Webb Creek, GRSM, TN   Jess Riddle
  Oct 11, 2005 19:30 PDT 


A few weeks ago Michael Davie and I explored part of the Webb Creek
drainage on the Tennessee side of the Smokies. Park disturbance
history maps indicate some of the middle elevation parts of the
watershed remain uncut. Included among those areas, broad gentle
slopes, neither coves nor ridges, on the stream's east side held
promise of undiscovered big trees.

Webb Creek lies adjacent to Dunn Creek, whose arboreal wonders were
reported on this spring. However the topography of the two creeks
contrast starkly. In the midst of large sheltering ridges, a series
of rich flats nearly continuously border Dunn Creek to elevations of
over 4000. In contrast, Webb Creek flows down an exceptionally narrow
chute incised into gentler slopes. Both streams eventually flow out
onto the broad, flat slopes undivided by ridges that occur near the
park's northern edge.

The Old Settlers Trail parallels Webb Creek for approximately a three
quarters of a mile, and passes through several old fields typical of
the parks lower elevations. Tuliptrees, and in a few areas with
rapidly draining soils chestnut oaks, now loom over the field sites.
Higher, where the adjacent become more substantial and past
disturbance less intensive, hemlocks take over the slopes. Most
hemlocks are now gray with noticeably, but not severely, thinned
crowns, yet a few scattered individuals still appear relatively
healthy. Note surprisingly, rosebay rhododendron also clings to the
steep slopes along the creek's main stem. However, nearby broad,
north-facing ridges and low gradient, shallow coves support hemlock
forests with open understories. In those areas, red maple, fraser
magnolia, and silverbell mix into the canopy. Where the coves become
steeper, mixed mesophytic species dominate the overstory. Yellowwood
grows beneath the sugar maples, white ash, white basswood, and yellow
buckeye. As in many Smokies coves, wood fern, jewel weed, black
cohosh, acute leaved hepatica are among the more common herbaceous

Species                 Cbh    Height
Ash, White             14'2" 134.4'
Basswood, White    NA    123.0'
Buckeye, Yellow     14'0" NA
Buckeye, Yellow     12'0" 129.9'
Grape                     2'1"   NA
Hemlock                 NA    130.6'
Hemlock                 10'11" 150.1'
Hornbeam, American 2'4" 62.1'
Magnolia, Fraser      7'9.5" 108.8'
Maple, Sugar           10'1" 133.9'
Maple, Sugar           10'8" 135.7'
Sassafras                7'0"    86.1'
Tuliptree                  NA     159.0'

However, a buckeye growing on a tributary near where the hemlock
forest transitioned to a rich cove stole the show for the day. The
trees substantial 13'8" cbh trunk tapers to around 9' where it ended
95' above the crown. Several larger branches continue ascending to a
157.3' top. Next to this tree, the 12' x 129.9' buckeye appeared

Buckeye, Yellow      13'8"  157.3"

The 157.3' height easily surpasses the former record of
145.6', and the slowly tapering trunk may make this tree one of the
largest buckeyes by volume.

Jess Riddle & Michael Davie