Monday, April 28, 2008

'Taters, Merkles, Creekin', Jacks, 'Falls and Trillium.. It's Springtime in Shenandoah!

It's said that spring comes to the Blue Ridge at the rate of 100 feet per day...
But that isn't the only marker of spring.. for as the mountains green, so do our lives' activities mark the season's arrival.. in work, in play... in celebration... climbing, paddling, hiking... chasing that 100 ft per day... (and when we catch it, we put in in our pocket for next winter's fireside)

Potatoes cut and planted, the harvest distant, but already in sight.. the spring's cool rains and sun's warmth bring out a variety of eminently edible mushrooms known as morels from the forest floor.. ("merkles" as they're pronounced locally, perhaps from "miracle" in the local dialect) Sprouting from nothing.. free for the taking, and easy on the taste buds.

A day, or two or three is never wasted when spent hunting miracles.

And not only do the rains bring forth merkles from the forest duff, but they also swell the local creeks and bring out the year's crop of white water boaters from Hood College.. testing their newly acquired skills, and stretching the limits of what is within their abilities.. and not ceasing to be amazed.

Overall Falls, the icy playground of our winter afternoons, now mercurial, is breathtaking as it leaps off the mountain in full flight..filling the air with white noise and mist.. plunging headlong into the valley below.

Waterfalls and wildflowers, wildflowers and waterfalls.. the ying and yang of springtime in Shenandoah.

Our scheduled weekly hikes (Thursdays) and climbs (Wednesdays) in Shenandoah National Park have started... and life for us and our guests just doesn't get a whole lot sweeter!

On a recent warm day we were joined by Bill and Mary Burnham, noted travel writers and guidebook authors.. as they journeyed with us into higher and less visited regions of Shenandoah. The uphill labors were well rewarded. Our day was measured not by mileage or even by elapsed time, but by the procession of the green into the heights as we passed through the seasons, from the emerald lowlands, back into winter grays of the heights.
(someone please queue Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man")

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Invasive Species in Full Bloom

Ahh! Spring is in the air! The ice is melting, the snow is gone, and the air is filled with the songs of birds! Everywhere the earth is awakening to a new year of growth! The warm spring sun draws us to the mountains like moths to a flame, like bees to nectar, like flies to ... whatever flies eat.

Wildflowers abound.. the native species are breathtaking the way they can cling , grow and thrive in unbelievably thin soils and harsh conditions. Amongst the most beautiful displays of wildflowers however, is an intruder, an invader...
Disturbingly there is a marked increase in the occurrence of this nasty invasive species... the dreaded white variety* of the blooming tipi.

Escaped from domestication, where it has thrived throughout the past century, this invasive is increasingly perennial and widespread in nature. Determined to do some research, I discovered the following:

Common Name: Tipi Blossom (Usedum bumwadicus)
domesticated paper family (Charminscottangelsoftcottonelle)

Description: This rootless, stemless, leafless flower has white to brown tinged petals of varying shapes and sizes, from tight clusters to broad and patchy displays of petals. It contains no chlorophyll. Newer blossoms may have a distinct "fresh " fragrance (the fragrance diminishes quickly over time).
Despite many opportunities for pollination by insect,winged and crawling, it produces no obvious fruit.
Height:New blossoms to 6". Older blossoms generally less than 1 "

Flowering: Year round (with fewer new blossoms in mid winter)

Habitat: Generally found throughout the eastern woodlands, particularly on public recreation lands. More common at trailheads and within 20 feet of established hiking trails and fire roads. Mostly behind rocks and large trees.. but has been noted increasingly in plain view in the middle of pedestrian access ways, on windswept mountain summits, and at stream-side access points and water sources.

Range: Maine to Georgia, not restricted by elevation or climate.

Comments: The lifespan of the flowers of this species can vary widely.. with the the chlorinated varieties lasting upwards of two years(!) Those planted underground or of the "non-chlorinated variety" usually last around one year. While most mature humans find the display of this flower repugnant, others may find this flower strangely attractive. Feel free to pick this flower for re-potting at home.. (caution: the delicate fragrance may not be pleasing to all)
The reproduction and spread of this plant remains a mystery as it appears to be sterile.
Considered by most to be the easiest invasive species to control, it requires little more than forethought and planning.
This year, please do your part to wipe out this species.
(for more information on the control of this species refer to or contact SMG for more information

* the brown variety should NOT be picked!