Posts Tagged ‘Mitchell Vaughan’

A Crash Course in Alabama Ecosystems

Monday, July 14th, 2014

A Crash Course in Alabama Ecosystems

[Guest blog post by Louise Agee Wrinkle Native Plant Intern Mitchell Vaughan]

Recently, I was part of a group who went on a field trip to the Bibb County Glades, located near Montevallo, Alabama. Described variously as “a botanical lost world” and “a botanical wonder,” as well as other similarly impressive titles, this site is not at all what comes to mind when I hear the word “glade.” I pictured something more like the Everglades, a big grassy wetland broken by the occasional tree hammock. The word glade, however, means an open area surrounded by trees. Much of the Bibb County Glades are comprised of rocky, arid, grass-and-wildflower-covered rocky outcrops. What makes these glades distinctly different is the type of rock of which they are composed, Ketona dolomite. 

Dolomite is a type of limestone and this particular type of it is unusually pure and contains large percentages of calcium and magnesium. Magnesium, in high concentrations, can be toxic to many species of plants; this is why the glades are populated by many unique species that have adapted to living in that particular type of limestone. They thrive here without competition from more typical species, which would normally populate the area. Growing on these glades are several rare species, including one third of all Alabama endemic plant species – and eight  species unknown to science before their discovery in the 1900s.

After trekking through some steep open terrain, we ventured into the adjacent woodlands where it was noticeably cooler. We hiked along a stretch of the Little Cahaba River and then deeper still into a forested area along a small stream. Here, it became more like walking through a temperate rainforest with lush green vegetation spreading prolifically in every direction. Following the stream, we eventually came to a spot with a particularly interesting botanical inhabitant, one that has yet to be named and described. Its temporary name is Trautvetteria sp. nov. (tassel-rue), and will be definitively named by whomever first describes it botanically. 

Finally, we packed up and drove to a nature preserve along the Cahaba River, where we hoped to see Hymenocallis coronaria  (Cahaba lily) flowering. And flowering they were! It’s a spectacular sight to see an expanse of showy white flowers bobbing daintily over the river waters in which it grows. Visiting these sites makes it clearly evident why they are described as some of Alabama’s natural wonders. 

From sunny glades to shaded woodlands, it was quite a day. Exploring several of Alabama’s ecosystems in rapid succession can offer a newfound appreciation for our state’s biodiversity and unique natural character. 

 

A Walk in the Swamp

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

A Walk in the Swamp

[guest blog post by intern Mitchell Vaughan]

On Friday, May 23, I accompanied Kaul Wildflower Curator John Manion and my two fellow interns on a visit to the University of Montevallo’s Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve on Spring Creek in Shelby County. The Swamp is a 60 acre tract of natural wetland, located near the University of Montevallo campus and used by the university for education and research. It’s part of the Cahaba River Watershed, which brings us to an interesting distinction: that between a swamp and a bog. Swamps form in the basins and floodplains surrounding rivers, where river water flows into lower, shallower areas and eventually flows back into another river system. Bogs are raised areas of stagnant water, which accumulate from precipitation and are held by the high peat content of the surrounding soil. Unlike swamps, true bogs seldom have regular inflow or drainage. Swamps also differ from bogs in that they are able to support large hardwood species. Some of the dominant species in Ebenezer Swamp are Nyssa aquatica (water tupelo), Acer rubrum (red maple), Magnolia virginiana (sweet bay magnolia) and Platanus occidentalis  (sycamore). Numerous other interesting plant species also occur there, some rare and some endangered.

Traversing the swamp is possible on a boardwalk, built and maintained by the university, which meanders gently across the length of the swamp. Walking along, I sensed the primordial nature of the place, from it having existed undisturbed for centuries before human encroachment. The swamp once came under threat when plans were made to drain the area to make way for a quarry.  Fortunately, through legal action by the university, that plan was cancelled. Macknally Land Design subsequently created the master plan for the development of the swamp.

Ebenezer Swamp must be experienced in person if its beauty and serenity are to be fully appreciated. For some, the word “swamp” conjures images of murky, tannin-stained mires, but the sight of the bright dappled light in Ebenezer Swamp couldn’t be further from this. The waters teem with fish, mussels, and crayfish, all readily visible from the comfort of the boardwalk.  Visitors are able to observe up-close, an array of lush plant life. Alabama residents, owe it to themselves to visit this natural state wonder at least once, probably to return again and again… as I will.