Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mountain Pilgrimage – DeSoto Falls

DeSoto Falls in Lumpkin County is a scenic stop that has options – there is a shorter trail that leads to the lower falls and a longer trail to the middle falls. The two falls are not related (one is not above the other). There is also an upper falls but the trail to it is no longer open. Our hike, part of the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage for Georgia Botanical Society, went to both falls, looking for interesting and beautiful plants along the way.

Lower DeSoto Falls, an easy hike

We examined a number of interesting plants before even entering the trail. The parking lot had a large cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) that was not yet ready to bloom. We headed for the trail, passing an elegantly-blooming pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) before crossing a sturdy footbridge over Frogtown Creek to reach the trails.

Waldsteinia fragarioides
The hike to the lower falls is only a quarter of a mile but the climb is steadily upward and includes a switchback.  The trail was popular with hikers interested only in reaching the waterfalls. Our slow-moving group frequently allowed others to pass.  We stopped early to admire the tiny yellow flowers of a plant that we would see frequently along the way, Appalachian barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides).

Gall on Symplocos tinctoria

We discussed both the unusual and the ordinary – no plant is beyond being discussed when it comes to the inquisitive folks in the Georgia Botanical Society. We found a number of plants with galls, but those on the horse sugar (Symplocos tinctoria) were the most spectacular. Nearby, American chestnut sprouts (Castanea dentata) had fresh leaves.

Pyrularia pubera, buffalo nut flowers

We found a blooming buffalo nut (Pyrularia pubera) and a huge population of rattlesnakeweed (Hieracium venosum), both plants that I think only plant nerds would love.

The walk to the middle falls was long but easy with the pleasant gurgle of the creek along for much of the way and we walked quickly. The area adjacent to the creek was thick with evergreen doghobble (Leucothoe fontanesiana).

Leucothoe fontanesiana, doghobble flowers

We admired the showy middle falls and the series of 3 rock ledges that created the scenic drops. Someone spied large-leaved trilliums near the base of the falls and we peered over the edge of the wooden platform until someone else found one where we could see the flower – it was white trillium (Trillium simile).

Upper DeSoto Falls

We slowly walked back, stopping to examine plants that caught our attention such as huckleberry (Gaylussacia) where our trip leader pointed out the presence of small gold glands on the back of the leaves as a helpful way to distinguish it from blueberry (Vaccinium). A nice group of blooming fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum) started a discussion about the differences in the flowers between male and female plants. Once again, I left a BotSoc trip with more knowledge than I took in and a brain well-exercised!

DeSoto Falls is one of the top ten North Georgia waterfalls as rated by Atlanta Trails. Use this Forest Service link to find directions and information and have $3 for the day parking pass (use the envelopes provided to make your payment). If you haven't already, you can read about my other two field trips on this pilgrimage: Sosebee Cove and Raven Cliff Falls.

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