Earlier this spring I made two visits to Cherry Orchard Bog Natural Area Preserve, one of Virginia's newer natural area preserves. The preserve lies south of the James River, on the border between Sussex and Prince George County. It's home to several seeps and springs which flow through the gently rolling terrain. The low ph/low nutrient water creates habitat for several uncommon plants including bog buttons, large flowered camass, and white fringed orchids.
The first trip I made was in the middle of April. I took the ferry across the James and drove down towards Waverly, following some rural back roads to get to the preserve. At the entrance to the preserve there's a small pull off and a wooded walk leading straight into the preserve. Along the this trail I came across some deerbeery and bluets in bloom. After a couple hundred feet the trail opened up to a wide power line corridor stretching miles into the distance. The constant sound of the crackling lines made me a bit nervous. I couldn't help thinking: what if one of those lines snapped and a whipping wire zapped me with a bazillion volts of electric current?The area under the utility line was full of grasses and perennials, including a lot of bushy bluestem. The first things that struck me were the drifts of yellow ragwort. But it wasn't the familiar golden ragwort that you see along streams in early spring, it was woolly ragwort, identifiable by its hairy, almost blue leaves. Looking around a bit more I began to notice lots of tiny violets, oak saplings with deep red coloring to the emerging leaves, and scattered dogwoods along the edges of the woods. Walking along the right of way was difficult at times. I had to get my feet wet a couple of times to get across small streams and water-filled depressions.
I noticed the trees on the on the south side of the right of way were all charred black from a recent fire (photo at the top of the story). The area had been burned last April in order to reestablish the open, boggy habitat that had been declining because of fire suppression. A dense growth of blueberries, huckleberries, and bracken fern was thriving below the trees. At a low point along the treeline a small sign and patch of vernal iris marked a path into the bog. The area was full of ferns, mostly cinnamon, but also royal ferns and a couple other species.I knew it was still early for any pitcher plants blooms but it looked like there would be lots of interesting plants in this area and I decided to return later in the spring.
Outside the bog I walked further along the power line corridor until I found a wide looping access trail winding through the higher, drier part of the preserve. Along this path I found wild lupine just starting to bloom. Each lupine leaf contained a single drop of water. On the return trip to the preserve in late May, I brought along a couple friends from the native plant society. Under the power lines, several types of plants were blooming that I had seen previously, but this time it was balsam ragwort instead of woolly ragwort and slender blue flag iris instead of vernal iris. These were joined by many new blooms including wild quinine, venus' looking-glass, daisy fleabane, and the burgandy-colored blooms of clasping milkweed.We also found the wavy leaves of kidney-leaf rosinweed (which looked a little like Swiss chard) and instead of dogwoods lining the edges of the woods, we found sweetbay magnolia in bloom.
We all headed to the boggy area to see if any interesting plants had come up since my first visit and were not dissappointed. At the entrance to the path we found a clump of orange milkwort, and after heading down the path only a few feet, we ran into a nice patch of bog buttons. They were so small and delicate, it was hard for me to get a good shot. A bit further along, we found pink lady's slipper (though not in bloom) and several specimens of whorled loosestrife, which I had never seen in person. And growing under the shrubs at the edge of the path there were several Indian cucumber roots in bloom, also hard to photograph. Eventually the path petered out into the woods so we headed back to the power lines and the loop trail where I found the lupine. As we walked, we began to see more and more of the orange milkwort. They seemed to be everywhere! In the wetter parts of the easment we found maleberry and even some swamp azalea that was still in bloom the sticky blooms confirmed the species). Along the upland loop trail of the park we saw more lady's slippers, frostweed and several large colonies of goat's rue, which I had never seen before.After the walk we pulled off all the ticks and headed over to the Virginia Diner in Waverly for their Sunday buffet. The tasty buffet was a meat-lovers paradise; vegetarians, not so much.
You can see all of my pictures from the walk here. If you're interested in visiting the park, contact Darren Loomis, SE Regional Steward with the Department of Conservation and Recreation at (757) 925-2318.