Here we are, roadside on Highway 41-A headed down the mountain toward Cowan. I pull off on the side of the road, and what’s there to greet me? Cumberland Rosinweed (Silphium brachiatum), a plant that’s endemic to the South Cumberland Plateau — yes, this is the only place where it grows! Luckily, it’s locally abundant — there seem to be plenty of plants on the roadsides here, along with sunflowers, goldenrods, and a few late butterflyweeds.
I love coming across this plant in late summer. It needs the sunshine, so it’s all along the roadside, through the power line right-or-way, and along the old Mountain Goat railroad bed. Augustin Gattinger, Tennessee’s first state botanist, discovered and named this plant for science. I like to picture that German immigrant riding the train up to Sewanee to visit his friend and fellow botanist Gen. Edmund Kirby-Smith, in Sewanee. He peers out the window and glimpses — what? It looks a lot like a sunflower or another rosinweed. But wait — it’s a previously unnamed plant species!
What a day that must have been!
The Nature Conservancy bought about 200 acres along the highway and donated it to the state of Tennessee to protect Cumberland Rosinweed. Year-before-last there was an accidental herbiciding of this plant, but it looks as though it’s back in force. We also have it on the Domain — mostly in and around Lost Cove. A special plant!