Tabor Branch, GSMNP   Jess Riddle
  Mar 05, 2007 18:16 PST 


Last weekend, Michael Davie and I set off to the North Carolina side
of the Smokies to explore Tabor Branch and an adjacent stream for tall
trees. Based on several highly productive sites in the surrounding
Oconaluftee River watershed, and the gentle but sheltered topography
of the two small streams, we both felt they had excellent potential
for harboring tall hardwoods. The streams begin at around 4600' on
the steep upper slopes of Richland Mountain's east side, and flow
southeast and east, respectively, to empty into Bradley Fork at 2800'.
Below the steep slopes on the headwaters, the various forks of Tabor
Branch each flow through a short stretch of moderately inclined but
minimally sheltered flats before incising into the mountain slope,
coalescing, and flowing down a narrow valley to Bradley Fork. The
unnamed branch to the south has an even steeper upper section that
gives way to a highly asymmetrical lower section; on one side, the
stream flows right at the base of a short but very steep south facing
slope; on the other, the stream flows incised below broad, gentle
slopes that are bounded to the south by a steep sided ridge.

Around the mouth of Tabor Branch, skinny and not especially tall
tuliptrees and birch form a canopy over a nearly continuous
rhododendron understory, and an old road bed leads upstream.
Following the road up, the rhododendron layer becomes patchier and
stays primarily on the southern side of the narrow watershed, and
scattered basswood and northern red oak replace the birch in the
overstory. Overall, the canopy is higher and the forest appears more
productive with the tallest tuliptrees reaching 150'. Above there,
the stream begins to fork, and the first open coves and white ash are
encountered. Two of the forks closely parallel each other with only a
very low ridge separating them, which combines with the entirely
deciduous forest to make the surrounding area feel like one large
flat. The flat appears more productive than lower parts of the
watershed, and for a rich second growth forest, supports an unusually
diverse canopy that tuliptree, sugar maple, and white ash dominate;
northern red oak, black locust, black cherry, and basswood also
commonly reach the overstory while sugar maple saplings and small
hophornbeans form the sparse understory.

Over a small rhododendron and mountain laurel covered ridge to the
south, the forests along the adjacent unnamed stream show greater
moister and productivity, but are substantially less diverse.
Basswoods, white ash, and silverbells grow on the steep slopes lining
the stream and fringing the flats, but in the flats themselves,
tuliptree clearly dominates with only black locust competing
effectively. The tuliptrees, which all appear well under 100 years
old, consistently reach around 150' tall, and the black locusts are
often only slightly shorter.

Species            Cbh   Height
Ash, White      8'11" 147.8'
Locust, Black 5'10" 146.0'+
Oak, N. red     11'5" 141.0'
Tuliptree          11'2" 161.6'

The white ash is the tallest so far located in the Oconaluftee section
of the park, and appears to still be growing upward fairly quickly.
The northern red oak and tuliptree are directly adjacent to each
other, and clearly the largest individuals of their species in the
flats on Tabor Branch.

However, the find of the day (year?), was a black locust on the
unnamed stream. As we started descending the stream, we quickly
encountered black locusts exceeding 140' tall, and one locust seen far
off down stream appeared strikingly tall. The tree grows on the edge
of a small bench at the foot of the steep south-facing slope, opposite
the broad flats, about 10' above the level of the stream, and adjacent
to a 160'+ tuliptree that is probably the tallest in the drainage.
With a modest 6'8" cbh, the locust rises to 171.8' tall! The previous
height record of 162' seemed like something of an anomaly when it was
found, so finding a black locust of this height was not at all
anticipated. Black locust is now the second hardwood species in
eastern North America known to reach 170' with only tuliptree growing

Jess Riddle & Michael Davie
RE: Tabor Branch, GSMNP   Robert Leverett
  Mar 06, 2007 04:40 PST 

Jess and Mike,

   That's off the charts. Simply off the charts. At 6' 8" around and
171.8 feet tall, is that black locust our "tall and skinny" champion?

   ENTS RULES!! You guys are way cool!

RE: Tabor Branch, GSMNP   Will Blozan
  Mar 06, 2007 16:24 PST 

Holy locust!!! Great find guys! That may indeed be the find of the year!
Now, two new species over 170' for 2007.