Friday, June 13, 2008

Give me home where the cone-flowers bloom...

(Note: First posted June 8. Reposted today to include a few additional pictures taken by Teresa Ware. All other photos by Terrell Shaw. I am especially glad to have Teresa's photo of Marshallia mohrii or Coosa Barbara's Buttons. The search for this unusual plant resulted in the "discovery"of the Coosa Prairies in Floyd County. Thanks also to Richard and Teresa Ware and Jim Drake for helping to identify all the plants.)

Hard against the Alabama border in western Floyd County Georgia are a group of meadows interspersed with stands of pine. The soil is shallow and lies atop limestone. Parts of it are very dry. As you walk across other parts water squishes from the thin layer of vegetative matter and soil underfoot. These areas represent natural environments not expected in Georgia - prairies.

Jim Allison, a botanist for Georgia's Department of Natural Resourses, was curious to know if there might be a population of Mohr's Barbara's Buttons in Georgia across the line from spots in Alabama where these rare flowers are found. He got out a National Geologic Survey map of the border area. Forested areas are colored green on the map. He noticed irregular spotches of white in the area north of Cave Sporing and west of Highway 100. Checking out those openings in the woods, this is what Allison found:

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower

Allison (and Richard Ware) came back to the fascinating prairies time and again - searching, discovering, keying, collecting, cataloguing. They discovered forty-one rare species, many of which grow nowhere else in Georgia. Some that are rare anywhere.

There are probably only one or two percent of the people in Floyd County who have any knowledge of the existence of the Coosa Prairies. But I heard about them through my good friends, Richard and Teresa Ware. Finally on Saturday I got my chance to see them first hand. The Georgia Botanical Society had organized a field trip and Richard was the leader. I called him up and invited myself along.

I showed up at Richard's house in West Rome at about nine. He was anxious to show off his Canada Lilies, in full bloom in the back yard, and other native pants he has coaxed to thrive in his suburban yard.

Lilium canadense ssp. editorum - Canada Lily
Dr. Max Medley of Dalton, another well-known botanist in Georgia, was there as well. Richard, Teresa, Max and I threw our backpacks into the back of the Ware's jeep and headed to Rolater Park in Cave Spring.

Rhododendron maximum
While we waited for the Botsoccers to gather, Teresa and I took a photo stroll around the park. The Oakleaf Hydrangea and a Rhododendron were in bloom...

The ducks floated by on a rippled mirror...

The trout waited in the cold water for food available in small cups at the cave entrance...

The cold stream from the cave to the swimming pool has been re-channelized and the banks left bare, waiting to be washed to Alabama during the next strong rain. Does the stream buffer law not apply to the city of Cave Spring?! How many salamanders, crayfish, minnows, snails, and other animals and plants have been lost to this little project?

What a mess.

Soon we gathered to get the lowdown on the schedule for the day from Richard. We carpooled in eight cars to he little dirt road into the prairies.

Matelea obliqua - Climbing Milkvine

Richard made two stops along the dirt road to point out the flora of the roadsides. This interesting rare vine bloomed as it climbed high into a small pine.

Richard pointed out two unusual dogwoods growing side by side. He taught us about the upturned leaflets on Green ash and the down-turned leaflets of white ash. He pointed out the shingle oak and the swamp tupelo.

Mimosa microphylla - Sensitive Briar

Mimosa microphylla - Sensitive Briar

Aletris farinosa - Colic Root

Ratibida pinnata - Gray-Headed Coneflower

Lythrum alatum - Winged Loosestrife

Anemone virginiana - Thimbleweed

Clematis viorna - Leather Flower

Coreopsis major - Whorled Coreopsis

Rosa setigera - Prairie Rose

Cornus amomum - Silky Dogwood

Ratibida pinnata - Gray-Headed Coneflower

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower

Rosa carolina - Carolina Rose

Silphium terebinthinaceum - Prairie Dock
Asclepias tuberosa - Butterfly Weed

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower
Ceanothus americanus - New Jersey Tea

Toxicodendron pubescens - Atlantic Poison Oak
Photo by Teresa Ware

The prairies even contain an unusual species close kin to that omnipresent aggravation Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy). This is a low growing forb or shrub, not a vine, that some like to call Atlantic Poison Oak -- though I think most folks use Poison Oak and Poison Ivy interchangably. If it looks bushy they call it "oak", if it looks viney they call it "ivy". Atlantic Poison Oak actually never grows "viney". Here's what Wikipedia says about it:
Atlantic Poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens or Rhus toxicarium) grows mostly in sandy soils in eastern parts of the United States. Growing as a shrub, its leaves are in groups of three. Leaves are typically rounded or lobed, and are densely haired. Although it is often confused with the more common poison ivy, even in the scientific literature[4], Atlantic Poison oak has small clumps of hair on the veins on the underside of the leaves, while Poison ivy does not.
If you look carefully you can see the "hairiness" in this picture.

Onosmodium virginianum - Marbleseed

Asclepias tuberosa - Butterfly Weed

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower

Eryngium yuccifolium - Rattlesnake Master
Photo by Teresa Ware

According to Wikipedia Rattlesnake Master "...gets its name because some Native Americans used its root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom." And it is called Eryngium yuccifolium because "... its leaves resemble those of yuccas." It is native to the tallgrass prairies of America from Minnesota to Ohio to Texas to Florida.

Marshallia mohrii or Coosa Barbara's Buttons
Photo by Teresa Ware

This plant is what started it all. Marshallia mohrii or Coosa Barbara's Buttons, is the wildflower for which Jim Allison was searching when he "discovered" the Coosa Praries of Floyd County. It was in full bloom on the day of our walk in the smaller wetter prairie area near the Grand Prairie. This area is called the Marshallia Prairie.

All-in-all the Nature Conservancy has obtained an easement on over 900 acres of these prairies sites to protect the fragile ecosystems there. Thanks are due to folks like Jim Allison and Richard Ware for their dedication to exploring, recording , and protecting these unique pockets of natural beauty.

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower
The Grand Prairie

A few dedicated folks withstood the heat to the extent that they followed Richard on to two other nearby botanical curiosities: A stone outcrop at Flat Rock Baptist Church and the Black Bluff Nature Preserve.

Asclepias viridis - Spider Milkweed

A milkweed at Flat Rock.

Sideroxylon lycioides - Buckthorn Bumelia

Dalea gattingeri - Gattinger's Prairie Clover

Opuntia humifusa - Eastern Prickly-pear Cactus

A blooming cactus at Flat Rock.

Triosteum perfoliatum - Wild Coffee (or Feverwort)
The flower bracts are still visible on this plant found along the Black's Bluff road near the preserve.

Scutellaria montana - Large-flowered Scullcap

This plant, Scutellaria montana or Large-flowered Scullcap, was once listed as endangered. There are several colonies in Floyd County. This one was the best specimen we found along the Black Bluff trail.

Podophyllum peltatum - Mayapple
At the top of the trail is a rocked in spring where we found this Mayapple in fruit.

Liriodendron tulipifera - Tulip Tree (or Yellow Poplar or Tulip Poplar)
At least three insects were rafting across the spring on a Tulip Tree leaf.

Botsoccers examining the Grand Prairie.
Photo by Teresa Ware.

What a grand day on the Grand Prairie!

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