Monday, September 29, 2008

Condoret Nature Preserve (Chatham County, NC)

Overview: Condoret Nature Preserve, a Triangle Land Conservancy property acquired by donation in 2003, represents some of the many preserved and protected areas in and around the Triangle that are not intended for recreational use, but meant solely to preserve important ecological habitats and land for our future. The property extends 85 acres and protects riparian habitat along Tick Creek, which runs into the Rocky River (in the Cape Fear River Basin), and mainly encompasses flood plain forest and old fields.

Condoret Nature Preserve, September 2008

Directions: Again, this property is not managed for public recreation -- no trails, amenities or parking lot. If you would really like to visit, please contact the Triangle Land Conservancy at info (at) They usually respond very promptly!
My observations & ponderings: Condoret Nature Preserve is largely composed of floodplain forest and old fields. The forest is dense and difficult to navigate through, and the old field was wet and puddle filled after the recent rains. During our exploration, we startled a red shouldered hawk that had been hiding at the edge of the woods, presumably scoping out prey in the field below. We also found a beautiful female wolf spider, with young on her back and another still hefting around a large egg sac.

Woldspider with young

As we ventured towards Tick Creek, we came across a number of plant species one would expect in a wet, old field grading into floodplain forest, including purple gerardia (Gerardia purpurea), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia). As the field gave way to forest, we discovered a millipede clasping the branches of a bumpy hackberry (Celtis laevigata), young walnuts (Juglans nigra) and a strangely bent ironwood (Ostrya virginiana).

Purple gerardia (Gerardia purpurea)

Wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia)

Millipede on hackberry (Celtis laevigata)

As I circled the strange, bryophyte covered ironwood, I began to imagine how it came to be shaped so strangely. Was this a tree bent by an American Indian to mark a long forgotten trail? Did the children of the former owners find this tree as a sapling and set about to change its natural growth pattern? Was this odd form the result of vegetative growth from a fallen clone?

Strangley bent ironwood (Ostrya virginiana)

It is difficult to reconstruct ecological history, but I was undaunted and I began to evaluate the three hypotheses regarding the origin of the strangely shaped tree. Could the tree have been bent by an American Indian? In fact, this hypothesis is easily dismissed. Ostrya virginiana is a slow growing tree with a relative short life span of at most 150 years, but maybe only 10 to 15 years (Fehrenbach, 1983). Therefore, this tree was a sapling sometime after 1858, a time when American Indians would have been absent from Chatham County. Could the tree have been bent by the children of former owners? Well, this is certainly possible, but why would they have picked that tree? In that location? Would it have been worth the effort to walk through the wet grass and weedy fields to bend this hapless tree? My sense is that this hypothesis is probably false. In fact, I'm inclined to believe that this strange shape originated when a clonal sapling arose from the roots of a fallen Ostrya virginiana, perhaps then the sapling grew across the fallen log or another fallen tree, and when that fallen tree had rotted away, the strangely shaped ironwood was left for the world to contemplate. This hypothesis is consistent with Ostrya virginiana's known habits: it does grow vegetatively from cut stumps or burned/injured trees. Sadly, we may never know the true history of this tree, but at least we will never be without natural mysteries to ponder.

Resources: Interested in North Carolina's watersheds? Visit this North Carolina Office for Environmental Education website:

Want to learn more about land conservation in the Triangle? Visit the Triangle Land Conservancy website:

Fehrenbach, W. E. 1983. Ostrya virginiana: characteristics and potentials of a little known native. Proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Metropolitan Tree Improvement Alliance. New York Botanical Garden: New York. p61-67.

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