Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Roan Mountain with Gary Kauffman

"At over 6,000 feet in altitude Roan Mountain was cool, breezy, and we felt in another world. Walking the trails and learning from Gary Kauffman and Dan Pittillo about the plants and history of the area was delightful. We were introduced to an amazing variety of plant species and several rare ones. We were even treated to a late blooming Gray's Lily! Gary was an excellent guide providing plant lists and leading us to the varied flora and explaining the keys to identifying each species and providing us with the most recent scientific names." Karen Lawrence
"You may hear this again -- but it bears repeating: We saw nearly 70 plants on our trip through Roan Mountain! There was an overwhelming diversity of plants on our trip. And with Gary Kauffman and Dan Pitillo as guides, we never had to wonder about the proper name of a plant. Just don't ask me to tell you what it is.

Several of us stayed in the cabins at Roan Mountain. They were well outfitted and comfortable. David Fann and Gene Hall bought some fresh corn off a man's truck and we had a feast on Friday night. Joyce Hall had made eggplant dip and broccoli salad, so no one went away hungry. After the feast, there was bluegrass music at the Amphitheater.

Gary began identifying plants for us before we even started Saturday morning. Before he got there, we had determined a specific plant was one thing -- only to have him arrive and tell us we were looking at a gooseberry bush. No one had guessed right, but now we know.

We were out on Saturday for about eight hours, but didn't do a lot of hiking. Plant enthusiasts can only go about six feet before another plant shows up and gets a lot of discussion. In this way, we made our way across Roan Mountain. We must have made a compelling group because several people tagged along part of the way and even asked Gary questions.

We met an Appalachian Trail ambassador on our way, and he took a great interest in our trip. I was unaware that there even was such a thing, but his remarks about conservation and staying on the trail were worth heeding. Gary and Dan were far and away more knowledgeable about the ecology of the area, but it was interesting to meet someone who lives on the trail. The ambassador told us that lightning is probably the most dangerous thing you will have to contend with on the trail.

On Sunday we drove back home, knowing we had barely skimmed the surface of what Roan Mountain had to offer. But our heads were stuffed with plant knowledge and we looked forward to a return visit."  Julie Ross
"It was another amazing SAPS trip.
Roan Mountain is spectacular, with the variety of plant communities and many rare and endangered species. Gary Kaufmann of course knows them all including the most obscure location of the most rare plants and he shared them with us. (He also challenged us to keep up with constantly changing taxonomy - nearly impossible!) We walked through spruce-fir forest, rocky summit, heath bald and ended the day on the grassy balds with spectacular panoramic views - and one lone Gray's lily still in bloom.

We've attached Gary's handout with description of the plant communities and species found in each."  Jean Hunnicutt
"The view from Round Grassy Bald will dance in my head for a long time as well as the Spruce-Fir forest. Oh, my. " Joyce Hall

Click here to see David Fann's photos of the day!

These photos were contributed by Dan Pittillo
Roan grass bald- Lilium grayi contemplates Jean Hunnicutt & vice versa 

Roan grass bald- yellow_black jacket wasp drunken party 

Roan High Bluffs- cliff l

Roan High Bluffs- Gary, be careful 

Roan High Bluffs- Geum radiatum

Roan High Bluffs- Gymnoderma thalli 0.2-1 mm, key 5 mm
This Photo was contributed by Russ Regnery

These Photos were contributed by Karen Lawrence

the Overlook protecting endangered plants below
Gray's Lily; Lilium grayi

Gray's Lily; Lilium grayi

Gray's Lily; Lilium grayi
Rock Gnome Lichen; Cetradonia lineare, Federally endangered
Appalachian Turtlehead; Chelona lyonii
Gary and Turtle head

Fraser Fir Seedling
Fraser Fir
Fraser Fir Nursery


Three-toothed Cinquefoil; Sibbaldia tridentata

Spreading Avens habitat

Spreading Avens; Geum radiatum
Small Green Wood Orchid; Platanthera clavellata

Wild Basil
Yellow Birch Tree Story

Planted Fraser Fir trees Round Bald
Planted Spruce Trees on top of Round Bald

Round Bald

These photos were contributed by Julie Ross

Here is the handout from Gary

Roan Mountain

Location:  Rising to 6,285 feet, Roan Mountain is one of the highest mountains in the eastern US and contains a unique assemblage of species unparalleled in the Southern Appalachian Region.   The Cherokee National Forest and Pisgah National Forest converge atop the mountain, with Roan Mountain State Park near its northern base.   Other landowners include the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy, both of whom have worked for many years to protect the Roan’s unique ecological features.

A number of threatened high elevation plant communities are present across the massif.  These include spruce-fir, grassy balds, heath balds, rocky summits, and seeps.  The Roan Highlands contain two distinct ecological settings: The first - composed of Roan High Bluff and Roan High Knob -contains steep rocky summits, spruce-fir forests and an extensive scenic heath bald known as the Rhododendron Gardens.  The second setting – including Round, Jane, Grassy, Hump, Little Hump and Big Yellow mountains - contains the longest stretch (approximately 7 miles) of grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains, covering an open area up to 1000 acres.  The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the Roan massif, at elevations above 6000 ft, among the highest point on the entire AT.  This section is considered by many to be the most scenic stretch of the entire AT. 

Grassy Balds: 
Grassy balds atop the Roan massif provide panoramic views of the high elevation landscape and are unique in that they predate European settlement.  They contain the most extensive and highest quality southern Appalachian bald remnants remaining.  The balds provide habitat for 10 regionally rare species and numerous locally rare species.   However, due to lack of disturbance and management, trees and shrubs and blackberries have encroached on the balds, and currently the mountain balds occupy less than 25% of their former extent.  The balds are also threatened by non-native invasive plant species.  

Although it isn’t entirely clear how grassy balds have historically been maintained, many believe that herbivores, initially elk and bison, replaced by sheep and cattle, ensured the open structure by grazing and browsing.  Current vegetation management on the balds is by manual equipment (weed eaters, mowers), various grazers and browsers (goats, cattle), and occasional herbicide activity.  
Vegetation on the balds is primarily dominated by grasses, such as wavy hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa) and mountain oat-grass (Danthonia compressa).  Other characteristic species include three-toothed cinquefoil (Sibbaldia tridentata), Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), Alleghany sedge (Carex allegheniensis), Carex intumescens, filmy angelica (Angelica triquinata), Roan rattlesnake-root (Nabalus roanensis), spilled milk (Houstonia serpyifolia), wild strawberry (Fragaria virginica), Blue Ridge Saint-John’s-wort (Hypericum mitchellianum), mountain Saint-John’s-wort (Hypericum graveolens), Gray’s lily (Lilium grayi), rough hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum), hay-secnted fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), tassel-rue (Trautvetteria caroliniensis) and New England ragwort (Packera schweinitzianus).  Two prominent non-native species are sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and autumn bentgrass (Agrostis perennans).   A distinct Grassy Bald subtype with green alder (Alnus viridis var. crispa) with a grass and sedge understory is also present at Roan Mountain.

High Elevation Rocky Summits: 
Rocky Summits are characterized by rugged rock outcrops on exposed upper slopes surrounded by spruce-fir forest.  Eight distinct significant outcrops across Roan Mountain provide habitat for four federally listed species as well as numerous regionally and locally rare species.  They are threatened by inappropriate recreation use as well as possible encroachment from woody vegetation.  

This habitat is highly variable as to soil depth and hydrology.  More open areas are dominated by cliff saxifrage (Micranthes petiolaris), southern hairbell (Campanula divaricata), mountain dwarf-dandelion (Krigia montana), skunk goldenrod (Solidago glomerata), Sibbaldia tridentata, sand-myrtle (Kalmia buxifolia), and numerous lichens and bryophytes. Rare species present within the habitat include spreading avens (Geum radiatum), Blue Ridge goldenrod (Solidago spithamaea), Roan Mountain bluet (Houstonia montana), rock gnome lichen (Cetradonia lineare) miserable sedge (Carex misera), deerhair bulrush (Trichophorum caespitosum), Greenland sandwort (Mononeuria groenlandica) and Appalachian firmoss (Huperzia appressa).  

Red Spruce – Fraser Fir Forest:
Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest is isolated and distinct from more northern Appalachian spruce-fir forest and is dominated by the Fraser fir which is unique to the Southern Appalachians.  Roan Mountain has the highest quality intact Fraser Fir forest remaining range-wide.  Roan also has the highest seedling counts for Fraser fir across its entire range.  Currently a small portion of the seedlings and cones are harvested for the local Christmas tree industry.  This spruce/fir forest also provides suitable habitat for 2 federally listed animals (spruce-fir moss spider and northern flying squirrel) and 8 non-vascular (liverworts and mosses) federal species of concern.  They are threatened by the non-native balsam woolly adelgid and possible ozone damage.  

Indicator species and species with high constancy or abundance include: Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), red spruce (Picea rubens), mountain ash (Sorbus americana), yellow birch (Betula allegheniensis), mountain wood fern (Dryopteris camplyoptera), Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), mountain wood-sorrel (Oxalis montana), hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides), fire cherry (Prunus pennsylvanica), and Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense).  Other prominent species include Appalachian turtlehead (Chelone lyonii), whorled aster (Oclemena acuminata), Blue Ridge Heart-leaved aster (Eurybia chlorolepis), bluebead-lily (Clintonia borealis), Highbush cranberry (Vaccinium erythrocarpum), southern lady fern (Athyrium asplenioides), white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima var. roanensis), eastern twisted stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus var. lanceolatus), shining clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula), and wild white violet (Viola macloskeyi ssp. pallens).  

Heath or Shrub Bald
This community occurs scattered at high-elevations throughout the southern Appalachians, typically occurring on exposed knobs, steep ridges and extremely steep slopes.  It has a dense shrub layer with a few stunted xeric-loving tree species and very few herbaceous members.   Generally the dominate shrubs are members of the heath family; Rhododendrons, azaleas, etc.   Soils are typically much more acidic than those surrounding forested soils.   Typical shrub species on Roan Mountain include Rhododendron catawbiense, R. calendulaceum, Vaccinium coryumbosum, V. altomontanum, V. simulatum, Aronia melanocarpa, Lyonia ligustrina, Menziesia pilosa, Alnus viridis var. crispa, and Kalmia buxifolium.  

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