Sunday, May 19, 2013

Panola Mountain - Urban Treasure

Panola Mountain is a rare treasure that happens to be located very close to a large metropolitan area.  Protected by a state park, it is one of just a few natural monadnocks available to the public. As on other outcrops of exposed granite rock, special plants live here.

On the outcrop at Panola Mountain

I wrote earlier about my trip to Heggie’s Rock near Augusta, GA and another (much smaller) outcrop that I had visited. Like Heggie’s Rock, Panola Mountain was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1980. Unlike Heggie’s Rock, Panola is available to the general public for visiting during park hours. It even offers ranger-led guided tours of the outcrop for a small fee. That is a tour worth taking.

My visit to Panola was part of field trip held by the Georgia Native Plant Society. We were there to learn more about the plants that make the outcrop their home. Some plants were very special, others were able to live near the outcrop but live in other places as well.

Bignonia capreolata
It was enjoyable to see familiar plants mixed in with the ones that were new to us. On our way up to the top, we found blooming crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) and stopped to admire the showy flowers.
It was a drizzly day, so I apologize for water splotches on the lens. Of course the damp weather made some of the colors very vibrant, but it also made it difficult to photograph some things.

Our trip leader was very experienced in rock outcrop plant communities, otherwise I never could have told you that the name of this moss is Hedwigia ciliata

Hedwigia ciliata
It's presence and the presence of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), however, allowed us to find a very special plant indeed: Sedum pusillum, known as granite stonecrop. According to our leader, this rare and threatened annual sedum grows in communities that have these other two plants. 

Sedum pusillum
Indeed, in the several places we found it, the other two plants were there as well. It was past bloom time for this sedum but we found a few stray blooms.

The beautiful red-leaved Diamorpha smallii was there in abundance on the outcrop. It was also almost finished blooming, but the color of the leaves ensures that it creates a handsome vista regardless of blooms. Click on the link to my Heggie's Rock post to see blooming pictures of it.

Red fruits and new flower buds of
Opuntia humifusa
Other good plants that we saw included perennials like beargrass (Yucca filamentosa), Atamasco lily (Zephyranthes atamasca), hairy spiderwort (Tradescantia hirsuticaulis), eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa), sandwort (Minuartia uniflora) and shrubs like painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica), sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), and mock orange (Philadelphus inodorus).

Ptelea trifoliata

New to me were wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata) and sunnybells (Schoenolirion croceum). Wafer ash, also known as hoptree, is not an ash at all. The compound leaves with 3 leaflets had a few of us looking at the young saplings cautiously as we walked among them. We found them in a wooded area as we wound our way back down the mountain.

Schoenolirion croceum
Sunnybells is a member of the Liliaceae family and was found on the outcrop itself. These pictures of dripping flowers do no justice to what I can see must be a spectacular plant. In some areas, they created large colonies of bright yellow happiness.

If you get a chance to explore Panola Mountain I hope that you will. As a State Park it is well maintained, informative, educational, friendly and beautiful. Be sure to check out their activities as posted on the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area webpage. Panola Mountain is part of this National Heritage Area, one of only 3 areas in Georgia.

Panola Mountain and the Arabia Mountain NHA are very accessible to metro Atlanta, a true treasure for all of us to explore and enjoy.


  1. What a wonderful ecosystem! Thanks for sharing!