By Robert T. Leverett, National Cadre of Tree Measuring Experts
The Saheda white pine. Credit: Robert T. Leverett.
On November 27, 2016, my wife, Monica, and I visited the Elders Grove in Mohawk Trail State Forest (MTSF) to walk off Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing. However, I had another mission: to re-measure the huge Saheda white pine, in order to record its end-of-2016 statistics. Saheda is perhaps my favorite of the species. The surviving turkeys at Mohawk scattered at the sound of my whoop of elation: Saheda registered an eye-popping height of 171 feet and an impressive girth of 12. At 171, Saheda is the second tallest tree in New England, but throw in girth and Saheda becomes even more special. Only one other pine in the Northeast makes the 170 x 12 club: the Seneca Pine, Cook Forest State Park, Cooksburg, Pa. Monica and I celebrated that evening. A champion tree does that for us.
The White Pine in New England
Lea Sloan, American Forests’ Vice President of Communications, and Monica Leverett with the Saheda pine. credit: Robert T. Leverett.
I started to think about Saheda’s long journey to this extraordinary achievement. By the mid-1800s, New England was largely cleared of its original forest cover. However, since the early 1900s, the forests have grown back, and a beneficiary of the 1800s clearings has been the eastern white pine, which generously seeds abandoned fields. Saheda sprouted up over 190 years ago in an abandoned sheep pasture.
The white pine is the tallest of our native New England species. Today, 100-footers are common as weeds, but pines reaching 150 feet need to be on highly favorable sites and are usually 120 years in age or older. In today’s largely regrowth forests, there will be a few sites with 150-footers, but 170 is a different matter. There are only two.
Discovery of Saheda
In August 1995, timber framer/architect Jack Sobon and I measured a conspicuously tall white pine in MTSF. We later named the tree the Saheda Pine for a Mohawk ambassador murdered by the Pocumtucks in the late 1600s. Saheda’s death set off a war between the Mohawks and Pocumtucks. Since Saheda was on a mission of peace, I thought it appropriate to name the pine in his honor.
Jack and I confirmed the unexpected height of 160.0 feet, tallest we’d measured in Massachusetts. Jack recorded a circumference of 10 feet, 8 ½ inches at breast height. Eventually, the Jake Swamp tree, also in MTSF, proved taller. In 1998, Will Blozan, President of the Native Tree Society, climbed and tape-drop-measured Saheda to 158.3 feet. Jake was measured to 158.6 feet. Why had Saheda’s height dropped from 160.0?
Saheda splits into two trunks near the top. Will measured the trunk on the downhill side. The uphill top is now the taller and may have been then as well. The crown also may have sustained damage. Regardless, they are now No. 1 and No. 2.
A comparison of the 1995 measurement and my latest one follows including trunk radius and volume calculations.
How Saheda Compares to Its Competitors
Today, many New England white pines have girths over 12 feet. Most grow in fields, cemeteries or other places where light is abundant. They branch low and are bushy in form. By contrast, stand-grown forms have long, more slender trunks.
Currently, we know of only six pines reaching 170 feet in the entire Northeast. More remarkably, only one other combines a height of 170 feet and a girth of 12, the Seneca Pine, previously mentioned. The list of 170-footers in the Northeast follows: