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.
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.
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!