Mingus Creek, GSMNP, NC   Jess Riddle
  Apr 30, 2007 17:00 PDT 


Mingus Creek drains the southeast slopes of Newton Bald (elevation
~5180') before bending abruptly to the east and paralleling the
southern border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park for two miles
to reach the Oconaluftee River (elevation 2052') just above Cherokee,
NC. Four cemeteries within half a mile of the creek's mouth attest to
the heavy historical usage of the stream's lower valley and adjacent
flats on the Oconaluftee. To give visitors a better understanding of
that historical life, the National Park Service maintains a
reconstructed grist mill on the lower part of the creek. Modern
activity on the stream also includes a small target range, a hiking
trail along the creek that ties into the park's main trail network,
and a spur trail to another cemetery near the bend in the creek.

Unlike in some other sections of the park, the farming activity did
not shift the focus of activity from logging on Mingus Creek. The
watershed was thoroughly cleared for timber except for some upper
south-facing slopes and ridges. Those driest forests tend to be
dominated by scarlet oak with some black oak, chestnut oak, white oak,
red maple, and in places pitch pine, and have a continuous understory
of mountain laurel. Some of the thin soiled, steep, north facing
ridges also support fairly dry communities, but they lack scarlet oak,
white oak, and mountain laurel. Instead, chestnut oak forms the
primary canopy over a layer of upright rhododendron. A more tangled
layer of rhododendron lines most of the main stream and larger
tributaries under the shade of red maple, tuliptree, black birch, and
yellow birch but rarely hemlock. Tuliptree becomes much more dominant
in the adjacent old fields where the species often forms pure stands,
but may give way to mockernut hickory and black oak in drier areas.
The most productive forests in the watershed often occur on moist
sites adjacent to old farm fields either in rocky areas at the base of
north facing slopes or in steeper north facing coves. On the cove
sites, tuliptree typically forms pure stands that grade into more
northern red oak dominated forests around the upper edges. Silverbell
and buckeye often grow in the midstory, and boulderfields within the
coves may also feature sugar maple and white ash. The moist
boulderfields lower in the watershed have more diverse canopies that
often include basswood and biltmore ash in addition to tuliptree. The
cove forests typically have sparse understories although spicebush and
saplings of sugar maple, buckeye, and silverbell are common in places.
Given the tree species present, the herbs in the coves do not form
nearly as thick a cover as might be expected, but still feature many
rich site species. The herb layer in one cove with a tuliptree canopy
around 150' high consists of false hellebore, chickweed, grape fern,
blue cohosh, bloodroot, violets, geranium, may-apple, rue anemone, and
black cohosh along with smaller numbers of several other species.

Trees measured during two trips to the watershed this winter follow:

Species                         Cbh      Height
Ash, Biltmore               6'4"      134.5'
Ash, Biltmore               8'0.5"   139.5'
Ash, Biltmore               7'4"     148.6'
Ash, White                   9'8"      135.8'
Ash, White                   10'5"    141.9'
Basswood                     3'1"      128.7'
Basswood                     6'6.5" 132.3'
Basswood                     NA       132.8'
Basswood                     3'2.5"   137.9'
Basswood                     4'10"    138.8'
Basswood                     8'0"      144.0'
Basswood                     5'1"      144.3'
Basswood                     5'8"      146.6'
Beech                           7'3.5"   130.1'
Beech                           8'3"      132.8'
Beech                           7'2.5"   142.6'
Dogwood, Flowering   2'2"      51.3'
Dogwood, Flowering   2'6"      52.0'
Hickory, Pignut            4'3"     137.4'
Locust, Black               6'6"      141.0'
Locust, Black               5'9"      144.5'
Magnolia, Cucumber   6'3"      136.1'
Magnolia, Cucumber   6'7"      141.2'
Magnolia, Cucumber   5'5.5"   143.8'
Maple, Sugar                4'5.5"   126.1'
Oak, Black                    9'3"     129.7'
Oak, Northern Red       13'10" 129.5'+
Oak, Northern Red       8'4"     135.3'
Oak, Northern Red       12'8"   136.6'
Oak, Northern Red       10'3"   142.0'
Oak, Northern Red       10'0"   144.3'
Sumac, Winged            1'3.5" 38.7'
Tuliptree                       4'5.5" 148.8'
Tuliptree                       7'5"     161.0'
Tuliptree                       6'11"   162.7'
Tuliptree                       5'2.5" 164.0'
Tuliptree                       7'11"   167.1'
Tuliptree                       9'2.5" 168.5'
Tuliptree                       7'11"   168.6'
Tuliptree                       10'9.5" 168.9'
Tuliptree                       8'5"      169.3'
Tuliptree                       5'1"     170.2'
Tuliptree                       8'0.5" 170.8'
Tuliptree                       7'8"     171.4'

In the Mingus Creek watershed, biltmore ash grows only on rich, north
facing slopes below about 2500'. The 148.6' individual is the tallest
known of the variety in the Smokies.

The 3'2.5" x 137.9' basswood has a height to diameter ration of 135 to 1.

The beech listed above are the three tallest known in the Smokies,
although a dead one recently found in Cataloochee would also have been
over 130'. The 142.6' individual is a new height record for North
Carolina, and makes the 143.2' height record tree at Savage Gulf
appear less of an anomaly.

The 52.0' height may be a record for flowering dogwood in NC.

The winged sumac establishes a height record for NC, but will likely
be exceeded by trees growing in floodplains in the coastal plain.

All of the sheltered, north-facing sites, around 3000' in elevation,
that had not been farmed have tuliptrees over 160' tall. Many more
tuliptrees of that height were seen, but not measured, and additional
170' trees may be present. The 5'1" x 170.2' tree is part of a
coppice, and at 105:1 may have the greatest height to diameter ratio
so far recorded for a tree over 160' tall in the east. The tallest
tuliptree grows on a steep slope about 50' above the center of the
cove and only about 20' below the top of the small ridge that
separates the next cove, a surprisingly exposed position for such a
tall tree.

Rucker Index: 145.1'
Tuliptree 171.4'
Biltmore Ash 148.6'
Basswood 146.6'
Black Locust 144.5'
Northern Red Oak 144.3'
Cucumbertree 143.8'
Beech 142.6'
White Ash 141.9'
Pignut Hickory 137.4'
Black Oak 129.7'

At least one buckeye exceeds 130', so the Rucker Index is a known
underestimate. The Rucker Index for the Oconaluftee watershed now
stands at 153.9', and includes five trees from Mingus Creek.

Jess Riddle
Re: Mingus Creek, GSMNP, NC   Edward Frank
  Apr 30, 2007 17:41 PDT 


Another excellent trip report as always. I am impressed by the tall trees
of the Smokies. It seems that the climatic combination of sun and heavy
rain in the area are ideal to achieve the maximum growth of many different
species. This suggests to me that the large hemlocks and pines reach their
great height not as a result of genetic predisposition or chance, but
because of climatic conditions in the area.