Monday, April 22, 2013

Weekend in the Woods

Besides finding morels in the woods of my backyard, I've found a few other treasures in the woods lately. The North Carolina Native Plant Society's Spring trip for 2013 was last weekend. On Saturday, we went to Wilson Creek near Lenoir, North Carolina. It was a first time visit to this area for me and my first out-of-town field trip with the NCNPS.

If this looks like a rushing stream, it isn't really. It was just a little trickle I found
up under a rhododendron. I almost fell in trying to get the picture.
I was told these thickets are called rhododendron hells
because they're hell to get into, and hell to get back out of again.
It did seem that way.
~
Lenoir is at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with an elevation of around 1100 feet, but hiking above Wilson Creek, the altitude is closer to 2000 feet. Tulip poplar, maple, oak, and white pine were common trees and the understory was filled with rhododendron, mountain laurel, spice bush, and blueberry. It was fun finding Cunila origanoides along the path, a native herb with an oregano scent.

Wilson Creek was a summer hunting ground for the Cherokee in centuries past. Once pioneers began to settle (after 1750), substantial logging took place and communities began to spring up. A railroad took the lumber to the mill, and the people in and out, but floods and fires eventually took their toll, and the creek—which has remained quite remote—was designated a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 2000.

Halberd-leaf Violet (Viola hastata)

The cool spring we've had prevented many of the things we normally would have seen from blooming yet, but there were plenty of plants to enjoy.

Round-leaf Violet (Viola rotundifolia)


Buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica)
Ground Cedar (Lycopodium sp.)
Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)


Besides the plant life at Wilson Creek, the geology is interesting as well. Past major geologic events contribute to a wide diversity of rocks in the area. Mountains folded up from the ocean floor leaving sea fossils and sandy soil in some spots. Then millions of years of erosion exposed layer after layer of other rock and soil types. No doubt this, and the fact that glaciers didn't make it so far south, made for a wonderful flora here.

Rock tripe lichen (Umbilicaria mammulata)
A closer view of the rock trip lichen.
I loved the greens and grays of this rock. We were parked on the side of the road and I was looking straight up from the car window to take the picture. 
Leaving the mountain, a quick stop was deemed mandatory as we passed these cliff-side plants conveniently growing at eye-level.

Our first trillium sighting! Christmas fern (Polystichum  acrostichoides) is at its feet.

Looks like the picture is sideways, but this Fraser's sedge (Cymophyllus fraserianus) is growing out of the side of the cliff.



Here's Fraser's sedge in a more respectable position.
Trillium erectum or T. sulcatum? There was some debate, but a resident expert declared it T. sulcatum, based on the fact that the stamens are more exserted than they would be for T. erectum. I think that's the story.

Trillium sulcatum
The deep red was hard to stop looking at—or taking picture of.

Liverwort (Hepatica sp.)

On Sunday, we took a walk through a private garden and the woods beyond, in Happy Valley, a part of the Yadkin River Valley.

Happy Valley


Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum)  just emerging. The green umbrella leaves will open up soon.
A lichen- and moss-covered tree stump—more beautiful color and texture
Brand new leaves of a tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Sassafrass blooms (Sassafrass albidum)


I had never noticed sassafrass blooming before. Tree blooms are always kind of surprising and fun to see up close—they're often up high and out of sight.

Horsesugar (Symplocos tinctoria) was an unusual plant we saw in Happy Valley, unfortunately I didn't get a picture! You can take a look at some nice ones here, or look for the trees in southeastern coastal plains. Yes, I did say coastal plains! Horsesugar is rare in the mountains, but they're here in Lenoir.  Could it be because Lenoir used to BE coastal plain eons ago?

One more tidbit: Japanese knotweed grows throughout the Wilson Creek area. I love how the introduction of invasive plants can often be traced back to the actual event that brought them to a place. In this case, they believe a man, Bill Crump—who lived in one of the creek communities and had established a furniture manufacturing facility there—is responsible. He ordered a pretty ornamental from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and planted it outside his home. The pretty ornamental has turned out to be a devourer of native habitat, covering acres of land and threatening untold numbers of native species! If they had only known then what we know now!

~*~

You are welcome to join the North Carolina Native Plant Society, too. These trips are one of the many benefits. Information about membership is available at NCWildflower.org, along with articles and links of interest to plant lovers.