On the last day of April, Dr. Evans and I made a trip to Fall Creek Falls with the goal of locating the permanent plots that his lab group will survey this summer. These six 1 ha plots were set up by Dr. George Ramseur and a team of researchers in the 1970s to monitor biomass on the Camp Branch watershed. We will compare this past data to the data we collect this summer to see the degree and directionality of change in the forest.
As I arrived at the park, the thundering sound of rushing water greeted my ears. My first glimpse of the falls was dizzying – two columns of water crashed to the ground hundreds of feet below me. The rock looked as if it had been chiseled into a semicircle around the falls, which gave off so much spray that I could see a faint rainbow.
At 9 am, we met with Stuart Carroll, Interpretive Specialist, who was going to help us find the plots. With a passion for preserving the native forest, Stuart told us about park initiatives and showed us potential campgrounds for our summer team. We were able to quickly find the plots with the help of technology – I had contacted a previous researcher, and he was kind enough to give me the location of the plots, which I uploaded as a map on my phone. As a result, we found and marked the permanent plots in record time.
Along the way, we saw many flowers in bloom and interesting critters.
We spotted Pink Lady Slippers (Cypriperidum acaule) along a trail in a pine stand. Between two broad leaves, a delicate stalk rose, with the single veiny pink flower hanging off of it. We noted the very curious interaction between White Slant-line moths (Tetracis cachexiata) and the ladyslipper – these moths have been seen on the flowers of pink lady slippers before, but it is unknown why they are attracted to the flowers. Read more about this mystery on the BugTracks blog.
The pine stand slowly faded out, and we we continued in a mixed oak-hickory forest, spotting more plants and insects. We saw a few fuzzy Eastern Tent Caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) climbing along twigs.
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) occasionally sprang up from clumps of heart-shaped leaves on the forest floor, presenting its tiny lacy flowers. More often, we spotted the five pale purple petals of Violet Wood Sorrel (Oxalis violacea) with its shamrock leaves.
I saw the dark red flower of Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) for the first time. This shrub has fragrant flowers and bark, and has been utilized as an ornamental plant. Scattered on the forest floor were Azure Bluets (Houstonia caerulea); this perennial has four light blue petals with a yellow center.
The Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) was concentrated together in patches with multiple purple flowers rising from rosettes. As we began walking down an overgrown road to return to the Nature Center, Stuart spotted a Black Ratsnake (Pantherophis obsoletus), which froze among the leaves.
After this long hike, we said our goodbyes to Stuart Carroll and left Fall Creek Falls that afternoon pleased that we had been able to locate all of the plots and eager to begin our research.