Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hickory Hollow Natural Area Preserve

I had a terrific walk through Hickory Hollow Natural Area Preserve with members of the Northern Neck chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society this past May. The preserve is way up on the Northern Neck, not far from Kilmarnock, and about an hour and a half drive from Williamsburg.
The goal of the expedition was to see a disjunct population of Kentucky lady's slipper orchid (Cypripedium kentuckiense) in an area known as Cabin Swamp. It's the only spot in the state where these rare orchids can be found. Most Kentucky lady's slippers are found in two states: Alabama and Kentucky, but its range was extended when this disjunct population was discovered in 1996. Kentucky lady's slippers are closely related to yellow lady's slipper (c. parviflorum) and there was some debate about whether they should be categorized as a separate species. Recent genetic evidence supports its designation as a separate species. You can read a detailed discussion of the issue here.

The walk was led by Master Naturalist and Northern Neck Audubon Society past president, Tom Teeples. Tom was very familiar with the site and he, along with Ann Messick and other concerned citizens, helped convince Lancaster County officials not to turn the area into an industrial park.
It was a very pleasant walk down to Cabin Swamp. The temperature was perfect, though the sky was overcast, giving all my pictures a gloomy feel. Near the entrance to the trail were a few mountain laurel still in bloom.Under the canopy of the hardwood forest, we found large patches of running cedar (Lycopodium digitatum), along with bluets (Hustonia purpurea), snakeroot (Sanicula canadensis), partridgeberry and Virginia pennywort (Cardamine concatenata). Here and there you could also see a few heart's-a-bursting in bloom. Sseveral purple twayblade orchids (Liparis liliifolia) lined the path to the swamp. It was my first time seeing them.
To get to Cabin Swamp, we climbed down a fairly steep ravine, stopping to look at the flowers of heartleaf (Hexastylis virginicus). At the bottom of the ravine was a convenient boardwalk. It led us through the bog, rich in leafy perennials including skunk cabbage, marsh marigold, lizard's tail, and Jack-in-the-pulpit. There was also still a bit of sweetspire blooming along the edge of the open water. Of course the most spectacular sight were the lady's slippers, though there were just a handful in bloom. Tom mentioned that a recent survey had found 77 out of 120 plants in bloom. In addition to the lady's slippers, I was especially intrigued by a plant I had never seen before, false hellebore (Veratrum viride).
This is another disjunct that is normally found in higher elevations in the western part of the state. It may be old news to some of you native plant aficionados, but I thought the plant was quite striking with its huge hosta-like leaves growing along the three foot tall stems. The green flowers weren't exactly spectacular, but they were definitely interesting. This plant would look great in my water garden…I MUST find it somewhere! It doesn't seem to be that readily available online. If anyone has some to share, let me know.

You can see all my photos from the trip here.

1 comment:

Les said...

I can't imagine a place so rich being turned into an idustrial park. Bravo to concerned citizens and the county. I am adding this place to my list.