Tamassee's finest   Jess Riddle
  Feb 06, 2005 21:17 PST 

A couple of weeks ago I returned to the coves around Tamassee Knob in
South Carolina's northwest corner to measure a chestnut oak I had
previously spotted, thoroughly measure the largest cove in the area, and
to avoid tall tree withdrawal upon coming back from the Congaree. The
chestnut oak grows at the bottom of a south facing cove that supports the
tallest white oaks so far found in the area, three over 130'.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Francis knocked over the 126.8' black oak that
grew in the cove. In the large northeast facing cove, the storm uprooted
a 8'2.5" x 139.2' sweetgum with a huge crown, and snapped the tallest ash
I knew of in the cove, a 135.1' individual. The ash appears to have still
been growing radially at a rate of three to five millimeters per year.

South facing cove

Cbh      Height      Species
3'9"      93.4'        Hickory, Pale
6'1.5"   133.7'       Oak, Chestnut
3'10"    134.4'       Tuliptree      110:1 HDR

I had not noticed pale hickory before in the area, but they grow scattered
along the relatively dry main ridge and spur ridges. Surprisingly, the
chestnut oak grows right on the drainage surrounded by tuliptrees,
including the skinny one listed above.

Several features commonly associated with fertile habitats converge in the
largest cove at Tamassee Knob. The northeast aspect of the cove and the
small stream cascading from the adjacent plateau combine to minimize water
stress, and the elevation below 1500' helps to extend the growing season
and avoid ice storms. The steam upper slopes on both sides provide
shelter from wind storms while the benches on the south side and gentle
lower slopes provide more stable footing. Additionally, the rich bedrock
typical of the steep slopes throughout the area underlies much of the
cove, and helps to produce circumneutral soils. In another month sweet
betsy trilliums will cover the approximately 50 acres of the cove, and the
redbuds in the sunnier spots will accentuate them. The redbuds share the
understory with wild hydrangea, spicebush, and paw paw. In parts of the
cove silverbell and yellow buckeye attempt to form a midstory, but neither
species reaches the stature they achieve higher in the southern

However, tuliptree grows well at the site and forms the
largest proportion of the canopy. Ash, probably green (see 1/31/05 post
for full description and photographs), and pignut hickory also constitute
large portions of the overstory. On the drier southeast facing slope and
some of the other upper slopes, white, chestnut, and black oak play a
larger role. Basswood and sweetgum are also locally important in the
canopy. Some of the overstory trees likely approach 125 years old, and
given the richness, sheltered nature, and accessibility of the area seem
to support the idea that this site was cleared early in the logging of the
area. Widely scattered, partially decomposed stumps indicate some more
recent thinning of the stand.

Large NE aspect cove

Cbh      Height      Species
9'8"      115.8       Ash, Green?
7'5.5"    131.0'      Ash, Green?
9'2"      139.6'      Ash, Green?
7'6"      122.2'      Basswood, White?
7'4"      127.2'      Basswood, White?
8'3"      127.7'      Basswood, White?
1'5"       NA         Grape
6'0.5"    142.4'     Hickory, Pignut
9'7.5"    149.0'     Hickory, Pignut
7'4"       159.1'     Hickory, Pignut
8'4.5"    ~125'      Locust, Black
NA        143.9'     Locust, Black
8'2"       121.4'     Oak, Black
NA        ~126'     Oak, Chestnut
9'3"       136.6'     Oak, Northern Red
7'11"      145.3'    Oak, Northern Red
5'1"        136.1'    Sweetgum
5'7"        150.0'    Sweetgum
10'9"      155.7'    Tuliptree
8'1"        157.2'    Tuliptree
13'0"       160.1'   Tuliptree
9'3"        161.4'    Tuliptree
9'4"        172.5'     Tuliptree
4'8"        100.0'    Walnut, White

Green Ash commonly reach 115 to 125' in the cove, but the 139.6' is a new
height champ for the Brevard Belt. The basswood include the second and
third tallest known in the state. Large lianas, both grape and virginia
creeper, grow in several of the Tamassee coves. The 9'7.5" x 149' hickory
appears relatively young, and has a massive crown with an 86' long spread.
Under the new rating system the tree scores 162 (115.5/157, 149/168.2),
behind a handful of other pignuts, but has the potential to become
massive. The 159.1' pignut is the third tallest known, and is
considerable slimmer and younger than the taller trees. The tall black
locusts were a nice find since I had been concerned that the other 140'+
tree in the coves was an anomaly. Several northern red oaks throughout
the cove top 130'. The 145.3' is a new best for Tamassee and the third
tallest known in the state. The sweetgum is another new record for
Tamassee and the tallest known outside of the Congaree. This tree differs
in structure dramatically from the Congaree giants. The tall Tamassee
three is far slimmer with a much smaller, more compact crown. The 13' x
160' tuliptree is the second largest tree I've seen in the coves so far.
The 161.4' tulip tree stands between the tallest tuliptree and the tallest
pignut hickory. I had the tree at 164' a few years ago and based on the
tree's appearance relative to the adjacent trees, that height seems
reasonable. The tallest tuliptree is now the tallest known tree in the
state, and the tallest known hardwood in the east outside of the Smokies.
The height listed is the average of three measurements ranging from 171.9'
to 172.9'. The white walnut, butternut is also encouraging since I had
seen only one other one at the site, but this one is the second tallest
measured so far in the state.

Rucker Index for the cove

172.5' Tuliptree
159.1' Pignut Hickory
150.0' Sweetgum
145.3' Northern Red Oak
143.9' Black Locust
139.6' Green Ash
133.4' Shortleaf Pine
129.2' Black Oak
127.7' White Basswood
~126' Chestnut Oak

142.67' Rucker Index

Tamassee Knob Rucker Index

Central Brevard Fault Zone Rucker Index


Tree contributed per site:
Whitewater River: 1
Wadakoe Mountain: 1
East Fork Chattooga River: 2
Congaree NP: 3
Central Brevard Fault Zone: 3

Jess Riddle

RE: Tamassee's finest   Robert Leverett
  Feb 07, 2005 06:36 PST 


   Your discovery and exploration of the super trees of Tamassee Knob
stand as one of ENTS's finest achievements. There has never been any
question about the superlative nature of the trees in the Smokies, Cook
Forest State Park, Joyce Kilmer, and other known big tree habitats, but
who knew of the riches of northwestern South Carolina? Well perhaps a
few were known, but the extension of the discoveries and the crowning of
one South Carolina champ after another goes to you, our great friend.
The 172.5-foot tulip and new state champion tall tree is a significant
find. The very different habitats of Congaree and Tamassee with the each
sporting super trees attests to the remarkable diversity of South
Carolina as a big tree haven. To Congaree and Tamassee, when we add the
Middleton Plantation, The Four Hole Swamp, and other individual great
trees like the Angel Oak, South Carolina vies with North Carolina for
distinction as the #1 tall tree capital of the East.     
The hunting has never been better   Robert Leverett
  Feb 08, 2005 05:08 PST 


A few more observations about Jess's South Carolina confirmations.
Before Jess started combing the South Carolina Blue Ridge, I would have
never imagined what grows there. Between white pine, tulip tree, and
loblolly, the state is the first for which we have documented 3 species
of trees making it to the 170 threshold: tuliptree, white pine, and
loblolly pine.

I spoke to Will last night and he is going to be joining Jess soon to
help find more of South Carolina's super trees. That's going to be one
heck of a trip report. Can't wait...