Saturday, May 23, 2009

Glennstone Preserve (Durham, NC)

Overview: Glennstone Nature Preserve, an 82-acre natural area in Durham, North Carolina that is protected by the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, offers visitors a hike through successional habitat favored by woodcocks and bottomland forests underlain by diabase soils that nurture unusual plant species.

Directions: Going northbound on I-85, take the Glenn School Road exit (#180), turn left onto. Glenn School Road. Go 0.4 miles to Glenn Road and turn right onto Glenn Road. Continue 1.3 miles to Glennstone Drive, which is the second left into the housing development. Go 1/4 mile and park near Little Valley Ct. which is across from the gazebo, storm water detention pond and the entrance to the Glennstone Nature Preserve.

Entrance to Glennstone Nature Preserve (23 May 2009, Durham, NC, © Nicolette Cagle)
Observations & Ponderings: Standing on the wooden gazebo, overlooking a cattail and woolrush filled water retention pond, visitors are greeted by the "coo-co-quereee" call of red winged blackbirds. To northern visitors, this cacophony of birdsong may be reminiscent of lakeside picnics and tall corn fields. Venturing onto the Honeysuckle Trail, however, disavows any northerner of the notion that they are back home: this trail smacks of early successional habitat found only in the southern Piedmont, brimming with loblolly pines, eastern redbuds, sweetgums and downy arrowwood viburnum.
The shrubbery is so thick, one can hardly see more than a foot in. Yet, patient observers will be rewarded. Hiking farther down the trail, the lemon yellow, four-petaled blooms of southern sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) are revealed. This primrose was once used by early settlers as a remedy for whooping cough. It is also an invasive in Scandanavia, having reached Europe by 1614. Continuing down the Honeysuckle Trail, and then turning down the Woodcock trail, beware of fire ants. This Brazilian native creates mounds in open areas with direct sunlight and will attack interlopers with painful bites. Also, keep your eyes open for winged sumac (Rhus copallina), a striking plant that used to be smoked by the settlers of Appalachia to treat asthma.
If you are adventurous, you might find the narrow path cut into the woods and take a path that crosses a boulder filled creek. These boulders are made of diabase - a rock rich in magnesium and calcium - that weathers to create a soil that is unusually basic for the Piedmont. One of the unusual plants that this soil nurtures is anglepod or oldfield milkvine (Matelea decipiens). This plant, a vine with wide heart-shaped leaves, gets its name from its milky white sap. Its beautiful dark purple flowers are vanilla-scented and in fall, this plant will carry beautiful downy-filled seedpods, like those found on the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Also, look for indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), a white chlorophyll lacking plant that gets in nutrients from the mycorrhizal fungi associated with nearby tree roots, as well as partridgeberry, a tiny twin-flowered plant that sports one red berry in fall that was once used by American Indians to ease the pain associated with childbirth.

Oldfield milkvine (Matelea decipiens) at Glennstone Preserve (23 May 2009, Durham NC, © Nicolette Cagle)
The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association offers an annual Memorial Day hike through these woods to one of the Piedmont's largest great blue heron rookeries. Great blue herons are fascinating: they are North Carolina's largest heron, sporting 6 foot wingspans. They nest in monospecific (i.e., only great blue herons) colonies of up to 500 nests. A mating pair only stays together for that breeding season, but together they will construct a nest (dad finds the sticks, mom puts the nest together), incubate three to five eggs and riase one to four young. Yellow-crowned night herons and green herons are the only other heron species known to breed in the Triangle.
If your looking for a quick, but interesting hike in Durham County, be sure to check out Glennstone Preserve. If you're interested in history, keep your eyes open for the remains of an old stone-lined spring and the ruins of an old summer cottage.

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