I Remember All of the Nights of September

This month, I went to some very cool places. One of these that I’d like to tell you all about today is in the Nantahala National Forest. This place is home to rare species of all sorts, including rare plants and moths. The serpentine barrens habitat is one I have longed to see since learning about them in university. It is a unique habitat because of its bedrock and soil–ultramafic rock that is nutrient-poor, usually dry, and full of magnesium and iron oxide, low in potassium.

A recipe for no life?

Incorrect! In fact, while most plants would suffer in these conditions (most need nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus), there are plants that CAN grow here– and actually thrive in these harsh environments.

As the story for this particular site goes, long ago, when the mountains here in the southern Appalachians formed, there were rocks from the Earth’s mantle that were pushed out and remained on the surface, after the mountains formed. These rocks were serpentinized dunite and olivine. Well, with such harsh conditions, and a basic knowledge of plant nutrition, one wouldn’t expect anything to grow here. But life does indeed find a way, because it can.

Harsh conditions…but oh, so much space!

The plants found a way. Through centuries of evolution, there were plants that became adapted to these serpentine soils, thus creating this unique oasis of plant life at this area in the Nantahala. Today, we find rare and endemic species throughout this specialized area (some pictured below!)

Marching On

This month I got to visit new places and continue the work we have been doing, monitoring and checking up on the rare plants on the forest floor.

Personally, as the middle of my internship draws ever closer, I have been reflecting on my time and starting to think about my next steps, when it is all over. I do not know where I will be, but I have learned so much from this experience so far, and I am grateful for that.

I am just enjoying being here with the changing seasons, and I know I will not forget that any time soon. It is a gift to be here.

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