Sunday, May 12, 2013

Special Plants, Special Places – Carolina bays

I wrote earlier about the Heggie’s Rock field trip that I attended as part of the Georgia Botanical Society’s 2013 Spring Pilgrimage. Another type of special environment that I went to was a Carolina bay. Carolina bays are isolated wetlands that are fed not by creeks or rivers but by rain and shallow groundwater. 

Craig's Pond
Their unique shape allows us to recognize them: an elliptical shape with generally a northwest to southeast orientation. They are shallow depressions and, as a result of their dependency on rainfall or groundwater, do not always contain water. According to a fact sheet provided by the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), observations over 14 years found that Rainbow Bay (as an example) has had water for as few as 5 days in one year and as many as 280 days. Generally water is most plentiful in the spring and at lowest levels in the autumn.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)
I actually visited two Carolina bays during the Pilgrimage, both of them in South Carolina. The first one I visited was Craig’s Pond. It is located on the Savannah River Site and managed by the staff at SREL. You can see a picture here:

It was fascinating to hear how important environments like this are to amphibian populations. Since no fish are present, frogs and salamanders have a safe place to lay eggs and to grow up. While there wasn’t much water in the bay, the view of the area was sufficient to give a sense of how it must look. The sweep of grass was a mixture of different species but a predominant one was maidencane (Panicum hemitomon). Mixed in with it were the dry seed heads of Carolina red root (Lachnanthes caroliniana), as pointed out to us by the trip leader.

No doubt how inkberry (Ilex glabra) got its name
The plants that live in and around Carolina bays comprise different communities based on their tolerance of saturation. I saw some of the best examples of inkberry (Ilex glabra) that I’ve ever seen. New to me was myrtle dahoon holly (Ilex myrtifolia). Several different pine species were there, but it was most special to see mature longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) up close. 

Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
Other shrubs there were several species of blueberry (Vaccinium), evergreen fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and what appeared to be a naturally dwarf form of wax myrtle (Morella cerifera). It was blooming at heights of less than 24 inches.  

Bog white violet (Viola lanceolata)

I saw bog white violet (Viola lanceolata) throughout the area, both in standing water and in dry areas.

Entwined here and there, truly the thread that tied it all together, was beautiful Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) - see the picture earlier in the post. I never got tired of seeing it. 

The second one I visited was Ditch Pond, and it is part of a 296-acre Heritage Preserve managed by SC-DNR. The bay comprises 25 acres of the site. This site is open to the public and has an excellent collection of trails.

At Ditch Pond we heard that it is home to all 3 "bay" trees: Magnolia virginiana (sweet bay), Persea borbonia (red bay) and Gordonia lasianthus (loblolly bay). I saw the first two but not the third. We walked some of the trails, including one that felt like it was crafted on a movie set.
That sandy area in the center is the path

Red bay (Persea borbonia)
While we certainly saw some of the same plants, a few others are worth noting. Here a few fruits of red bay (Persea borbonia) hang on while the Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) curls around it.

We also found the dried fruit capsules of swamp titi (Cyrilla racemiflora) as we got closer to the wet area. An evergreen smilax twined overhead, already sporting green fruits.

Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana)

Evergreen Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) was blooming along the trails. I'm sure their abundant fruits are popular with birds. We also saw plenty of wild plum (Prunus sp.) and a lot of hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) blooming. What an area for wildlife!

This site had a more open canopy so while we also found longleaf pine here, we were able to see a lot of young ones in the "rocket" stage (growing straight with very few branches).

Lonicera sempervirens

The showiest plant of the trip was the native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). The blooms were an eye-popping shade of hot pink and even the leaves were tinged with pink. Wow.

Although my field trips were in South Carolina, Georgia does have Carolina bays of its own. Recent efforts by GA-DNR resulted in the documentation of 528 Carolina bays, with Screven County having the most (156).

1 comment:

  1. Good evening! You have a great blog...lots of great info. I live in East Texas and we have a climate more similar to yours there in Georgia than the rest of Texas.

    I have recently written a book about growing native fruit and nut trees. I would love to give you a copy and maybe have you review it. If you are interested, let me know. Thanks!