McConnells Mill SP, PA - Tall cucumber   Anthony Kelly
  Feb 03, 2006 17:02 PST 


Last Saturday, January 28th Ed Frank, Carl Harting, and I visited McConnells
Mill State Park in Western Pennsylvania near Portersville. The parkís most
notable features are the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge and numerous smaller
ravines and waterfalls. What most visitors are not aware of, however, is
that it also contains stands of old-growth forest.

DSCN0549.JPG (8454506 bytes) Cleland Rock - all photos by Ed Frank

I've posted two previous trip reports about McConnells Mill, one on Dec 2,
and one Wednesday, January 25th. I've been visiting the park and
exploring it for old-growth since March of last year. This is the first
time, however, that I've had the pleasure of showing other ENTS members some
of the magnificent trees that I've found there.

In last weekís post, I listed a number of tree measurements and at the end
mentioned a tall cucumber tree whose I height I preferred not to post until
Ed and Carl could verify it. After I first measured the tree on Sunday Jan
8 at ~130í, I went home, looked at the Pennsylvania Big and Tall Tree List,
and realized that if my measurements were correct, it would set a new PA
cucumber tree height record. In fact, it would apparently set a new
Northeastern U.S height record. The current PA record is listed as 125.6'.

I emailed Dale Luthringer who advised me not to post my measurements until
they could be confirmed by other ENTS, as I was still new to measuring. I
wholly agreed. Ed, Carl, and I had already planned our visit there for the
28th, so we wouldn't have to wait long for them to verify the treeís height.

Dale quizzed me extensively on exactly how I went about measuring the tree
to see if I'd made any obvious errors. Apparently, I hadn't. I believe his
biggest fear was that Iíd measured the tree from below and added the lower
triangleís height instead of subtracting it. On Sunday, Jan 22 I went back
to McConnells Mill and re-measured the tree several times from different
places using different top branches. My new measurements were close to my
original ones.

DSCN0558.JPG (3071346 bytes) 130.3' Cucumbertree

So, when I met Ed and Carl there this past Saturday, one of the first things
we did was measure the tall cucumber. I told them that the tree might be a
new PA height record, but I didn't tell them my previous measurements, so as
not to bias them. Carl's laser was having battery problems. Ed measured the
tree to 130.3', which was close to my surest measurements from the previous
Sunday: 130.22 and 131.0. I measured it again from where Ed had stood and
got 130.3, as well. We decided to settle on that number because we'd both
arrived at it using different brand lasers and because it was very close to
my previous measurements off the same top branch.

The tree's CBH is 10'2". Ed measured the crown spread and got max = 51, min
= 45, ave = 48.

This cucumber tree is in a small patch of old-growth (2-3 acres) in a
tributary ravine on the southeastern side of the gorge.

After getting the cuke measurements, we had lunch then headed to the place
that I've heard the locals call the "big woods". This old-growth area is on
the opposite (Northeastern) side of the gorge and covers much more terrain,
perhaps 75 acres. (See this Pittsburgh Post Gazette article: ). My first post to the
ENTS list on Dec 2, 2005 tells the story of my own discovery of this site.

DSCN0569.JPG (3016345 bytes) 13'6" circumference red oak

Our first stop there was the 13'9" red oak tree I'd talked about in my first
ENTS post. We re-measured the girth of the tree and, as I suspected, came
up with a lower measurement than the one I'd originally made in October. We
got 13'6".

Last fall, I had been measuring tree breast heights at my OWN breast height.
Thinking that measurements from that height should be close enough, I never
bothered to measure from a strict trunk height of 4.5ft. A few weeks ago I
realized that my own breast height is about two inches below 4.5ft and that
measuring girths even this much lower on the tree can add inches to them.
Many of the girth measurements listed on my October post are probably a bit
high. Iíll just have to chalk this up to beginnersí carelessness.

On the other hand, in last weekís post I listed the height of this tree as
103.5'. On our way out of the woods Saturday, Carl (bad batteries long
since replaced) re-measured the tree and got 110.1'. I then re-measured it
and got 109.0'. My 103.5' measurement was made during one of my first
in-woods measuring trips. By that time I had practiced extensively with the
laser and clinometer on field trees, but hadn't yet developed an eye for
finding the top branch of forest trees. During that first trip I pretty
much just poked my laser at what first LOOKED like the top of the tree and
settled on that reading.

I learned the importance of taking the time to search out the truly topmost
branch while I was re-measuring the record-height cucumber on Jan 22. After
telling Dale that the tree was about 130ft tall, my first attempts at
re-measuring it got me numbers in the low 120's. After the panic wore off,
I walked around the tree a good bit and realized that the branch I had been
shooting at was nowhere near the highest. After painstakingly searching out
what I was sure was the topmost branch, I re-measured and got numbers in the
130í range again.

DSCN0580.JPG (2916517 bytes)

Black Gum

DSCN0583.JPG (2893787 bytes)

Shaggy Cucumbertree?

After Ed, Carl, and I measured the big oak, we looked over some black gums
and shagbark hickories and what I believe is an old cucumber tree whose bark
flakes off in big strips all the way up the truck just like a shagbark

We then made our way to the ravine that contains the three tall tulip
poplars that I mentioned in my last post. The previous Sunday, as darkness
was setting in, I'd hastily measured one of these tulips to 148.3í and
146.1í, and the other two to 138.6í and 137.8í. On Friday, Jan 27, the day
before our group visit, I carefully re-measured the tallest one getting
147.1í, 148.1í, and 148.1í.

DSCN0587.JPG (2845288 bytes) 147 foot tuliptree

By the time we got to this tree Saturday, Carl had replaced his old battery,
but Ed's batteries were starting to go. Carl measured it from a spot much
closer to the tree and lower in the ravine than where I had previously
measured it. He got number in the 146's. I re-measured the tree from the
same spot and got 147.7. When I tried to re-measure from the same spot
where I had on Friday and the previous Sunday, I got numbers in the 145-146
range. Why, I don't know. Different lighting conditions? Perhaps, despite
my efforts to do so, I just couldn't find the same top branch? What number
should we settle on? I put these questions to you ENTS pros.

(I am being long-winded here; but as a relative beginner, I'd like to
illustrate how Iíve been approaching tree measurement. By revealing my
learning process, mistakes and all, I hope to call your attention to any
shortcomings in my methods and habits. I can then learn from your comments
and develop the accuracy and precision that ENTS cares about so much.)

On Friday when I was there alone I did some exploration into a part of the
big woods area that I hadn't carefully paid attention to before. As with
almost every trip I make to McConnells Mill I found something new that
surprised me. This time it was a really, really old-looking Tulip poplar.
It has very deeply furrowed bark like I've never seen before. It must be
ancient. Many of the furrows are at least three inches deep. This is really
an incredible looking tree! There is another bigger, balding, very
old-looking tulip near it that I measured to 11'8"CBH X 126.6'. On Saturday
Ed took pictures of these trees including some bark close-ups. Iím sure
heíll be posting them to the ENTS website.

DSCN0591.JPG (2917530 bytes)

126.6' balding tuliptree

dscn0593.jpg (3048790 bytes)

deeply furrowed bark on tuliptree

I also found loads of very tall American beaches and cucumber trees in that
area. I thought I might find a cucumber to rival the 130-footer on the
other side of the gorge, but no luck (yet). The highest I got was 124.7'.
(Incidentally, in the same ravine as the ~146 Tulip, Carl measured a
cucumber at 125.3' and a shagbark hickory at 4.7' X 115.7'.)

DSCN0588.JPG (2948868 bytes) 121' beech

The highest beach I measured Friday was 121.0'. On Saturday Carl measured it
and got 9.5í X 120.5 which is what I put in the tree list below. There are
several other American beaches in the same area that are in the same height
range. Ed thinks there is probably a record-breaker in there somewhere.
(The current PA American beach height record is 127.5í and is at Cook

After I showed Ed and Carl this area Saturday, we headed into an area of the
big woods section that I hadn't yet been too. As always, there were more
surprises. One was a very nice Tulip (11'3" X 130.7', measured by Carl).
The most impressive find of the entire day for me was in this area. It was
an old-looking 11'6"CBH cucumber tree. Ed measured its height at 122.5' and
Carl at 125.0'. They were shooting from close to the tree. I was trying to
find a good shot from a distance, but gave up. The area is so thick with
grape vines that it was difficult even with my laser in brush mode. Sadly,
we didnít get a picture of this tree.

After we got through the first unexplored patch of woods, we headed to
another part of the big woods area that I hadn't yet explored and found some
more really old-looking Tulips with deep bark furrows. They were not
exceptionally big trees. I didn't measure them. I believe Ed and Carl did,
though. I hadn't slept well the night before, and by this time, 4:30pm, I
was spacing out pretty badly and was happy just to let them measure. We
called it a day and headed out of the woods at about 5:30.

DSCN0617.JPG (1827622 bytes) Old tuliptree

Below are most of the trees we measured Saturday. Some of these are
actually re-measurements of trees that Iíd posted previously.

Am Beech                       9.5    120.5

Cucumber                     10'2"     130.3
Cucumber                     n/a       125.3
Cucumber                     11'6"     125.0
Cucumber                     n/a        124.7
Cucumber                      n/a       121.8

Tulip                            10'9"      146.0+
Tulip                             n/a       137.9
Tulip                             n/a        132.3
Tulip                            11'8''       126.6

Shagbark Hickory            4.7         115.7
Shagbark Hickory            n/a         110.6

Looking back, we probably could have been more disciplined and measured
more. There are not a lot of new trees listed. After we made careful
efforts to measure the PA height champion cucumber and the ~146í+ tulip, we
were more in exploratory mode than careful-documentation mode. As this was
Carlís and Edís first trip to the place, and because there is so much to see
there, I thought it best to give them a broad tour, rather than focus on
carefully documenting one or two small areas. This is also probably why this
report contains more loose narrative than sober description.

DSCN0614.JPG (8182045 bytes) Gorge

As Iíve already said, every time I go to McConnells Mill, I discover at
least one new surprise. The more I explore the place, the more I see its
significance as an old-growth remnant. Before I started going there with my
laser and clinometer, the tree heights seemed quite normal to me. Now I see
that the place contains at least one PA height champion and possibly a few

Repeating what I said in my first report, the trees in the big woods area
are not down in the gorge itself or in any otherwise inaccessible place.
Itís a mystery to me why they survived. (The gorge itself IS filled with
very old trees. Most of them are not remarkably large, though, probably due
to the steepness of the gorgeís sides.) Just how ďvirginĒ the site is it
will probably take one of you ENTS experts to determine. To date Iíve only
discovered two stumps in the entire big woods area. Saturday we saw an old
snag from a tree that someone had cut a notch into, but then for whatever
reason decided not to cut down. Most of it eventually did fall over. Parts
of the log are still there in a state of very advanced decay. Other these
two stumps and one notched snag there are no signs of logging.

DSCN0597.JPG (2929318 bytes) dead tree with notch

Itís also somewhat of a mystery to me that this place escaped the ENTS
old-growth dragnet. What, if anything, had you folks known about the place
before? I know that Dale had made a few trips to other parts of the gorge.
I first went there because there is one small mention of it in Mary Byrd
Davisí ďEastern Old-Growth Forests: Prospects for Rediscovery and RecoveryĒ
(p.23). Because it isnít mentioned in any other old-growth reference, I
wasnít expecting much. Wrong I was.

Since McConnells Mill is only about 45 minutes from where I live, I plan to
go back there often and begin to document its various old-growth areas in a
more careful and systematic manner as I continue to improve my measuring
technique. Iíll, of course, keep posting my findings to the ENTS list.
Though I have been trained in empirical methods, my knowledge of forest
ecology is quite limited (in case you havenít noticed!), so Iíll welcome any
advice, comments, and criticisms.

Iíll also be more than happy to give any of you a tour of the place.

Anthony Kelly

RE: McConnells Mill SP, PA - Tall cucumber   Will Blozan
  Feb 04, 2006 06:58 PST 


Excellent blow-by-blow report! I find the learning process of new measurers
very interesting. It reminds me of the trial and error of my early days. You
are fortunate to have experienced ENTS to draw upon and an awesome place to
refine your skills.

Cucumber is an amazing species. It is by far the tallest temperate N.
American magnolia reaching- over 150' here in the Smokies. BVP thinks it may
be the largest of its genus in volume. ENTS will find out!

Re: McConnells Mill SP, PA - Tall cucumber   Neil
  Feb 04, 2006 08:34 PST 


And, cucumbertree might be the oldest magnolia. Records show that it
often lives beyond 300 years (see Hough and Forbes, 1943).
Oldest-documented to date is 348 yrs. I wouldn't be surprised to see
that to increase in the future.

Re: McConnells Mill SP, PA - Tall cucumber   Edward Frank
  Feb 04, 2006 14:08 PST 


Anthony Kelly suggested that Carl Harting and I add our comments to the
recent trip we took to mcconnells Mill State Park, with him on the 28th. I
have posted a number of website updates, including photos from this trip to
the website. I want to thank Anthony for inviting us to visit the park with
him. He has found an amazing area of Big Trees that I had not expected to
be as impressive as they were. Walking through the park Anthony was a
fountain of information on the history of the park and the areas we were

What really struck me aside from the size of the tree we encountered was the
composition of the forest. I am familiar with the forest at Cook Forest
dominated by White pine and containing massive hemlocks. Hardwoods are
present but not a dominant component of much of the old-growth areas. Here
the composition was dramatically different in a short geographical distance.
The are was dominated by American Beech and Oak trees. I have been looking
at the forest community designation - it is not a beech-maple climax forest,
because while maples were present, they were not a prominent tree. Nor is
it an oak-hickory forest as hickories were only a minor component. The
dominant trees were as I said beech and oaks- red, white, and chestnut were
all present. In a secondary tier of numbers were numerous tuliptrees and
cucumber trees. Hemlock was present in only limited numbers and relatively
small sizes - mostly in the slopes of the canyon wall. Other trees present
included minor maple, white pine, black gum, and a few hophornbeam.   Along
the canyon top were numerous smaller gnarled oak trees and some hemlocks.
They were not large in size but gave the appearance of great age. One area
along the edge of the canyon a dozen or more large trees that had blown down
in some recent event. I would have liked to have been able to core some of
the trees to get an idea of their ages.

There was a clear demarcation between the old-growth areas and areas that
were not cut. In the cut areas the trees were small, maybe in the range of
30 to 40 years in some areas, closely packed, and with numerous stumps. i
don't know why this old-growth area was never cut. There is certainly no
geographic reason why it was not done.

There were a couple of trees that were difficult to identify based upon
their bark. I am not very good at it anyway. One I believe is an old black
gum about 100 feet high. The other is what appears to be a cucumbertree
with shaggy bark - I will go back in the spring to be sure after the leaves
are out.

This initial trip was to me more of a reconnaissance trip, than a measuring
trip. We wanted to get an overview of the area and check out a couple of
tree Anthony had measured before. I would like to go back and focus on a
couple groups of trees. There are numerous large Beech trees. I am sure
one or more of them with careful looking will top the current PA height
record of 127 feet. There are large numbers of cucumbertrees. I would like
to get good measurements of as many as possible. There are many tuliptrees
in the 130's some higher that deserve measurements. There also is an
opportunity to measure a few less measured species like black gum and
hornbeam. We could add some of the hemlocks, and a variety of oaks. I am
not sure what kind of Rucker Index we would have for the site, but there are
enough different species, including 147 tulip tree, 130 cucumbertree,
beeches 120+ and large oaks. It is a site worth revisiting and doing some
serious measurement trips to supplement the work Anthony is doing.

Ed Frank