown was full of seeds. I was able to
get some nice composite photos of the three trees, as well as the birch and
sycamore. I presented these photos the next day at Haywood Community College
as part of my program as a quest lecturer for two dendrology classes.

Here some selected trees. I measured 28 trees on this trip.

Green ash

9'4" X 134.7'      Nearly a state record!

8'1" X 140.6'      Second known over 140'

Red Maple

6'2" X 125.6'

5'9" X 126.4'

5'2" X 128.3'

5'9" X 133.1'


9'9" X 162.2'      Unchanged height since last year


2'10" X 65'         Park height record?

Black birch

3'10" X 113'

4'10" X 118.8'     ENTS record height; 117.5' last year, still growing!


13'+ X 155'+      May be over 160'

9'4" X 162.3'

12' X 162.9'       Broken top

10'4" X 172.1'     New find

7'2" X 172.3'      One of the Tree Amigos. I cored this tree- 98 years to
pith @ 4.5'

7'9"' X 172.1'      "           "           "

8'4" X 177.2'      "           "           "

White basswood

11'2" X 131.1'     Huge remnant tree; nearly a state record


10'0" X 121.8'     Large remnant tree.

5'9" X 127.4'

6'3" X 132.4'

Black cherry

7'6" X 132.2'      It was likely over 140' a few weeks ago but a bear had
shredded the entire top- I measured to broken stubs. Other "stub" was 130.7'


6' X 123.5'

In summary, this unnamed cove with just a few dozen acres of super-tree
habitat- has the following exemplary claims:

<Second tallest known tuliptree

<Four tuliptrees over 170' tall

<Tallest known sycamore

<Tallest known green ash

<Tallest known black birch

<All known green ash over 140'

<Potential NC State Champion green ash

<Five sycamores over 150'

<A Rucker index of 144.2 (Based on three combined measuring trips)



Red maple


White ash


Black oak


N. red oak


Chestnut oak


Green ash


Black Locust






Rucker Index=


That's all folks!

Will Blozan
Re: A little more Lower Big Creek update   dbhg-@comcast.net
  Nov 21, 2004 14:50 PST 
    Great report. I'm amazed at how many species have moved up into the 160 class. I'm also amazed at how our perception has changed of Fraxinus americana. Remember when we thought mid-130s was about all the species would do? Guess it fooled us.
    It would be interesting to maintain a historical Rucker index for our sites, states, and regions, since we're tracking growth and species potential over time. Instant snapshots have their place, but I wonder if we shouldn't concurrently be computing the best that we've done for a site. We could then track the current index of a site against its historical best. Lots of possibilities for trending. If we were to do that, we might speak of a HRI and a CRI (historical Rucker index and Current Rucker index). The Boogerman pine would give the Smokies a big boost, not that the Smokies need a boost.
FW: A little more Lower Big Creek update   Will Blozan
  Nov 23, 2004 03:31 PST 

Chew on this idea from Keith Langdon, GRSM I & M guru.


From: Keith Langdon
Sent: Monday, November 22, 2004 8:40 PM
To: Will Blozan
Subject: Re: A little more Lower Big Creek update

Hey, Will,

Great discoveries !! I hope to actually finsih some tree web pages this
winter if anything slows down. $ EIS's in progress.

I was wondering if you had thought any more about the reason the Big Creek
area has so many exceptionally tall trees?

The soils guys say that they failed to find any really different soils
there...although when I find walking fern, slippery elm, Amorpha, I feel
like it must be pretty rich. I ran across a recent article on plants in a
journal that talked about the kind of light that plants get significantly
determines whether they grow more stem length or foliage. Apparently (and I
am not a plant physiologist) when plants get shaded by other plants the
translucent light they get is in a different infra-red band that stimulates
stem growth, so they can compete. I was wondering if a combination of the
east-west orientation of Big Creek (sunlight angle-wise)..... along with
some soil richness and a heavily disturbed land use history has led to a
cohort of trees in a self-stimulating race?

Your thoughts ? Know any forest/plant physiologists ?