Visiting Laurel Hill Preserve

The Southern Piedmont Chapter’s recent visit to Laurel Hill Preserve was a fabulous walk amongst paths carpeted with Partridge Berry and Club Moss under a canopy of Bigleaf Magnolia Magnolia macrophylla.

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Bigleaf Magnolia canopy, photo by Jennifer Daggy

While we never made it to the biggest Bigleaf Magnolia on the site (shown below in a tree hug by Larry Mellichamp), our group enjoyed wandering in the forest under those massive leaves. Larry Magnolia macrophylla Best IMG_20170907_180951570

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Partridge Berry Mitchella repens

Our hike was lead by Laurel Hill Farm owner, Amy Nason, and former NCNPS President, Dr. Larry Mellichamp. As Dr. M pointed out, this is such an important conservation site because Bigleaf Magnolia is only found in 5 counties between Statesville and York in the Carolinas. It’s always fun to learn botany factoids from Dr. M, for instance…Bigleaf Magnolia is distinctive because the leaves have ears, and is one of only 3 Magnolia with that distinctive trait. The other 2 are M. fraseri (found only in the mountains, bright red fruit cone) and M. ashei (found in a limited range in Florida, but grows well in the Piedmont, blooms at a young age).

On our way down to the swinging bridge over Long Creek, we were fortunate to happen upon a wooly aphid dance on a Beech Tree branch. The rich woods have benefited from the summer rains and our group spotted Beech Drops, Collinsonia, Hearts-a-Burstin’, Galax, Indian Ghost Pipe, and Sourwood.

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Bigleaf Magnolia cone

Laurel Hill is a working farm in Gaston County with goats, chickens and pigs. Amy milks the goats daily and if you’re interested in some of her farm products such as goat milk and cheese or eggs, contact her to join her farm email list at amygnason@yahoo.com. Amy and her family encourage visitors and are planning an invasive work day in September.  There are several study sites on the property from area university graduate students looking at snail and mushroom populations.

IMG_5648Laurel Hill Preserve was put into the Catawba Lands Conservancy by Frank Ewing, the former owner, and we were fortunate to be joined on this hike by his daughter Robin Ewing. During their tenure the property was primarily used as a plant nursery. Since we just happened to be there on Hurricane Irma eve, Robin commented that Hurricane Hugo, in 1989 changed the landscape due to massive amounts of tree fall and possibly opened the canopy to a greater population of Bigleaf Magnolia with huge number of fallen trees leading to more light openings.

 

 

George Poston Park, revisited

I said I never would. Revisit the park.

It was the site of our Chapter’s biggest plant rescue to date and occurred nearly 8 years ago. And, the site was a special one. Home to the only publicly owned Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) population in Gaston County, as far as I knew.  And, so much more.  Ancient Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Silverbells (Halesia tetraptera), Galax (Galax urceolata)  – mountain plants!  Catesby’s Trillium (Trillium catesbaei), Pinxter Azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides). I could go on and on. It was a heartbreaker. The fact that this was occurring in my home county made it all the more personal. Flooding this beautiful land for a fishing lake (and, it’s not like Gaston County didn’t have plenty of those already). Very hard to imagine a good outcome here. So, we came in with the Park’s blessing and assistance and took what we could. Left some plants to be replanted at the Park. And, tried not to look back. Until a couple of weeks ago when I saw some pictures posted on Facebook from there.  Bigleaf Magnolia. Mountain Laurel. Even, Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) which I’d never even seen there. Hmmm…

 

So, on this Mother’s Day – with neither a mother nor any offspring on the horizon – I thought I might go and take a peak. I even talked my husband into accompanying me.  And, what we found was almost glorious. We started with a completely new trail, across the road from the original rescue site. We didn’t get far before baby Bigleafs began to pop up here and there.  And, at the head of an unfinished trail down to the (Southfork) river, Black Cohosh. Beginning to bloom!

And, at the bottom, no Goatsbeard (I never did find it) but Leucothoe, great swaths of Christmas Fern, Spicebush. Lush biodiversity! And, on the way back up the paved trail, a blooming Bigleaf Magnolia! Lots of babies, too.Bigleaf Magnolia blossom (1)

Encouraged, we made our way over to the dreaded lake site. And, surprise! By and large, it was very well done.  The lakeside wasn’t turfed to within an inch of its life but vegetated. Mostly. With many of the same plants that we’d rescued all those years ago. I’ve never seen so many Christmas Ferns growing on an open bank in the Piedmont. Wish I’d taken a picture of that. And, the ‘lakeside’ trails meandered through the same beautiful and bounteous landscape that I’d remembered.  By and over the rocky creek that feeds the lake. Lined with masses of ferns, wildflowers, Bigleaf Magnolia, Pinxter Azalea and Mountain Laurel.

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I left feeling tired but hopeful and grateful. By days end, I’d even heard from all of the children and step-children and shared ice cream and conversation with the only child who still calls North Carolina home. More often than not, life is pretty darned good.