In the Woods with Gary the Botanist

It’s been yet another successful and enriching month working with the Forest Service in North Carolina.

In September, Gary, the National Forest Botanist, invited the North Carolina Resource Assistants and I to join him on a field visit to a serpentine barren.

In the Nantahala Forest, we have something called a “serpentine barren.” It’s a special area with rocks like peridotite and dunite. These rocks are unique and rare to find on the Earth Surface. They typically sit between the bottom of the ocean and the upper mantle. But here, they’ve come up to the surface.

This happened about 400 million years ago when the Blue Ridge Mountains were forming. The collision of oceanic crust and continental crust pushed these rocks up. It didn’t just happen here though. It is part of a long, thin, chain that runs from Alabama to Quebec, Canada.

These rocks create a type of soil that lacks nutrients. Therefore, only plants that can handle extreme conditions are able to thrive. The plants here usually live in a variety of locations like wetlands, prairies, dry areas, and moderate climates. But in this one spot, they all grow together.

This area in Nantahala National Forest is home to some very special plants and butterflies. In fact, there are 22 plant species and four butterfly species that you won’t easily find anywhere else in North Carolina. Three of these plant species are endemic to this site:

Rhiannon’s Aster (Symphyotrichum rhiannon)

Serpentine Ragwort (Packera Serpenticola)

Buck Creek Heartleaf (Hexastylis species #1)

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to join him in this fascinating location and learn more about the natural history of the area. I was able to take several photos and videos which I shared to the NFNC Facebook page. I think folks really enjoyed learning more about an exciting area that’s so close to home.

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