Saturday, November 08, 2008

NC's Natural Communities, Part I: Green Swamp

I sometimes wonder what John Lawson saw when he made his way up from "Charles Town" (Charleston) to survey the Carolinas in 1700. To my understanding, he would have been privy to the sight of herds of buffalo (not us) roaming through pillows of golden grasses typical of the longleaf pine savannas that blanketed the region. Rivers and creeks filled with inky water cutting swaths though the soft sand. Untamed clumps of brambles and bushes the natives called Pocosins. Depending on the time of year, fields of Pink Lady Slippers or sunflowers gently rocking in the wind. What did he think when he saw thousands of ducks, geese and majestic swans swirling over wide, shallow lakes, or when he watched a blue heron glide over golden marshes in a silence broken only by the croaking of frogs or the call of the now extinct Carolina Parakeet?

We got a glimpse of a small portion of what he may have seen last week when we visited Green Swamp and again yesterday when we visited Lake Mattamuskeet on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula. And oh what a sight we saw.

Those passing by Green Swamp, located in the southeastern most region of North Carolina, may think they were looking at a scraggly woods in need of development. What looks like overgrown grass grows beneath tall, longleaf pine trees spread generously apart. But the too-small area is what the Nature Conservancy calls "the country’s finest examples of longleaf pine savannas."

Five members of CarolinasAdventures hiking group met in the parking lot off Green Swamp Road and for the next several hours, roamed through the savanna (pun intended) with resident botanist, Kelvin Taylor pointing out flowers, the tangled thickets of the Pocosin, an area he called Ecological succession (the gradual replacement of one community by another) sterile pine tree trees in that area--hence the reason for the succession--and more. I always enjoy these outing. In addition to great company, we always learn something that helps us better appreciate North Carolina's natural communities and the efforts to preserve them. And they're in desperate need of preservation. Poachers and development are slowly eating away at these resources. A multitude of Venus Flytraps and pitcher plants once grew in abundance. Now, we had to search carefully to find a few of the flytraps and a delicate flower that I love, the Grass of Parnassus.


I'm not a botanist so I can't address the importance of the longleaf pine savanna to nature and to North Carolina, but I do know it's part of this state's past, it's a refuge for rare and common species, and it can teach us about plant life and this type of ecosystem. In addition to our little band, a group of students were visiting Green Swamp that day and we had the chance to overhear the instructor point out various parts of the plant life they studied. In doing so, this instructor is helping to preserve Green Swamp for the future. I'm sure John Lawson would have been pleased.

For more information on Green Swamp, click here to access the Nature Conservancy's site. To learn about the effects poaching on Green Swamp and similar habitats, go to www.nature.org/magazine/winter2006/misc/art19274.html

(KT, thanks for the link. Your timing couldn't have been better.)

Photos of this trip are in the previous post. Click here to view.

Next: The Birds of Lake Mattamuskeet

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