NCNPS members were very lucky to be able to visit Redlair Farm and Forest by the invitation of Catawba Lands Conservancy last week. You may think the Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) flower in the above photo looks a little dark…that’s because Haywood Rankin, steward of the Redlair preserve cleverly toured our small group up hill and down, along the banks of the East Fork of the Catawba River before finally revealing our first Bigleaf Magnolia blooms at eye level, right before our evening hike ended. Even in the fading twilight, those white blossoms with a touch of purple on each petal were impressive.
Nearly 740 acres in Gastonia known as the The Redlair Plant Conservation Preserve was added to NC’s Plant Conservation Program in 2014. This land was formerly a portion of Catawba Lands Conservancy as far back as 1995, because the Rankin family wished to preserve the land and its natural resources. The preserve contains state threatened Bigleaf Magnolia plants and the federally protected Schweinitzi’s Sunflower. This exemplary property is a NC Natural Heritage site and only open with express permission from the Plant Conservation Program.
Our hike included views of the swollen and muddy South Fork Catawba River, and several delightful streams with small cascading waterfalls. The trails included beautiful hardwood forest, beneath giant patches of the Bigleaf Magnolia in addition to winding Mountain Laurel thickets.
As we walked the many trails that Haywood has created on this property we encountered New Jersey Tea, Pipsissewa, Black Cohosh and young stalks of Schweinitzi’s Sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii). We hope to arrange a return visit in September to visit these endangered sunflowers in bloom.
To learn more about the history and ecology of Redlair Farm and Forest click here. We were joined on this hike by Lesley Starke, Plant Ecologist, NC Plant Conservation Program. Many thanks to Mary Ann Harrison and Catawba Lands Conservancy for including NCNPS members in this outing. It was a wonderful treat.