Highlands NC   Jess Riddle
  Sep 02, 2005 06:13 PDT 


The town of Highlands North Carolina sites atop a broad plateau only a
little over ten miles from the point where Georgia, South Carolina,
and North Carolina intersect. The cool temperatures associated with
the slightly over 3800' elevation of Main Street made the location a
logical place to begin a resort town. The local topography has also
facilitated the development of the area as a haven for people from the
lowlands; the surrounding lands are either flat or a cliff. That
description is certainly a hyperbole, but does give a good since of
the terrain. Sufficient gentle topography exists for the development
of residential areas, town, small lakes, and many golf courses.
Several of the surrounding mountains that rise approximately 1000'
feet out of the plateau are granitic domes with sheer faces that
provide spectacular scenery; Whiteside Mountain has the highest
exposed rock face at 900'.

The town's high elevation brings not only cool temperatures, but also
abundant rainfall. Annually, precipitation averages 82", comparable
to high elevations in the Smokies. This summer has been particularly
wet thanks in part to the remnants of tropical storms that have passed
over the area. In June, the Highlands Biological Station recorded 31"
of precipitation in June. That precipitation included not only rain,
but also four inches of hail from one event. That event left ice in
shady spots for a weak and the striped maples and fraser magnolias in

The plateau's sandy soils and wet climate allow some tree species in
the area to achieve great longevity and others exceptional size. Will
Blozan has reported about the towering nordman firs in town and the
huge hemlock at the Kelsey Tract. Hemlocks within site of the roads
leading out of town exceed 450 years of age, and on a small
mountaintop near town white oaks reach 450 years old, an exceptional
age for the species. The Highlands Biological Station also includes
an excellent botanical garden with numerous well labeled species of
native species. Among those is the national champion clammy locust
(Robinia viscosa). The tree has died back to 20" cbh and 20.1' tall,
but several root sprouts from the tree remain healthy. The tallest
three of those sprouts, all 9" cbh, are 22.3', 23.1', and 24.7' tall.
Also in the garden, a bizarrely straight mountain winterberry (Ilex
montana) reaches 44.6' on a 12" cbh stem; that height exceeds the
previous record holder on Caldwell Fork in the Smokies by over six
feet. The current state champion mountain winterberry resides
elsewhere in town, as does the state champion mountain ash.

A private property at the edge of town supports a 21.5' tall blueberry
bush (Vaccinium constablaei) with a tiny 5" circumference.
Approximately 30 yards away, grow 8.5" cbh, 24.8' tall and 9" cbh,
25.6' tall possumhaw viburnums (Viburnum nudum), both potential state
champions. On the same property, at the top of the hill, on the edge
of the woods, by an old barn grows an old white oak. Hurricane Ivan
broke the top out of tree, and the owners had the trunk cut just above
the remaining large limb. At least, 424 rings are present at the cut.
The cut was made with a chainsaw, so some in particularly suppressed
areas were likely missed. Also, well over 30 rings occur in the first
inch of radius, so the time to reach the 11' height where the rings
were counted may have been substantial. Hence, the total age of the
oak may exceed 450 years. Several other smaller, but still obviously
old, white oaks grow in a narrow strip of woods nearby.

Does anyone know of a good reference for the oldest confirmed age of
white oak? The oldest I have heard of is 450 years for a tree that
grew about five miles west of Highlands. Would this site be of
interest to any dendrochronologists?

Jess & Doug Riddle
Re: Highlands NC   wad-@comcast.net
  Sep 02, 2005 12:34 PDT 
Jess and Doug

Sounds like a sweet spot to vacation. I read your question about white oak age, and it made me think of the Wye oak that used to be in Md. It toppled in 2002. It was reported that it was 460 years old. I hope someone verified that when it was removed. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/eastern/wyeoak.html

Re: Highlands NC   ad-@ldeo.columbia.edu
  Sep 06, 2005 05:23 PDT 
Dear Jess et al.,

The information Jess dug up is correct. I included this population of white
oak in my dissertation. As I was winding down my fieldwork I was was trying to
include all of the reportedv400+ yr old white and chestnut oak data available
in the area bound by AL, MI, and NY. I heard about this 400-500 year old white
oak in NC and bolted down last summer get a sample of this tree, possibly the
oldest in the east. On this trip I also sampled Savage Mtn in western MD
because of a report discussing 400+ yr old chestnut oaks.

Anyhow, the oldest white oak on Lil' Scaly Mountain in Highlands, NC was 386
years old. I say 'was' because this tree was chosen for removal when they were
decided to build a new building; there is an 80 yr old camp/retreat center in
this 'old-growth' forest. With help, 20 other white oaks on the top of this
mountain were cored. The oldest living white oak is 313 years old. All of these
these ages are crossdated. There is no extrapolation for the time to reach
coring height. Both of these samples, esp. the one cut down, included pith.

There could be older trees on the steep slope just below the mountain top. We
didn't have time to explore that area.

Interestingly, this population is one of the few whose growth is not limited
by drought. Drought is the dominant limiter of radial growth of the species
studied to date in the eastern US; the exception being Atlantic white cedar. As
Jess alluded to, this location gets plenty of rain and is cool. The only other
population Ed Cook found lacking drought stress like the Highlands population
is the Linville Gorge white oak population.

As for the oldest oaks in the east. Checking all the sources I could (Calling
Dave Stahle, Dave Orwig, going through the modern tree-ring analysis lit), the
oldest oak is a white oak Ed Cook cored in 1983 along the Blue Ridge Parkway in
central VA. This sample was too suppressed for his work (drought reconstruction)
and had been sitting in our lab undated for almost 20 years. I spent more than a
day trying too crossdate this sample. It was very suppressed for > 200 years.
The inner ring date is 1519 making this tree 464 years when cored. We don't
know if this tree is still alive.

There are several other white oaks in Ed's collection 420+ years of age. The
second oldest white oak in Ed's collection was 433 yrs old in the early-1980s.

The oldest chestnut oaks, btw, are 427 years old; 1 in SE PA, 1 in N NJ. I
visited both of these trees in July 2005, so these trees are now 430 years old.
Interestingly, these are many, 7-10, chestnut oaks along the northern
Appalachian Mountains 420+ years old.

I deleted Ed Frank's OLDLIST email by accident, so I'm not sure what was
discussed. I will submit these data to OLDLIST soon to update oldest trees in
the east. Ed Cook has plenty of them.

BTW, I completed my dissertation in early July and started teaching in the
dept. of biological sciences at Eastern Kentucky University in mid-August. Dr.
Bill Martin retired from the department, unfortunately, in June. It would have
been great to work with him. I'm not exactly replacing him, but I am currently
the purest plant ecologist in the department.

Hope this helps,
Re: Highlands NC   jess.r-@gmail.com
  Sep 09, 2005 05:25 PDT 


Thanks for sharing all the fascinating details. I'm glad to know the
full story about the Little Scaly Mountain site, and see solid upper
known ages for white oak and chestnut oak. I also second Michael
Davie's curiosity about the lack of drought stress. Linville Gorge is
especially surprising since that area does not seem nearly as moist as
Highlands and the sandy soils, derived form the quartzite that
underlies much of the gorge, would not hold water well. Something
interesting to think about.