Tag Archives: habitat

mercy mercy me (the ecology)

…oh things ain’t what they used to be… –  Marvin Gaye, 1971!

Southern sheepkill, Kalmia carolina, in bloom April 2015. Sometimes also called Carolina wicky, or Carolina bog myrtle…
Pyxie-moss, Pyxidanthera barbulata. A teeny tiny alpine-looking shrub, blooming in April 2015.

What was intended as an exercise in learning local ecology has become a documentation of its inexorable paving-over. Mostly in the name of more patio homes with 3-car garages, but also some strip centers (to buy crap to go in the garage), and a whole bunch of storage facilities (for the extra crap when the garage is full.)

 

Pale grass-pink orchid, Calopogon pallidus. Yep, just growing in what lots of folks describe as ‘wasteland.’
Another ‘wasteland’ gem, Coastal plain spreading pogonia orchid, Cleiestesiopsis oricamporum.

 

Not far from here, one of the last chunks of wet pine flatwoods/sandy pine savanna, (or, ‘premier real estate opportunity’) is in planning to become a developer fantasy of multifamily housing and retail. It’s a place a few of us like to explore (trespass) to enjoy its incredible diversity of rare plants. birds, and other creatures. A few of the life forms found there might even be the last of their kind in this area. Any time of year is a good time to find something unusual and beautiful, especially if you are patient and enjoy squatting. And don’t mind biting or stinging bugs.

Yellow pitcherplant, Sarracenia flava.
Purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea.

 

Like other remaining relic real places around here, this one is doomed for the grader. Efforts have been made with the owner, the county, and even various land trusts, but this little pocket just doesn’t seem to register as a keeper. And although wetland portions have been delineated, it is still possible to alter them with the right permits and greased palms. For the sake of visual record and posterity, here are some photos…

Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, with Orange milkwort, Polygala lutea. Yup, these might be representatives of the LAST population in our county, which is why the location is a secret.
Flowers of Venus flytrap, with Zelus sp., an Assasin bug

To honor an Am-ur-ikan tradition, maybe the owner will name the new development for what will be removed, plus a nonsensical ‘place’ word. As in Flytrap Plantation. Pond Pine Dunes. or Orchid Arbor. Perhaps some boutique-ish-looking price tags on the plants might help? On second thought, bad idea (and a big part of the problem to begin with) – isolating plants from ecological context for pure aesthetics devalues the magic of the assemblage. Fear would be a better motivator to leave this alone – there is no shortage of snakes… SSSSSS…..

Tree frog, Hyla sp.,Nothing to help with scale here, other than the pine needle to the right. This one was less than an inch long.
On the prowl. Looks like a young banded water snake, Nerodia fasciata, but not sure…

patch appreciation

Young acorns and buds of Turkey Oak, Quercus laevis.
Young acorns and buds of Turkey Oak, Quercus laevis.
Grass-leaved Golden-aster, Pityopsis graminifolia. Lovely, silvery leaves and stems.
Grass-leaved Golden-aster, Pityopsis graminifolia. Lovely, silvery leaves and stems.

How small can an area be to support an ecological community or system? Obviously, this depends on organism scale, as well as how ‘community’ and  ‘system’ are defined.  (Think the Eames’ classic, Powers of Ten.)  If belly-buttons, armpits, foreheads, and toes can host wildly unique fungal/microbial/bacterial communities on a single body, just imagine what is possible in a tenth of an acre of sandy suburban soil.  Without an ecologist’s education, rigor or attention span, that’s what crossed my mind while pulling over to explore a ‘weedy’ corner of an otherwise groomed suburban neighborhood. Among the homogeneous ‘traditional southern landscape’ blur of crap myrtles, azayas, daylilies, and zelkova, here’s a plant association that made itself, a relic of what the larger area probably had been.

Dwarf Indigo-bush, Amorpha herbacea. This species sports spikes of bluish purple flowers in the summer.
Dwarf Indigo-bush, Amorpha herbacea. This species sports spikes of bluish purple flowers in the summer.
Twisted-leaf White-topped Aster, Sericocarpus tortifolius. Also sometimes referred to as 'Dixie Aster.'
Twisted-leaf White-topped Aster, Sericocarpus tortifolius. Also sometimes referred to as ‘Dixie Aster.’

On this 1/8- acre under the Longleaf Pine, P. palustris,  and Turkey Oak, Q. laevis, we found  Amorpha herbacea / Dwarf indigo-bush, Carphephorus bellidifolius / Sandhill Chaffhead,  Aristida beyrichiana / Southern Wiregrass, Sericocarpus tortifolius Twistedleaf / White-topped Aster, Solidago odora. Licorice Goldenrod and Pityopsis graminifolia. Grass-leaved Golden-aster. 

Sandhills Chaffhead, Carphephorus bellidifolius. Header image is a close-up of the flowers.
Sandhill Chaffhead, Carphephorus bellidifolius. Header image is a close-up of the flowers.
img_5681-aristida-sp-wwf-sept162016-ldb
We think this is Aristida beyrichiana, Southern Wiregrass. (or possibly A. stricta, see Weakley, 2015.)

A tiny patch, but with enough visible plant species on a late summer day to characterize this sandy ridge as mesic pine savanna, [coastal plain subtype], and xeric sandhill scrub [coastal fringe subtype.]  (Schafale, Guide to the Natural Communities of NC, 4th Approximation 2012.)  These are just a couple of the 25 or so distinct plant communities that define our region’s natural areas.

Licorice Goldenrod, Solidago odora. Yes, it smells like licorice!
Licorice Goldenrod, Solidago odora. Yes, the crushed leaves smell like licorice!

Every day in SE NC,  land-scraping in the name of economic development continues, and there are fewer contiguous areas of habitat.  The fabric of suburbia is woven with strips of sod, ‘sight triangle’ wastelands, and gaudy competing subdivision entries, all in service to cars. But every once in awhile, a ‘neglected’ area reveals a gem – an ORIGINAL southern landscape.  Are  these little bits considered viable habitat patches? Well, it depends on your species, your size, and your point of view.  Do they add up to something worth saving?  Ask your local planning authority.

“If the land mechanism as a whole is good then every part is good, whether we understand it or not…To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”  -Aldo Leopold, 1938

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