Lowes & Cannon Creeks, GSMNP, TN   Jess Riddle
  Feb 09, 2006 21:27 PST 

In the Greenbrier district of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,
Porters Creek drains the northeast slope of Mount LeConte (6593'), the
third highest peak in the Smokies. Prior to the park's formation, the
flats that line the creek's lower section served as farmland, and
settlers cleared the adjacent slopes. However, old-growth forest
still extends down the watershed to an unusually low elevation of
2300'. In the uncut forest, Hemlock and rhododendron cloak many steep
slopes as well as some streamside stretches. But rich cove forests
line Porters Creek and its tributaries for miles, and the east side of
some ridges in the area support an unusual forest dominated by
silverbell and hemlock with an open understory. The rich soils,
relatively mild climate of the low to mid-elevations, and the great
sheltering afforded by Mount LeConte and the steep-sided Porters
Mountain all help the drainage to host an assemblage of big trees that
stands out even among the many great forests of the Smokies. The
national champion alleghany serviceberry, devil's walking-stick,
bitternut hickory, fraser magnolia, striped maple, and silverbell have
all grown along Porters Creek or its tribuataries. Six tuliptrees
over 20' cbh grow in the watershed, the most known from any watershed.
And the Long Branch Hemlock, growing on a tributary of Porters Creek,
is the second largest hemlock ENTS has modeled with a trunk volume of
1294 ft^3.

A few weeks ago, Will Blozan and I visited Lowes Creek, a major
tributary of Porters Creek, to relocate a tall hemlock Will and
Michael Davie located several years earlier. The tree was originally
measured as being 165.9' tall, which if correct would make the tree
the tallest hemlock in Tennessee.

On the way to Lowes Creek, we passed through a very shallow,
northeast-facing cove between Lowes and the parallel Cannon Creek
where my dad and I had previously seen an immense tuliptree. When I
first saw the tree several years ago, it was a shell with an interior
hollow 6.5' in diameter, so I had some question about whether the tree
would still be standing. However, when Will and I returned, the tree
remained standing in a sea of hemlocks and silverbells. At the base,
only a narrow, vertical slit reveals the cavernous, empty interior of
the tree, but higher up on one side half a dozen gaping holes spread
across the length of the trunk. Similarly, at the top of the trunk,
two bleached stubs of a massive fork attest to the effect of storms on
the tree. However, many small branches poke out of the upper trunk
providing the tree with an effective, but much reduced crown. Since
we had a monocular with us, we quickly set about gathering diameters
of the trunk from two sides. The 23'4" cbh reflects an odd bulge of
the lower trunk; the base looks as if the uphill side had engulfed a
small flat-bottomed boat. That swelling ends about 12' up the trunk;
above which, the trunk assumes a columnar form for 75'. At one point,
the trunk drops to slightly under five feet in diameter, but for most
of the length, the trunk remains at least 5.25' in diameter. That
long, untapered form gives the trunk a volume of 2200 ft^3.

The sought for hemlock also continues to grow. The tree rises out of
the rhododendron on the bank of Lowes Creek, and maintains a large,
full crown. A careful remeasurement of the tree puts the height at
166.6', the third greatest known for a living eastern hemlock, and the
cbh at 14'4". The tree quickly tapers to 12'2.5" at eight feet above
ground, so the volume figure of 986 ft^3, obtained by viewing only one
side with the monocular, is not surprising.

Other measurements:
Species Cbh Height Location
Birch, Black 8'8" 108.6' Lowes Creek
Birch, Black 10'1" 104.0' Lowes Creek
Blackgum 12'4" 112.1' Cannon Creek
Buckeye, Yellow 9'11" 145.4' Lowes Creek
Buckeye, Yellow 9'0" 137.4' Lowes Creek
Hemlock, Eastern 14'6" 146.5' Cannon Creek
Holly, American 4'6" 106.2' Cannon Creek
Magnolia, Fraser 6'5.5" 115.4' Lowes Creek
Maple, Red 10'4" 126.6' Lowes Creek
Maple, Red 7'0" 129.9' Porters Creek
Maple, Red 10'4" 134.9' Near tuliptree
Maple, Sugar 10'3" 129.8' Lowes Creek
Maple, Sugar 8'7" 131.1' Lowes Creek
Silverbell 5'11" 108.7' Lowes Creek
Silverbell 7'7" 110.7' Lowes Creek
Silverbell 4'5" 113.0' Lowes Creek
Silverbell 6'9" 117.3' Near tuliptree
Silverbell 7'11" 117.6' Cannon Creek
Silverbell 5'9" 120.0' Near tuliptree
Silverbell 7'9" 125.8' Cannon Creek
Sourwood 7'6" 99.8' Near tuliptree

The taller black birch represents a new Tennessee height record, and
the larger diameter tree is a potential state champion. The blackgum
was originally located several years ago, and has a maximum spread of
82'. The taller buckeye is the third tallest known, and grows at the
lower end of an extensive stretch of rich cove forest along Lowes

The holly is an anomaly. The species is uncommon in the park, and no
other individuals have been reported close to that height anywhere.
The tree appears young and forced to grow tall by competition with
adjacent hemlocks. The previous height record was a 92' tree in
Congaree National Park.

The fraser magnolia is a new state height record. The 129.9' red
maple grows in an old field. The previous state height record for
silverbell was 117.3'. The sourwood was originally found several
years ago.

Jess Riddle & Will Blozan