I had a very special visitor come to Naked Mountain last week: Lara Gastinger, the principal artist for the Flora of Virginia.
Lara has received a commission from a friend of mine, a 65th birthday gift, to paint a watercolor portrait of a plant of my choosing. Since I have so many wonderful plants to choose from on Naked Mountain, I asked Gary Fleming to help me decide. Gary, senior vegetation ecologist with the Natural Heritage Program within Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, has visited Naked Mountain several times and knows its flora well. Gary suggested I choose Phemeranthes teretifolius (Fameflower) because it only grows in the Piedmont on mafic barrens. Naked Mountain has many of those and several support this unusual plant. The plant is unusual because each flower only blooms for one sunny afternoon and then progresses rapidly to fruit. Lara wanted to visit the plant in person to help her complete her portrait. I can’t wait to see it. Lara is a truly fabulous botanical artist which a peruse of the Flora will immediately evidence. You can read more about Lara and see her exquisite work on her website here.
During our visit, Lara and I took a short hike up to the summit of Naked Mountain. She was interested in seeing the flora that were blooming in the thin, mostly Quercus prinus (Chestnut Oak) woodland that grows in the sparse soils between the lichen-covered rocks. Below is a sampling of what we saw.
One of the tasks I have been engaged in for two weeks is pulling literally thousands of Ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima) seedlings. I first realized the problem when I checked the area around a tree on the ridgeline that had blown down in the July, 2012 derecho. I found 50-100 Ailanthus seedlings sprouting. I then began checking all the blow down sights near the summit of Naked Mountain and began pulling dozens up to hundreds of seedlings in each site. Clearly, the damage from the derecho and this summer’s record rainfall has created excellent conditions for the Ailanthus seed bank to explode. This is very discouraging since my husband and I killed probably 10,000 mature Ailanthus trees over a three year period from 2004-2007. A check last summer (See the August 12, 2012 post) revealed almost no Ailanthus trees or saplings growing on Naked Mountain and the few that were found were treated with Garlon 3a via a hack and squirt technique around the base of each stem. To now find that thousands of seeds are sprouting is overwhelming as I must try and monitor infested sites over nearly three hundred acres, much of it on very difficult, steep and rocky terrain. But I am trying very hard to do this.
One benefit of this lonely task is that it forces me to go out into tough terrain and so I see some interesting and completely new parts of the mountain. I discovered, for instance, a second drift of Eurybia macrophylla (Large-leaved Aster). This one is smaller than the one right at the summit that is about 20 feet by 20 feet in size. Here is a photo of a selection of probably 100 plants in full bloom tucked in and around an old log.
I also discovered a rock cliff, covered with beautiful plants – grasses, ferns, flowers. on the top of the Northwest slope near the summit. Several Fringe trees grew on top of the cliff. Here are a couple of photos from that discovery today: