“At 250 million years of age, the Appalachians are now passing through the mature phase that such violently uplifted terrain experiences as it erodes and becomes extraordinarily diverse in two regards: plant life and distinctive natural communities. Those benchmarks apply to the entire range from the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada to the foothills of Alabama…but greatest diversity is attained in the Southern Blue Ridge Province, which extends from just south of Roanoke in Virginia to Mt. Oglethorpe in north Georgia – encompassing portions of east Tennessee, western NC and northwest SC.
Featuring 50 or so peaks exceeding 6,000 feet and criss-crossed by an array of ranges and waterways, it is one of the most elegant and complex temperate landscapes in the world….
Utilizing sources (listed below), one can evolve a rudimentary understanding of the larger forest zones differentiated primarily by elevation: spruce-fir, northern hardwood, cove hardwood, southeastern hardwood and pine-oak-hickory…Embedded within the framework of these larger forest and alluvial systems is a mosaic of natural areas and ecosystems that have always been (for Mr. Ellison) the most exciting to look for and explore: high elevation boulder fields (block streams) formed at the end of the last Ice Age not more that 18,000 years ago; low-elevation talus slopes; swamps, marshes and bogs; spray zones and sphagnum mats; serpentine and pine barrens; dwarf white oak “wind forests” and beech gaps, rocky summits, domes and cliffs. In recent year,s new guides to natural communities, areas and ecosystems of the Southern Blue Ridge have been published:
- Michael P. Schafale’s “Guide to the Natural Communities of North Carolina” – an ongoing scientific classification of this state’s ecosystems. Learn more at http://cvs.bio.unc.edu/pubs/4thApproximationGuideFinalMarch 2012.pdf.
- Dirk Frakenberg’s edited collection of 36 Tour Guides, divided about equally between coastal, coastal plain, piedmont and mountains: “Exploring North Carolina’s Natural Areas: Parks, Nature Preserves, and Hiking Trails.
- Asheville resident and former Clemson University biologist Timothy P. Spira has two recent publications that deserve mention here: “Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachians” and “Waterfalls and Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes.” – both published by UNC Press.”
SOURCE: George Ellison/Asheville Citizen-Times