Raleigh Nature

May 11, 2019

Mountain Meadow Flowers

Filed under: Exotica, Gems & Surprises, Western NC — Tags: — raleighnaturalist @ 2:26 pm

 

Asheville from Lookout Mountain

My retirement town has many great views, but the best one of downtown is from the hillside beside the UNC-A observatory on Lookout Mountain. (The campus is visible middle right). This southern-facing meadow is rich with spring flowers right now, and most of these species are to be seen in Raleigh as well.

The daisies erupt from a sea of green. This hillside gets mowed maybe once a year to keep out the trees and shrubs. So all the herbaceous plants fight it out.

The mix here is rich and includes Virginia creeper and occasionally poison ivy. It is regularly used by hikers and dog walkers.

The plants below don’t make pretty flowers, but we might remember bending the stem around and shooting their little brown fruits at each other. This is a nice stand of plantain, a highly useful herb which can make poultices and other medicinals.

Mullein plants

Mullein plants make a fine tea and don’t flower until late summer, but man, that flower is a phallic wonder! An amazingly tall green thrust cover with tiny yellow petals.

This aster has already flowered and is ready to set it’s seeds sailing in the wind. Every plant has its own rhythm.

The walk up to the view of downtown Asheville is short but strenuous, well worth the effort on an early spring morning to see the profusion of blooms.

An early feature on Raleigh spring flowers can be found here. If you haven’t done so, please check out the new book based on this blog!

The Natural History of Raleigh

 

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November 15, 2018

The Natural History of Raleigh is published!!

Filed under: About & reflection, Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 5:06 pm

I am so proud to share that the book I have been working on for over a decade, for which I started this blog, is in print at last. Published by my own press The Paper Plant, it is an 80 page book with 16 chapters and 30 illustrations that captures the best of what i have learned and seen concerning Raleigh NC’s wonderful greenway system, parks, and other natural areas. This blog has been crucial in developing the book, and several features relate directly to the blog, especially the fantastic comments on Lassiter Mill and it’s history posted on the blog. Thanks to all my Raleigh Nature readers and I hope you obtain and enjoy the book.

cover is hand-laid paper with block print

select illustrations

order through The Paper Plant

order through Amazon

Also available at Quail Ridge Books and So&So Books in Raleigh

October 29, 2014

Mystery Bridge in Crabtree Valley

Filed under: Crabtree Creek, Gems & Surprises, Greenways & Parks, West Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 2:50 pm
stop sign at bridge

abandoned bridge over Crabtree Creek just off Glenwood Avenue

Crabtree Creek Trail is 14.6 miles of greenway through the heart of Raleigh, starting at Anderson Point off New Bern Avenue east of town and following the creek all the way to Oak Park in northwest Raleigh. It was until recently the longest continuous stretch of Raleigh greenway, and now has been eclipsed by the Neuse River Walk and Walnut Creek Trail, both newly completed, relatively rural connectors. Of all the wonderful features on this complex trail, the abandoned bridge just upstream of Kidd Brewer’s old cow meadow (now Raleigh’s most floodable mall) wins the honors for mystery and quirkiness.

Crabtree creek from bridge

When and how was this bridge used? I will be crowdsourcing on Facebook, and don’t hesitate to comment here if you know anything. This stretch of greenway picks up across Edwards Mill Road from Crabtree Valley Mall, and meanders through old neighborhoods as well as a sprinkling of new condo developments before dead-ending into Lindsay Road in Oak Park.

abandpned bridge

I do NOT recommend walking on this bridge! It is very rotten. You wouldn’t fall in, but stepping through would be no fun. I stuck to the crossbeams, but was still anxious. Lovely view, though. Any thoughts?

Update

The Facebook post for this piece has produced wonderful information: Foy Beal states that the bridge was installed by the Martin family, namesakes of Martin MIddle School, when they owned property on both sides of the creek. Richard Butner has this info: “Used to go to the Leroy B. and Charlotte M. Martin House, designed by Brian Shawcroft.” Chip Robie has a fun story about using this “driveway” as a shortcut to Edward Mills Road. Others have interesting memories as well, and I am sure more to come.  Thanks!

August 7, 2014

Piedmont Prairies in Raleigh

Filed under: Gems & Surprises, green initiatives, Nature Lore, West Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 3:17 pm

Museum Field (1)

Fire, hurricanes, and Native American land management all created prairies, or tall grass meadows, across the area in prehistoric times. Almost no original prairies still exist, but Raleigh boasts two right down the road from each other off Blue Ridge Road. The best place to experience and learn about prairies is Prairie Ridge Ecostation, managed by The Museum of Natural Sciences on Reedy Creek Road. Below is the entrance map for this rich and complex facility, which covers 45 acres.

Prairie Ridge sign

 The top right shows the entrance and parking area, right next to the National Guard Armory. There are forest and prairie trails and at the bottom is a tributary of Reedy Creek, heading west to cross under Edwards Mill Road.  A large solar panel array provides power for a Frank Harmon-designed outdoor classroom built with green features. A residential center is in the works. There is a new Nature Play Space for young children with learning stations, a prairie maze, and logs and boulders for climbing.

Prairie Ridge

Trail heads at Prairie Ridge Ecostation

The highly diverse profusion of grasses, herbs and accompanying hordes of insects are riven with well-mowed paths to allow easy access. On each side, this mid-summer stroll revealed masses of seed heads, arching, competing green blades, and the occasional intrusion of pokeweed. Numerous butterflies, hunting spiders and other bugs roam the vegetation.

Prairie Trail

Zooming insects planed down onto the mowed surface every few seconds. Here is a grasshopper taking a short rest.

Prairie Ridge grasshopper

You can see clover enjoys the clear-cutting of the mower.

Prairie Ridge garden

Prairie Ridge flower garden on right, classroom building down slope on left. Note the black-eyed Susans on the roof of the garden shelter.

Fun fact: the Wet Lab, seen below, contains jarred biological specimens contained in over a hunded thousand gallons of alcohol. This huge collection, constantly growing as smaller facilities pass on their own holdings, was originally planned for downtown as part of the new science museum – but legislators decided that such a volatile stash needed a more remote location than across the street from them!

Wet Lab

Just a few hundred yards down the road is the campus of the NC Museum of Art, which maintains slopes of prairie meadows along with wooded trails and large lawns with outdoor sculptures. These prairie spaces are usually maintain by controlled burns, which reduce invading tree species and provide readily used nutrients. Mowing every two or three years works nearly as well.

Museum Field (1)

Museum slope

A slice of Piedmont prairie is no farther away then the nearest power line cut, where tall grasses are allowed to mature and flower but mowing is conducted every few years. To see something close to the original, visit the Horton Grove Preserve, managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy, which is part of the historical Stagville Plantation north of Durham. Another remnant of Piedmont praire is at Temple Flat Rock in Wake County, also managed by the TLC.

 

March 25, 2014

Raleigh Weather

Filed under: Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore, Raleigh History — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:44 pm
Black cherry blossoms announce spring

Backyard blossoms announce spring

Raleigh enjoys a temperate climate that can surprise with ease. Hailstorms, blizzards, damaging thunderstorms, and sustained droughts have all played havoc with Raleigh. The Great Blizzard of 1899 brought 17.7 inches, which record was not broken until 1927. In this century, late January 2000 brought 18 inches of snow that closed school for about 3 weeks.  Perhaps the most infamous weather event in Raleigh history was an ice storm in 2005 that lay a mere half inch of slick ice on every surface but created an Armageddon of gridlock across the town, stranding hundreds and keeping dozens of schoolchildren camped at school overnight . Historically we average about 6 inches of snow a year; in the last decade that dropped to under 5 inches. Our diverse seasons provide the outdoor naturalist with challenges and pleasures alike – within two months in fall, one can get short of breath in a stagnant sauna of hot air, then have a sinking cold air mass flow as a discernible fluid over your hat brim and down your cheeks. Each season provides unique natural experiences.

Hurricanes pound North Carolina on a regular basis, and many of these have affected Raleigh.  Hurricane Hazel, which came ashore in October 1954 and was nicknamed “the Bulldozer,” was at full strength when it hit Raleigh and flattened everything in its path. Hurricane Fran in 1996 changed the face of Raleigh dramatically by shearing hundreds of trees across the city. North Carolina, for the first time in history, declared all 100 counties a disaster zone, and 24 deaths were reported statewide.  The most destructive hurricane to ever hit Raleigh made water, not wind, its weapon.  Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was preceded by a tropical storm that saturated the ground and filled the waterways. When Floyd hit Wilmington and slowly moved across the state, some areas in eastern North Carolina had rain for 60 straight hours. The result was a deluge that claimed 52 lives, mostly from flooding, and totaled over 6 billion dollars in damages. The Neuse River reached 500 year flood levels and flooding continued for weeks after the storm.  These storms perform a natural role in opening the canopy of tree cover and letting sunlight promote young trees and diverse ground cover, even when the losses are painful.  Edna Metz Wells Park by Cameron Village presents a good microcosm of Fran damage and the slow fitful succession that occurs in an urban natural setting after such a tree loss. Out at Umstead Park, the same storm’s ravages are being used in a long term study of such recovery processes in a pine forest.

Normal rain in Raleigh follows seasonal patterns, with spring and fall slightly drier, but our generous rainfall of 42 inches or so is relatively evenly spread across the year. Our specific climate classification is humid sub-tropical, with the mountains shielding the Piedmont from Midwestern air masses. Raleigh’s average temperature in January is 40 degrees, in August it is 77 degrees. Summer popcorn storms punctuate the hot dry summer days with occasional quick deluges. Droughts are typical for the area but affect man-made landscapes far more than natural ones, which are adapted to survive them.

downed tree at Shaw University after tornado

downed tree at Shaw University after tornado

Raleigh could experience an earthquake, but that chances of a direct hit in the next 50 years are less than 1%. We do sometimes feel earthquakes, such as the 5.8 tremor that struck Virginia in August of 2011 and rattled homes and businesses across the Triangle. Tornadoes threaten on a regular basis: the April 2011 tornado that created much damage and destroyed almost 1500 trees in Raleigh was part of a massive outbreak of tornadoes across the South. The tree loss in downtown cemeteries was particularly distressing: in Raleigh City Cemetery and Mount Hope Cemetery in south Raleigh, beautiful old cedar trees were torn down or truncated by the winds.

The 2014 year has been unusual, to say the least, with snow flurries late in March and general delays/risks with spring blossoms. But  being in the borderline area between northern cold and southern warm has always been Raleigh’s fate. We can thank that factor for our amazing diversity of trees – and resign ourselves to enjoying the elements of surprise.

 

to buy the book based on this blog, click below

The Natural History of Raleigh

July 15, 2012

Flowering in 2012

Filed under: About & reflection, Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 7:14 pm

What a wild, wet and wonderful spring!  I retired from fulltime teaching and we had a fantastic gardening spring.  Here are a few goodies from the garden and my greenway walks.  The violets above are one of the first blooms you will see; they are pollinated by ants!

 The big meadow on New Bern Avenue was filled with buttercups.

a stand of purple vetch in Chapel Hill

Red clover, like all legumes, adds fixed nitrogen to the soil with microbial help.

An escaped spider flower on Buckeye with tornado damage in background.  We will be back soon with Buckeye tornado recovery and much more.  in my (early) retirement, I am seeking gigs with book arts, educational services, and of course appearances as the Raleigh Naturalist!  let me hear from you:  paperplantpress@yahoo.com

Enjoy your summer!  Best,  John

photo album of spring flowers

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