Vegetation Map of Naked Mountain is here!

Early last year, I received a very exciting phone call from Gary Fleming, the Senior Vegetation Ecologist with the Natural Heritage Division of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. He was calling to let me know that Naked Mountain would be the first Natural Area Preserve to undergo a complete vegetative mapping of its natural communities. Mapping has been done in national parks in Virginia, but never before in one of the state’s own dedicated natural area preserves. I was thrilled that Naked Mountain would be the first, and pleased to know more NAP’s are undergoing mapping.
The principal ecologist on the Naked Mountain project was Kristen Taverna, joined for a couple of visits by Gary Fleming. Kristen collected 59 observation points across most of the 278 acres of the preserve including points at 1080 feet and at the 2000 foot summit. Her work supplemented five vegetation plots that Gary established during visits between 2007 and 2012 within which every plant species is identified. Kristen’s observations are more generally descriptive of the plants that make up a particular natural community type.

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

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


In all, Kristen and Gary identified five natural heritage resources, also known as element occurrences, on Naked Mountain including three significant natural communities and a small population of the globally rare plant, Torrey’s mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum torreyi). You can see a photo of the mountain-mint on the blogsite header. It is the pale purple speckled plant to the far right in the third slide of the changing header.
The two most important natural communities on Naked Mountain are: Central Appalachian Basic Ash-Hickory Woodland and Central Appalachian Mafic/Calcareous Barren (Low-Elevation Type). These are globally rare. But the most exciting floral display on Naked Mountain are the Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon primula). Botanical experts estimate that as many as 10,000, if not more, bloom across the warren of small openings across the Southeastern face of the mountain. And they bloom all at once in early May. I discovered this magnificent nature show myself ten years ago, and as the mapping report notes, it was the catalyst for the decision to complete a conservation easement with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. This story is captured in my memoir which will be published in September. You can get a glimpse of the Shooting Star display on the second slide of the changing blogsite header.
A part of the report that I find very interesting is the soil analysis. I learned from David Spears, Virginia’s state geologist, that the underlying bedrock of Naked Mountain is amphibolite, a metamorphosed rock. He explained that a, not quite continuous, narrow extrusion of the rock extends from Naked Mountain for about forty miles to the Northeast, running under the great lawn at the University of Virginia, that they have dubbed, “the Great Amphibolite Dike.” Looking at the map segment below supplied by the Virginia Department of Mines and Minerals, the dark green line of the amphibolite begins just a little bit west of Elma and also forms the largest “blob” there. That blob is Naked Mountain.

Amphibolite pic
A few years ago I sent samples of Naked Mountain amphibolite to my brother Steve Mabee, who is the state geologist in Massachusetts. His analysis determined that the rock was metamorphosed from basalt, so volcanic in origins. Not surprisingly, then, the soils of Naked Mountain resemble those underlain by other mafic rock substances. Naked Mountain soils are very high in calcium and magnesium and aluminum, in fact as the report notes,” … at the upper end of the range variation for soils weathered from mafic rocks in Virginia, and indicate very high fertility.” This likely accounts for the significant biodiversity on Naked Mountain and the extraordinary display of Shooting Stars.
I hope you enjoy the report and you can go back to the menu bar and check out the plant list too!

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