Master Naturalists Tackle Invasives on Naked Mountain

Before I tell you about what happened on Naked Mountain earlier this week, take a moment and click on Naked Mountain, the Book on the menu bar and read about my new memoir. It’s up on Amazon and you can pre-order it now!  You can also book me for an event on my contact page.  As soon as it’s released on September 6th, I will be doing a 30 minute talk about the book — how Naked Mountain became Virginia’s 49th natural area preserve and the important lessons I’ve learned about ovarian cancer, grieving, and remaking a life. I will read excerpts, take questions and sign books.

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Firepink (Silene virginica) blooming this week on Naked Mountain

Battling invasive plants and animals is the most important task facing anyone who happens to be fortunate enough to own a natural area preserve in Virginia. I suspect this imperative exists for publicly or privately owned natural area preserves everywhere in the U.S. The nature of the enemy may change from location to location, but the need to engage in the war is essentially the same. Ignoring these threats can easily overwhelm the biodiversity of the property, which is why it was dedicated as a preserve — a place that contains and protects excellent examples of natural communities and usually rare species within those communities.

Fortunately I have help in managing the invasives on Naked Mountain.  First and foremost I have assistance from highly educated and trained stewards with the Natural Heritage Program, a division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.  Stewards provide essential management services to the 63 natural area preserves in Virginia. As one of the few on-site landowners, they provide me with advice and consultation on how to identify and manage invasives and come twice- a- year to work alongside me to control them.  But their ability to do all of this has been severely challenged by  budget limitations.  As the number and acres of preserves has more than doubled in Virginia in the past decade and the threat from invasive species grows exponentially, the number of staff at Natural Heritage has actually declined.  The Virginia Native Plant Society, a wonderful non-profit organization whose motto is:  “conserving wild flowers and wild places,” is spearheading an effort targeted at boosting budget resources for Natural Heritage.

Another important and growing source of help is Virginia’s Master Naturalist program.  Master Naturalists are volunteer educators, citizen scientists, and stewards of public lands. The Central Blue Ridge Chapter is located in Nelson County and its leaders have always been my neighbors so I have had good help from this source for the past five years. Our focus has been on pulling up Garlic Mustard, an aggressive woodland and forest invasive that can quickly overwhelm native plants.  It is also allelopathic, so its presence poisons the soil so that the seedlings from native trees and plants can’t grow.

I am pleased to report that this spring, in areas of Naked Mountain that used to be infested with Garlic Mustard, we found very little.  It has taken ten years of persistent pulling to get to this point.  I have been so focused on this task that even while I was being treated with chemotherapy for advanced ovarian cancer in 2008, I pulled up Garlic Mustard for hours and carried ten pound bags of it walking uphill for a mile.

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Perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata) blooming this week on Naked Mountain

Another important development in the Blue Ridge area of Virginia is the recent establishment of the Blue Ridge PRISM , or Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management.  It’s a non-profit, citizen led organization that’s focused on controlling invasive species on private lands.  I am coordinating the Dutch Creek Area Stewardship, one of the many local sub-groups that belong to Blue Ridge PRISM.  I will write about this group and its work in a future post.

On April 19th, members of the Headwaters Master Naturalist chapter came to Naked Mountain to help me control a relatively new invasive, Multi-flora Rose.  This non-native rose has begun infesting several areas along my road, including a small, beautiful seep where over 100 spectacular Cardinal plants (Lobelia cardinalis) bloom in August. Led by the extremely competent Chris Bowlen, her husband Gene and friend Jerry Hopkins we alternately dug up smaller Multi-flora shrubs or cut the canes on larger shrubs and dripped 40% glyphosate on the just cut stems.  The latter procedure is not as effective in Spring as it would be in Fall when the plants nutrients are being drawn back down into the root system, but we felt it was worth trying. In the seep we were able to pull up the much smaller shrubs there and so avoided contaminating the flowing spring-fed stream with herbicide.

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Headwaters Master Naturalists (from left) Jerry Hopkins, Chris Bowlen, Gene Bowlen working on Naked Mountain

At the end of 2.5 hours of work, we had pulled or treated every visible multi-flora rose infestation along  the mid-section of my 2.5 mile long road, the only area affected, so far.  While I will need to constantly monitor for re-growth, I am extremely pleased with our result. Tackling an invasive as early as possible helps keep it from becoming an overwhelming problem.

Oh yes, you want to know why a master naturalist group from the Harrisonburg area of Virginia, which is 60 miles away, would come and work on Naked Mountain when they have  their own important local projects? Last month, I gave a talk about the flora, fauna and geology of Naked Mountain to the Headwaters Master Naturalist Chapter.  Several members who heard the talk expressed an interest in visiting Naked Mountain and offered to do invasive species field work as their ticket for admission.  What a deal!

Coming Soon — Naked Mountain, A Memoir; Here now — the Plant List!

As you can see, the Naked Mountain Blog has a new look. The sliding header features views from my house and nearby outcrop barren as well as some of the spectacular flora and fauna that dwell on the mountain. Every time I gaze at these photos I feel immense gratitude to the wonderful people at Virginia’s Natural Heritage Program (a division of the Department of Conservation and Recreation) for working with me to protect these species by establishing the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.

You can read more about Virginia Natural Heritage here — and note on the home page that 2016 is their 30th anniversary! A very happy anniversary to all the wonderful staff at Natural Heritage!

There is a new page on the menu of the blogsite:  Plant List — just click it and nearly 300 ordered species will appear. The Naked Mountain vascular plant list was compiled by Natural Heritage (VNH) staff with some contributions from me. It’s a work in progress as Gary Fleming, senior vegetation ecologist with VNH, who has visited the preserve a dozen times for research purposes, feels there are a number of species yet to be identified and added to the list.  He feels, for instance, that sedges are likely underrepresented.

There is one species on the list that is globally rare, Torrey’s Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum torrei). It is featured in the header, but here it is up close and personal.

Photo by Gary P. Fleming

Photo by Gary P. Fleming

This mint grows along with Narrow-leaf Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenufolium) and Hoary Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum) in a grassy outcrop barren on the Southeastern slope. All three mints attract a beautiful green butterfly that lives in the barrens, Juniper Hairstreak.

Photo by Megan McCarty

Photo by Megan McCarty

Two other Naked Mountain species are on the watchlist:  American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and one of the seven orchids that are known to date to grow on Naked Mountain — Crested coralroot (Hexalectris spicata). Here is a close-up of the coralroot.

Photo by Gary P. Fleming

Photo by Gary P. Fleming

Another new feature of the Naked Mountain Blog is the page, Naked Mountain, The Book.  If you click on it you can see the cover and if you click below the cover on “Get It Now” it will take you to Amazon where you can read a summary and see editorial reviews. It will be published on September 6, 2016, but you can pre-order via Amazon.

How do you like the watercolor treatment on the book cover of the view on the header?

You can check back on “The Book” page for updates on media and events – I will be available to groups to do a book talk and signing, so let me know via the contact page in the menu bar if you would like me to do an event for your group.

Coming soon will be a tab under “The Book” page for a gallery of photos that depict scenes described in the book.

Hope you are enjoying this beautiful spring season. I will be back soon…

 

 

Bryophytes: A Whole New Tiny World of Wonder!

On November 6th I had a delightful visit on Naked Mountain from three important field scientists:  Tom Wieboldt, Curator of the Herbarium at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, John Townsend, Botanist with the Natural Heritage Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Gary Fleming, Senior Vegetation Ecologist also with Natural Heritage. They arrived early in the day when a cool foggy mist enclosed the summit of the mountain.

Left, Tom Wieboldt; Center, John Townsend; Right, Gary Fleming Photo by author

These highly experienced field scientists came to the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve to collect something no one else had yet investigated:  the whole category of tiny plants known as Bryophytes. Bryophytes comprise all variety of mosses, liverworts and hornworts. These have recently been determined to have separate evolutionary histories, but they are still grouped under the name Bryophytes as they share common characteristics, namely that they do not produce lignin to enable the growth of vascular tissue for water and nutrient transport and their reproductive cycle is dominantly gametophyte and haploid (cells contain only one-half of their chromosomes). You can read more about this here.

Lacking vascular tissue means that Bryophytes must absorb water and nutrients through their tiny leaves from the air around them. To retain vital moisture that is essential for their survival and for reproductive growth, the leaves are coated in a waxy cuticle.

Bryophytes are also characterized by the pattern of their growth — in closely packed mats or cushions on rocks, soil, or as epiphytes on the trunks of trees and leaves of forest trees. Gary Fleming noted that mosses act as an agent of primary succession on bare rock and so provide a medium for plants seen on Naked Mountain like the massive numbers of Shooting Stars (Primula meadia) seen in the lower elevation outcrop barrens and especially Fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolius) that blooms directly in the moss on the flatter barrens.  In the case of Naked Mountain which is underlain with amphibolite, the mosses will be specifically adapted to mafic rock.  Here is what Gary says about the moss seen in the photo below:  “Grimmia laevigata (“Dry Rock Moss”) – characteristic moss of exposed igneous and metamorphic rocks with periodic seepage; abundant in the Naked Mountain amphibolite woodlands and barrens”

Fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolius) growing in moss in July on flat barren near summit of Naked Mountain (elevation about 1950 feet) Photo by Gary Fleming

Fossil records indicate that Bryophytes are the oldest land plants on Earth. They are believed to be a vital link in the migration of plants from aquatic environments onto land. Ecologically, they are important in maintaining an ecosystem’s humidity level and so can be used as indicators of habitat condition.

Identifying Bryophytes takes painstaking work with a microscope to see the minute branching effects and other features, some only a cell-wide.

Tom Wieboldt examining moss with Gary Fleming. Photo by author

After collecting some specimens near the summit at about 1900 feet I took them down into the low elevation outcrop barrens at about 1600 feet where rare plants grow.  Here are two of many Bryophytes they collected in that site.

Drummondia prorepens – a tree moss growing on branch of Eastern Red Cedar in barrens on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary Fleming

A thallose liverwort growing in moist, sheltered humus in Naked Mountain amphibolite barrens. Specific identification awaits microscope analysis. Photo by Gary Fleming

Here are some really cool facts I learned from Tom and Johnny about Bryophytes:

  • There are upwards of 25,000 species of Bryophytes with 15,000 species of mosses alone making this plant category among the most diverse on Earth — maybe not surprising given how old it is.
  • They occur the world over from the coast of Antarctica to the deserts of Australia and the rain forests of the Amazon.
  • Because of this characteristic, there is an international on-line community of Bryophyte lovers, both expert botanists and ecologists and highly informed amateurs, that share information and discuss taxonomy.
  • Very little is known about Virginia’s Bryophytes.  There are a few experts in the state, but they have only investigated locally. Natural Heritage and herbarium botanists like Tom Wieboldt want to see a digital mapping of Bryophytes for the Commonwealth and so that effort is now beginning. It is surmised that rare species of Bryophytes exist in Virginia.

By the time Tom, Johnny and Gary returned to their car near the summit several hours later, the mist had cleared and they could see the Blue Ridge Mountains from my deck – a late fall view with some hills in the foreground still glowing gold. I was glad they had a chance to see this. Some people who visit Naked Mountain never get to see beyond the white mist.

View from my deck on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary Fleming

I was very pleased and proud to be a collection site for this Bryophyte mapping venture and can’t wait to hear what species they found growing in the Naked Mountain barrens!

 

 

 

 

 

Naked Mountain Visit by Three Vegetation Ecologists

I feel like the most fortunate person in the world!  On May 6th, vegetation ecologists from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Division of Natural Heritage (DCR-DNH) came to Naked Mountain.  Here they are:

From Left: Kristin Taverna, Gary Fleming, Karen Patterson taking a photo of Spring Forget-me-not, Myosotis verna

The principal reason for the visit was to introduce Kristin Taverna to the Naked Mountain preserve because, over the summer months, she is going to conduct vegetative mapping of the whole preserve! I am very excited about this endeavor as we will then have a real sense of the different natural communities across the whole preserve. We will not only understand even more than is known now about the two important, and globally rare, natural communities that have long been identified on Naked Mountain, but will also learn about areas no professional ecologist or botanist has yet seen.

Plant communities in the two areas that Natural Heritage staff, especially vegetation ecologists Gary Fleming and Karen Patterson, have visited many times are:  Mountain/Piedmont Basic Woodlands and Low-Elevation Basic Outcrop Barrens. You can read more about these specific natural communities on the DCR-DNH website here. But to get a sense of the process and prodigious ecological data gathering behind the development of these natural community classifications, read the background on the effort here.  In brief, the classification is based on data collected from 4,500 standardized plots in much of the varied topography across the state and also the region. The resulting classification hierarchy that has been developed has four levels:

1) Systems:  based on gross hydrologic features e.g, Terrestrial, Palustrine, Estuarine, and Marine

2) Ecological Class: “…based primarily on gross climatic, geographic, and edaphic similarities, e.g., High-Elevation Mountain Communities or Non-Alluvial Wetlands of the Coastal Plain and Piedmont.”

3) Ecological Community Group: “… based on combinations of topographic, edaphic, physiognomic, and gross floristic similarities. This level is comparable to the level at which many natural community classifications define their basic units, e.g., Northern Red Oak Forests or Low-Elevation Basic Outcrop Barrens.”

4) Community Types:  “… are the fundamental units of the classification system and are nested within the Ecological Community Groups.” Virginia ecologists assess all vegetative layers in determining community types:  canopy/tree, understory, shrub and herbaceous.

The extensive plot data that Virginia’s Natural Heritage program has compiled is also being used in combination with similar data from other states to define the ecological communities of North America and then rank them with regard to rarity and conservation status/needs. The ranking system begins with Global/State rankings established through NatureServe of the rarity of specific natural resources found at  given sites and then a B ranking is given based on the G/S rankings that signals the site’s overall biodiversity significance. G1/ S1 rankings mean critically imperiled and G5/S5 mean demonstrably secure. Here, for example, is how the Naked Mountain NAP is described by DCR-DNH in a recent letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with regard to the proposed Atlantic Coast Natural Gas:

The Naked Mountain Conservation Site is located immediately adjacent to the centerline. The Naked Mountain Conservation Site has been given a biodiversity significance ranking of B2, which represents a site of very high significance. The natural heritage resources of concern at this site are:

 Pycnanthemum torreyi  Torrey’s Mountain-mint  G2/S2?/SOC/NL

Central Appalachian Basic Ash – Hickory Woodland  G2/S2/NL/NL

Central Appalachian Mafic/Calcarous Barren (Low-Elevation) G2/S2/NL/NL               

Inner Piedmont/Lower Blue Ridge Basic Oak – Hickory Forest  G3G4/S3S4/NL/NL”                                             

When Kristin is done with her work, all the ecological community groups, based on the community types within them, will be mapped in color for the boundaries of the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve. I can’t wait!

But below is a photo senior DCR-DNH vegetation ecologist, Gary Fleming, took of an ecological value on Naked Mountain that isn’t fully captured in any classification system. In fact, the tens of thousands of Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) on Naked Mountain, that bloom all at once like a conducted orchestra (One, two, three:  Bloom!), aren’t noted as a community type species for Low-Elevation Basic Outcrop Barrens. It is just one of those unique happenings in nature that is a wonder to behold!

Shooting Stars (Primula meadia) blooming a few weeks ago in one of the barrens on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming

A close-up of one of the Shooting Stars (Primula meadia) blooming a few weeks ago on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming

 

Dear Tim,

My husband, Timothy Bell

It has been six years since your spirit left the Earth on this day in May.  I wanted to write to you and give you an update on how things are here on Earth.

First, the most important news is that your beloved daughter, Susan, is getting married on June 27th. She is marrying Steven.  You remember Steven:  steady, supportive, a rock under Susan’s sometimes slippery feet. The wedding will be at Helen’s house. They will take their vows under a gazebo by the pool surrounded by cascading roses.  You will be there in our hearts, but you are also welcome to eat cake and drink champagne!

     I am okay.  It has been six and a half years since I finished chemotherapy and I have not had a recurrence of my cancer.  In fact, I have done so well that my Hopkins’ oncologists discharged me from their care at the five year mark. I live now like a freed prisoner cherishing my unbelievable good luck. If only you could have shared in that providence and stayed with me. So unfair…
     Do you remember when your life was ebbing away, in the intensive care unit at Hopkins, you told me I should re-marry?  You said, “You will be sad for awhile, but then you will meet someone else and move on.”  Well, I am still sad, but the worst of the grieving finally subsided three and a half years after you left the Earth. You are still with me; I will never stop loving you, or missing you.  But, I want you to know that I have moved on, although wonderful widow’s groups I have found in books and on-line would replace that phrase with “moved forward” because we never leave behind our beloved deceased spouses.  I think you would be amazed, surprised, and pleased with who my new love is.
     Do you remember how you used to say, as we drove up our long gravel road to our beautiful little house on Naked Mountain:  “This is the place where all is well, and that Is all?” All is still well on Naked Mountain, but there have been some challenges. Last year around this time I received a letter from a subsidiary of Dominion Power telling me they wanted to access our property to conduct a survey for placement of a 42 inch natural gas pipeline. Their map showed it coming right across the top of the mountain about 150 feet from the house. Panicked, I called Natural Heritage and they went to work. Engaging their parent agency, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), they met with Dominion, and followed up several times, telling them that the pipeline must not come across Naked Mountain, that it is one of their dedicated Natural Area Preserves.  So far, Dominion appears to have honored that request and I have heard nothing further.  Our passion to protect Naked Mountain, “in perpetuity,” by following through with the easement with DCR-Natural Heritage was tested to the limit and it looks like it has been sustained.  We did a very good thing!
     But Dominion still intends to build this massive pipeline and run it through 550 miles of Virginia, devastating  pristine forest, streams and wetlands, people’s farms, homes and places of business.  It has proposed several possible routes, one would cut right through the back of the Acorn Inn – remember how we used to stay there, with Kathy and Martin Versluys, when we were building the house? Some routes cut through John Ed Purvis’ farm at the base of Naked Mountain. Do you remember how kind he was to arrange to get us a “land use” tax rate? One route would plow through the end of our dear friends’ Chapin and Janice’s driveway, steps away from their house.  If that happens they will move; I will miss them terribly.
     Why is this happening?  Believe it or not this seems to be the unforeseen consequence of good climate change policy. Under President Obama’s second administration – he was re-elected by a wide margin – stringent carbon emission policies have been developed that will effectively shut down dirty, polluting coal fueled power plants.  Facing this prospect (the regulations are under legal challenge), companies like Dominion are scrambling to take advantage of new drilling technologies that allow them to access previously untapped riches of natural gas locked in shale formations far beneath the Earth’s surface.
     Is this fracked natural gas cleaner? Probably not. Methane is considered a significantly more harmful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and methane is released directly into the atmosphere during  the fracking extraction process.  In addition, leaking of natural gas that occurs during transport, and processing offers significant polluting opportunities to both air and water while adding to global warming.
     Could Dominion turn to clean solar or wind technologies instead?  Yes, but they think spending billions on fracking, building pipeline infrastructure, and processing is more profitable right this minute. They are not investing in logical, sustainable future technologies, even though those technologies are now coming on fast and are challenging power companies that fail to take the lead in production in sun-drenched states like Arizona.
     You should know that sleepy, charming Nelson County is fighting this pipeline like a pack of ferocious lions. I have never, in my entire professional lobbying career, seen anything like it! We are all in this together, fighting side-by-side.  And who knows, we may just win.  It won’t, and hasn’t been, easy because, as you know perhaps better than anyone, the United States is not a democracy that is “of the people, for the people, by the people.”  Long ago, money in politics began corrupting this process, the corruption now accelerated by the Supreme Court’s decision in the “Citizens United” case.  Our country is run by wealthy individuals and corporations.  In fact, you would be gratified to know that, a few months ago,  political scientists at Princeton University published a well-designed study of the political power structure in the United States and formally declared our system of government an oligarchy.  Believe me, no one in Nelson County is surprised by this.
     But here is some good news. Natural Heritage ecologists, botanists and stewards have visited Naked Mountain often over the years since you have been gone. The stewards have helped me manage the invasives, an on-going head-ache that I know you remember well.  The ecologists and botanists have been establishing vegetation plots to study changes over time, and re-found , then marked with GPS, the rare Torrey’s Mountain Mint in the barrens. That was an exciting day!
     And later this week two ecologists will come to Naked Mountain to begin a wonderful project:  they will do vegetative mapping of the entire preserve! Natural Heritage got a grant to do this as a pilot project and then decided, for a lot of reasons, to do it on Naked Mountain:  close to Charlottesville where the principal vegetation ecologist on the project lives; manageable size; not too disturbed by invasives.  Do you know what this means?  When they finish their work over the course of the summer, we will know every single tree species, shrub layer species, and herb layer species that grows in the entire preserve! Isn’t that fabulous?
      And… I am nearly done with my memoir.  You remember. I started it when I was diagnosed fearing I would not live long enough to write the story of how we bought the mountain, or as you liked to say, how you bought the mountain for me; how we kept encountering charming creatures that lived there; how we discovered the thousands and thousands of Shooting Stars and how, fueled by our growing conservation passion, we sought out Natural Heritage to help us protect it forever.  I have been working on the memoir with a wonderful editor and we are nearly done. I am very hopeful it will be published!  Guess what it’s called:  Naked Mountain.
     I have also developed a powerpoint presentation about the mountain called, “Naked Mountain:  The Delights and Challenges of Owning One of Virginia’s Natural Area Preserves.”  It is multi-media, featuring some interesting video clips, audio of bird sounds and some gorgeous photos that Gary Fleming, one of the wonderful ecologists that comes to Naked Mountain, has shared.  It also features some of my own photos.  My new love has been helping me learn how to take pictures. I enjoy trying to capture the blossoms, especially the context they show up in — their space. I give the talk to the various chapters of the Virginia Native Plant Society.  It has been well-received and I absolutely love doing it.
     Do you remember when we first learned your pancreatic cancer diagnosis and I was so terrified at the thought of losing you?  To comfort me you said, “Scatter my ashes among the wildflowers; that way I will always be with you.”  Susan and I did as you directed.  Here you are, growing so beautifully in the small barren right near the house:

Lyre-leaved Rock cress (Arabidopsis lyrata) and Spiderwort (Tradescantia)

Until next time, my love,

Marcia

 

 

See What’s Blooming on Naked Mountain

Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis)

After finally finishing pulling the major patches of Garlic Mustard on Naked Mountain, I took a little time on Thursday, April 16th to photograph some of what was blooming that day on Naked Mountain.

In the barren near the summit, at about 1950 feet elevation, there is a lot of Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginensis) blooming in mossy layers that forms across the surface of the outcrop of bedrock.  That bedrock is mafic in nature,  amphibolite to be precise.  It not only creates a natural opening in the woodland on the summit, but has chemical qualities, particularly high amounts of calcium, that support biodiverse plant life.  This site is a changing display of flora from early spring through early fall.

On the actual almost 2000 foot summit of Naked mountain, on April 16, Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) was blooming in many spots and in at least one spot was tangled up with still blooming Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica).

Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) growing right through an old tree trunk.

Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) and Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) entertwined.

Downey Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) was blooming here and there in the woodland and forest, but there seems to be much less of it than in years’ past.  This photo was taken very near the summit.

Downey Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

The Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia), for which Naked Mountain is “famous,” were about half-way up at this site along the upper road. (When a few people, mostly professional field botanists, know about a natural floral display like this, does it really support the applleation famous?). This site has seeping rock and occurs at about 1800 feet in elevation.  Everything green in this photo are Shooting Stars.  There are about 20 sites like this one across the Southeastern face of Naked Mountain. So, the estimate is there about 10,000 plants altogether.  And, they mostly bloom all at once putting on quite a show!

Emerging Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia)

Here is a close up of Smooth Rockcress (Arabis laevigata) in full bloom taken right at the summit of Naked Mountain.   I am very fond of this plant which is prolific on Naked Mountain because it reminds me of a person with two arms reaching up and out from the center stem, topped by a bowed head that I imagine is cloaked, like a monk.  Huh??   Just what happens when I see this plant, even when it has gone into fruit.

Smooth Rockcress (Arabis laevigata)

I was surprised to see Fire Pink (Silene virginica) already beginning to bloom.  This photo was taken along the road bank at about 1400 foot elevation.

Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

Other things blooming on Naked Mountain on April 16, 2015:  lots of Red bud (Cercis Canadensis), some Dogwood  (Cornus florida) although it has significantly diminished from when Tim and I first bought the property in 1988, and Perfoliate Bellwort (Uluvaria perfoliata) just beginning to bloom.  There is a colony of this plant that covers a quarter acre.

I won’t be back to Naked Mountain until May 3rd, which is the sixth anniversary of my husband, Timothy Bell’s, death.  I would not want to be anywhere else on this difficult day. I will fill it with sweet memories of our times together exploring and loving Naked Mountain.

April May Mean Spring, But It Also Means Garlic Mustard Season

Virginia Natural Heritage stewards, Adam Christie, Shenandoah Valley Region Steward and Wes Paulos, Mountain Region Steward pulling Garlic Mustard 4/8/15 on Naked Mountain. Author photo.

Last week, five of us worked for four hours pulling Garlic Mustard in the Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve.  Two of the workers were Natural Heritage Division stewards, Adam Christie and Wes Paulos, and three of us were volunteers.  One, Nancy Muzek, came all the way from the District of Columbia to help me with this annual task. The next day, Janice Jackson joined Nancy, Janice’s husband Chapin Wilson, who had helped us the day before, and me for another two hours of pulling in another area of the preserve.

This was not the first Garlic Mustard outing this year. In March, another helpful neighbor and Master Naturalist, Anne Colgate, joined me to pull the weed in an area far away from the house and requiring nearly a mile hike with a backpack full of weed up straight up the ridge.  Anne is a strong, regular hiker who often tramps up and down mountains, and frequents the Appalachian Trail. Because she does, I had to ask her to either wash her boots, or use a pair she doesn’t use on the AT.  Why?  Because of the presence there of a new, very threatening invasive plant called Wavyleaf Grass.  The seeds of this invasive stick to your shoes and clothing to enhance its distribution.  Since 2005, it has been documented as occurring in Shenandoah National Park, especially along the Appalachian Trail where hikers unknowingly transport it on their shoes.  Here  is an excellent flyer on this new threat produced by the Virginia Natural Heritage Division.

All invasive plants can spread through foot traffic in and around natural areas.  This presents a real challenge for me since I literally live (part-time) in the middle of the Naked Mountain NAP. I now have Japanese Stiltgrass in my parking pad area, and in my front yard, and yet I go regularly into the nearby woods to do what:  pull invasives!  It is not surprising that on the hike into Garlic Mustard sites I have been pulling for years, the weed shows up here and there right along the path I, and my volunteers, walk.  I have started to clean the bottom of my shoes after each weeding session, but perhaps I should adopt the technique a fellow landowner-friend, Jean Kolb, uses:  before leaving an invasive species site, find a small stick and dig out the soil caught in those nice, otherwise helpful, treads on the bottom of your hiking boots.

Anyone else have helpful suggestions?

Here are some more photos from our Garlic Mustard sessions last week:

Forest Floor in a saddle area just below the summit of Naked Mountain: 4/8/15. Author photo.

This photo shows the abundant plant life on Naked Mountain on the forest floor.  Cutleaf Toothwort (Dentaria lacinata) is the most abundant plant in this photo, but you can also see May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum) pushing up, as well as a corner of a Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  This same area also has Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) and Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and, I am sure, many more plants I have not identified as it is a very tough spot to get to and especially get out of. Adam, Wes and I hauled all of the Garlic Mustard out in bags and back packs — probably 150 pounds of it, straight uphill for 200 feet to the summit. As you can see, It was worth it; it is important to get the Garlic Mustard out of this botanically rich area where Adam Christie says the soil is among the richest he has ever seen.

Another denizen that is pretty wide-spread on Naked Mountain:

Downey Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens ?). What is that deeply cut and variegated leaf next to the violet? What else do you see? Author photo.

Here are some of Naked Mountain’s intrepid Weed Warriors:

From the left: VNHP Stewards Adam Christie and Wes Paulos; friend from D.C. Nancy Muzek; Nelson County friend and neighbor, Chapin Wilson,  Author photo.

An finally, the next day, April 9th, on our way out of  a Garlic Mustard site which is lower down on the mountain at an elevation of about 1200 feet, we encountered this charming denizen of Naked Mountain:

Red eft, the juvenile phase of the Eastern red-spotted Newt. Photo by Janice Jackson.

This small 3.5 inch long creature is in the land-dwelling juvenile phase of a 12-15 year life span that starts in the water as larvae and finishes in the water as a 5 inch olive-green newt.  There are no ponds on Naked Mountain, but there are a number of seeps near the spot where we saw this charmer. You can read more about the Eastern Red-spotted Newt here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_newt

Oh, and I heard my first Wood Thrush sing early Thursday morning, April 9th.  Such a lovely voice piercing the foggy mist!

Spring Finally Arrives on Naked Mountain!

Thanks to the effects of human-caused global warming, 2014 was the warmest on record in the western United States and parts of Florida. Ironically, most of the eastern United States experienced one of the coldest winters in recent history, but the actual amounts of circulating cold air were the smallest ever recorded.  Evidence of a cold winter can be seen in the timing of the emergence of the flora on Naked Mountain – about a week late.

But they are coming on strong now.  Here are some photos of spring ephemerals, taken earlier this week, very near the summit of Naked Mountain, so an elevation of about 1,950 feet.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) blooming this week at an elevation of 1,950 feet (Author photo)

Yellow Flumewort (Corydalis flavula) just beginning to bloom on Naked Mountain at an elevation of 1,950 feet. (Author photo)

Very first Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) blossom, that had just opened on 3/31
on the summit of Naked Mountain. Notice the still curled up leaves. (Author photo)

Cutleaf toothwort (Dentaria lacinara) in full bloom. This is the most prolific spring ephemeral on Naked Mountain. It literally blooms over the entire nearly 300 acre property. In some places it almost blankets the brown leaf duff with green and white. (Author photo)

This week also saw the emergence of Mourning Cloak butterflies, but not Eastern Tiger Swallowtails or Zebra Swallowtails which usually show up when the spring ephemerals begin blooming. I expect, though, to see them very soon.

Mourning Cloak butterfly (Wikipedia photo)

Bird activity is also suppressed so far. The first “migratory” bird I have heard is an Eastern Towhee. I used to call this bird Rufous-sided Towhee, but recent DNA research confirms the Eastern Towhee is a distinct species from the Western occurring Spotted Towhee. Both species were lumped together and called Rufous-sided. In Virginia, Towhees don’t really migrate great distances, but they will occupy lower ground in winter and gravitate to higher ground in spring for the nesting season. So, for Naked Mountain, I consider them a migratory bird and, this spring, the gentle directive, Drink Your Teeeeee, was the first migrant song of the season.

Eastern Towhee (Wikipedia photo taken in Quabbin, Massachusetts)

Natural Heritage Stewards Conduct Easement Compliance Visit

I had a very special visit yesterday from two of the Natural Heritage Division’s stewards:  Ryan Klopf, Mountain Region, and Adam Christie, Shenandoah Valley Region. It was an assessment of my compliance with the terms of the deed, held by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), dedicating my property — Naked Mountain — as a Natural Area Preserve. The Natural Heritage Division of DCR manages the state’s system of Natural Area Preserves, now numbering 62.  My property, Naked Mountain, is No. 49.

Here is an excerpt from the DCR monitoring procedures document that describes the overall purpose for the visit I had yesterday:

“The legal instrument that establishes a property as a natural area preserve is called a deed of natural area preserve dedication.  For non-DCR-owned properties this deed serves as a conservation easement, requiring the perpetual protection of the property as habitat for rare species and significant natural communities.  These easements specify compatible and non-compatible uses of the property and grant DCR the right and responsibility of ensuring the terms of the easement are upheld.  Easement monitoring is the process of determining if the terms of the easement are being upheld and documenting changes (or lack of change) to the property.  It also serves as an opportunity to nurture the relationship with the landowner, who is a very important partner in biodiversity protection.  Maintaining accurate records on the condition of the property and on communications with the landowner is essential for consistent enforcement of the terms of the easement and long-term protection of the property’s natural heritage resources.”

The terms of our deed, which my husband and I helped to draft and agreed to, are pretty simple:  leave nature alone!

Of course, the one area where we have never left nature alone is in battling invasive species that don’t belong on Naked Mountain.  Natural Heritage stewards and I do that work together.  And so, the main focus of this first time monitoring visit was to check on our invasive species progress and talk about a developing a management plan for their control going forward.

We walked around the property visiting areas where we continue to pull up Garlic Mustard, have pulled up Wineberry and then spread locally gathered Bottlebrush grass seeds, and where we have done cut stump or hack and squirt treatment on Ailanthus trees.. Adam also marked a two acre area near an old house site that is infested with creeping periwinkle to monitor how quickly it spreads.

Here are some pics:

Natural Heritage Division Stewards Adam Christie on left and Ryan Klopf on right. We are on the summit of Naked Mountain.

Adam Christie filling out DCR monitoring report.

Then I took them to see something they don’t normally encounter during their stewardship duties:  a plane crash.  Their response:  “Cool!”

But, ever the vigilant steward, Adam noted this graffiti on the plane:

Adam notes the date on the plane crash graffiti: 2015!

So… we decided to add another item to the management plan:  clear, painted boundaries and signs around the perimeter of the preserve!

Oh … and the story behind that plane crash?  Working on it.  Have hired a neighbor, Andy Wright, who is an historian.  He’s plowing through 1960’s microfiche of the local newspaper in nearby Amherst County.  That will be an interesting future post; stay tuned.

 

Rare Flowers and Rattlesnakes on Naked Mountain!!

July 3rd was one of the most enjoyable days I have had in 25 years of owning and protecting nearly 300 acres of Naked Mountain in Nelson County, Virginia.  The MOST exciting day of all was the discovery of thousands of blooming Shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia) in the warren of barrens on the Southeastern face of the mountain.  But July 3rd was second best!  The reason – the preserve was visited by three highly experienced experts to find, on the one hand, a rare flower that exists in only 50-100 sites in the world and, on the other hand, gestating and possibly den sites for timber rattlesnakes!

The rationale for the joint expedition arose because on two previous occasions when Gary Fleming, Senior Vegetation Ecologist with the Natural Heritage Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and I ventured down into the barrens to try and find the rare flower – Pycnanthemum torreyi, or Torrey’s Mountain Mint – we were stopped by the rattlesnake pictured below.

Timer Rattlesnake in barrens on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming

For the plant search, Gary engaged a colleague at Natural Heritage, Chris Ludwig, Chief Biologist at DCR-Natural Heritage and an author of the recently published Flora of Virginia. Chris had found the Torrey’s Mountain Mint in 2005 when he first explored the barrens of Naked Mountain, along with several local colleagues, to see if the vegetation there, and other ecological features of the property, warranted protection by the state of Virginia. Chris was puzzled by a few mountain mint plants that differed from the two other mountain mint species blooming in the barrens. He was unsure if it was truly Torrey’s or a hybrid. He took a specimen back to Richmond and showed it to Gary.  Gary was convinced it was not a hybrid, but the very rare Torrey’s Mountain Mint found in just 14 limited sites in Virginia and ranked as a G2, “imperiled” by Natureserve. He has wanted to “re-find” it ever since and send a specimen to the herbarium for documentation.  Like the Shooting stars, this would be a “first” for Nelson County.

For the timber rattlesnake search, Gary engaged a different colleague, William “Marty” Martin, a retired federal park ranger who is the mid-Atlantic’s best timber rattlesnake expert.  He has conducted research for 35 years in Northern Virginia in the Bull Run Mountains under the auspices of the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy.  You can read more about Marty’s research and the knowledge he has contributed to our understanding of this fascinating species that is quickly disappearing from its home range in the Piedmont of Virginia and surrounding states here.  It was a privilege to have Marty and his Bull Run Mountains Conservancy colleagues on Naked Mountain last week.

Here is a group photo of our joint expedition:

Our July 3rd expedition (please note snake chaps!): Left to Right — Anna Ritter, BRM Conservancy; Michael Kieffer, Ex. Dir. BRM Conservancy; Lance Benedict, Assistant to Mr. Martin; author; Chris Ludwig, Chief Biologist, VA DCR-Natural Heritage Div.; Adam Christie, Steward, VA DCR-Natural Heritage Div.; Gary Fleming, Senior Vegetation Ecologist, VA DCR-Natural Heritage Div.; William Martin, Herpetologist/Timber Rattlesnake expert.

So what did we find?  PYCNANTHEMUM TORREYI!!  As in 2005, there were only three mature, blooming plants and a few immature stems.  Here are two photos by Gary Fleming.

Pycnanthemum torreyi blooming in the barrens on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming.

Close-up of Pycnanthemum torreyi on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming.

We also found TIMBER RATTLESNAKES!!  One large pregnant female was found in a different site than Gary and I discovered three years ago.  She disappeared under a rock before we could photograph her.  She never rattled at anyone, just took cover.  Then Marty took his crew to a neighbor’s property that has the largest open barren on the Southeastern face of Naked Mountain.  There they found another pregnant female rattlesnake that also ducked under a rock.  Nearby was a pregnant copperhead.  Both were basking in the sun on the rock outcrop before being disturbed by the search crew.

So, a very successful day – one of the best!  A friend videotaped the expedition and interviewed Marty, Lance and Michael about their research efforts and understanding of timber rattlesnakes, and Chris and Gary about Pycnanthemum torreyi.  I will be posting the video on this website in the coming weeks (or months) once it is edited.

Gary took a few more photos of other plants blooming in the preserve.  The Milk Vetch (Astragalus Canadensis), according to the Flora of Virginia, is rare in the mountains and infrequent in the Piedmont and on the Coastal Plain.  Nevertheless, it is blooming in profusion under my powerline. The Appalachian Fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolius), which grows in a barren near the summit of Naked Mountain, refused to open up for Gary’s camera, but the picture shows the habitat the plant thrives in – basically almost no soil, dry, exposed rock.  Each bloom, a knock-your-socks off vibrant magenta with 10-20 bright yellow stamens, opens for just one afternoon then quickly evolves into fruit.  The plant is infrequent to rare in the Piedmont.

Milk Vetch (Astragalas canadensis) blooming in profusion under powerline on Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming

Appalachian Fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolium) blooming (almost!) in a barren near the summit of Naked Mountain. Photo by Gary P. Fleming

And finally, below is a photo of a plant several of us passed by in the woodlands surrounding the barrens: Tall Bellflower (Campanula americana). This plant really lived up to its name; it was at least four feet tall!

Tall Bellflower (Campanula americana) blooming in the woodland near the barrens on Naked Mountain. Photo by author