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

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