Sunday, April 28, 2013

Temple Flat Rock (Wendell, Wake County, North Carolina)

Triangle Land Conservancy's Temple Flat Rock Preserve

Outside Wendell, NC (pop. ~ 6,000), an eastern satellite town of Raleigh, sits 5,270 square meters of exposed granite rock that supports a unique community of lichens, bryophytes, and angiosperms (flowering-plants). In 1984, the Temple family donated this unusual Registered Natural Heritage Site to the Nature Conservancy. In the mid-1990s, Temple Flat Rock was transferred the Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC), becoming the organization's first conservation easement.

Temple Flat Rock, Wendell NC with Appalachian sandwort (white flowers) and elf-orpine (pink); April 2013

Fence lizard at Temple Flat Rock
Temple Flat Rock, a granite outcrop that showcases a large expanse of the Rolesville granitic batholith, features a number of endemic plants, including Appalachian sandwort (Minuartia glabra) and elf-orpine (Diamorpha smallii). It also supports a number of mosses, over 44 species of lichen, hardy eastern-red cedars, and a few fence lizards and ground skinks that use Temple Flat Rock to bask in the sun on cool days.

Piedmont prairie establishment at Temple Flat Rock

The TLC preserve is also notable as a Piedmont prairie restoration site. Like the tallgrass prairies of the Midwest or the longleaf pine forests of North Carolina’s coast, the savanna-prairie complex of the Piedmont is a nearly extinct ecosystem. Today, prairie restoration sites occur around Charlotte and the Triangle. Yet, few of these places adequately capture the essence of the extirpated Piedmont savanna: an expanse of tussocky tall grasses and sky-reaching forbs beneath an open canopy of hardy post oaks, sometimes stretching for miles before meeting a riparian forest or wooded hill. These ecosystems, described by nearly every European explorer that had visited North Carolina’s Piedmont between the mid-16th and mid-18th centuries, were nearly forgotten landscapes even by the start of the American Civil War. Fortunately, Walt Tysinger, the land manager at TLC, has been working hard to bring these systems back both at Horton Grove (by Stagville plantation, north of Durham, NC) and at Temple Flat Rock.

Currently, Temple Flat Rock includes about 5 acres of granite outcrop, 15 acres of mixed hardwoods, and 16 acres of grassland established from old agriculture fields and horse pasture. Like most prairie restoration, recreation, and establishment managers, Tysinger struggles to control the non-native fescue (Festuca sp.), sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata) and native sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). Using a combination of dormant season burns, spot spraying of herbicides, and bush hogging, Tysinger has been able to control the grassland invasives enough to establish (from plugs) native warm-season grasses, such as Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), little blue stem (Schizacharyium scoparium), and splitbeard bluestem (Andropogon tenarius). Other species seen in the grassland establishment include prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus).

Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) thicket in Temple Flat Rock grassland establishment.

Prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) at Temple Flat Rock grassland.

In the Triangle, a number of remnant grasslands or restoration projects occur on the basic soils of the Triassic Basin, underlain by magnesium- and iron-rich diabase. These soils often contain montmorillonite, a type of clay that shrinks and swells so dramatically that it can deter tree root growth. In contrast, the Temple Flat Rock prairie establishment project occurs on acidic Louisburg (Typic Hapludults) and Appling (Typic Kanhapludults) soil. Yet, the site is so xeric and well-drained, that with a little ecological disturbance (e.g., fire), a grassland ecosystem feels perfectly natural. Moreover, the hard work of Tysinger and the Triangle Land Conservancy serves to remind us all of the natural and cultural heritage of North Carolina's Piedmont prairie landscape.

Throwdown from Hurricane Fran in the oak-hickory forest at Temple Flat Rock.

For more information about Temple Flat Rock, please visit the TLC website at

Monday, April 15, 2013

West Point on the Eno (Durham, NC): Emerging Dragonfly and Spring Flora II

West Point on the Eno: Emerging Dragonfly & Mid-Spring Flora II

Emerging Dragonfly: on the bridge by the mill

Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides): north facing hillside, near Sennett's hole

Pinxter-flower (Rhododendron periclymenoides)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

West Point on the Eno (Durham, NC)

West Point on the Eno (Durham, NC) -- Mid-Spring Flora, Basking Snakes, and Unidentified Crayfish

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea): found in the bottomlands near Sennett's Hole;
weedy, invasive ground cover from Europe; toxic to cattle and horses, but used medicinally. 

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea): found in the bottomlands near Sennett's Hole

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica): found in the bottomlands near Sennett's Hole

Early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis) -back of flower head, found near "turtle rock" of rocky bluffs at West Point on the Eno

Early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis) -with distinctive basal leaves, found near "turtle rock" of rocky bluffs at West Point on the Eno

Northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon): adjacent to the mill wheel at West Point on the Eno

Queen snake (Regina septemvittata): adjacent to the mill wheel at West Point on the Eno

Crayfish, spp. unknown: Warren Creek
for more information on North Carolina crayfish species, please visit:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Return to Mason Farm (Chapel Hill, NC)

Redbelly Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) at Mason Farm, Chapel Hill, NC

One evening this April, I visited Mason Farm with my dear friend gumby. As we started hiking down the grassy path, I commented on how Mason Farm was always a lucky place to find snakes, especially brown snakes, rough green snakes, and rat snakes.

We were lucky to add another species to that list: redbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster). This juvenile rested in the middle of the path in a grassy field adjacent to wetland habitat. I've yet to find a red-bellied water snake in the water, or even on a log sticking out of the water. I often find them sunning themselves in an open grassy area, near but relatively removed from water.

Redbelly water snakes have been observed at Mason Farm before, but there is still something exciting about seeing a species at the edge of its range. In North Carolina, redbelly water snakes are more abundant in the Coastal Plain, and their distribution only sneaks into the eastern Piedmont counties: Richmond, Lee, Moore, Wake, Chatham, Orange, and possibly Anson.