Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Prairie Grove Glades Preserve

Perusing The Nature Conservancy of Alabama's website last week I learned of a protected area close to home - Prairie Grove Glades Preserve in Lawrence County, Alabama. Spring is the perfect time to experience and photograph wildflowers. This sounds like a great road trip for me and my mom while I'm "vacationing" at the lake!

Prairie Grove Glades Preserve is a cedar glade, described in Wikipedia as "...a habitat type unique to the central eastern United States. Cedar glades occur where limestone bedrock occurs near or at the surface. The glade areas proper have very shallow soil or exposed bedrock in some areas. Because of the shallow soil and the extreme conditions created by it, trees are unable to grow in the glades. This creates a habitat more similar to the prairies hundreds of miles to the west than to the surrounding forests."

NOTE: If one does not possess a GPS unit one must have a very good map. The fact that I possessed neither added several hours to what is in reality an easy day trip for wildflower and preservation enthusiasts!

Alabama glade cress, wild garlic and buttercups

The road leading into the Preserve is a nicely graded gravel road off a major highway. There is no sign on the highway so you really have to do your research. (Personally, I prefer it that way.) Slowly rolling along, we passed vast meadows of wildflowers surrounded by old growth cedar and hardwoods. Weathered wooden fences with barbed wire lined the roadway on both sides, designed to keep ATVs and other destructive wheeled vehicles from destroying delicate wildflower habitat. The fences are clearly marked and easy to see.

Before long we reached the sign and parking area. The park appeared "closed" to us so we stayed to the roadway and shot images between the barbed wire into the meadows. I stooped to take macros of the roadside flowers. A couple drove past and waved cheerfully before turning around and coming over for a chat. Both were regular visitors to the Preserve, wildflower enthusiasts and photographers. The couple informed us that the park "always looks like this" and encouraged us down a pathway and through the barbed wire, as it was acceptable. With all the rainfall, the area had deep water in most spots so we stayed to the main roadway this trip.

Alabama glade cress

Our new friends told us that the ubiquitous white and yellow flowers we saw peppered everywhere is Alabama Glade Cress. This blanket of white and yellow happily existed amid the meadows of green and lined the roadway on both sides, next to softly running brooks of water. Occasional yellow buttercups waved high over the much lower glade cress. The glade cress seemed happiest next to, or within, shallow pools of water.

Macro of Alabama glade cress

My understanding is that the Alabama glade cress is on the endangered species list along with other residents such as the federal candidate Harper's umbrella plant, Alabama larkspur and prairie Indian plantain. Other glade flowering plants are purple topped Nashville breadroot, Tennessee milk vetch, glade quillwort and yellow sunnybells. Lyrate bladderpod grows only in Alabama and is federally listed as threatened. The wildflowers bloom at various times so if you miss something during a visit stop by a couple of weeks later and the vistas will have changed to include new blooming flowers.

Wild stonecrop

Further down the road we discover the wild stonecrop, or sedum ternatum michx. wild stonecrop. (love the Internet) However, all my research at home shows the flowers as white whereas the flowers we saw that day were shades of pink and magenta and lavender. These beauties bloomed in more shallow soil between the large, flat, gray limestone bedrock.

This photo gives you a sense of scale - stonecrop nestled in limestone

Macro of wild stonecrop

Most of my information was gleaned from The Nature Conservancy of Alabama's pages.

On a personal note, I came close to not writing this post. My first instincts upon seeing this place was one of complete awe. It's not like anything I've ever seen. The feeling I hold deeply which continues with me today is one of being in a sacred place. Indeed, we were. This glade is a treasure and I am so thankful that people recognized its rarity and in turn worked to preserve and thus share it with future generations. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Prairie Grove Glades Preserve will strike you on a visceral level - I guarantee it.

So, I changed my mind and decided to post but leave you with these wise words written in lyrics by John Kay of Steppenwolf. (...just dated myself...)

"Bring nothing but silence,
Show nothing but grace,
Seek nothing but shelter
From the great human race.
Take nothing but pictures,
Kill nothing but time,
Leave nothing but footprints
To show you came by."

(But please don't step on the flowers!)


Bo Mackison said...

Lovely post, Debbie. Oh, what gorgeous flowers you found. I especially love that close up of the stonecrop.

I, too, love the tucked away places, many are Nature Conservancy holdings, in our area. Like Prairie Grove, most are unmarked (I too approve) and you'd never know there was anything of note in through those trees.

It's one reason why I financially support the Nature Conservancy--they do their work a tiny bit at a time, and the tiny bits add up to a big piece. I encourage others to see what they have to offer in your neck of the woods.

Thanks for the inspiration. Think I might need to take a few hours out of my afternoon and see if the earliest wildflowers are blooming. Yes?

Bird Girl said...

The wild stonecrop is very cool - from close up and afar. Isn't it funny how you can find great new places to visit by cruising the net and reading web sites? I can't tell you how many times I've done this exact same thing!
Don't step on the flowers? I guess that's why we tip-toe through the tulips ;-) Or take a magic carpet ride ;-)

The Garden Ms. S said...

Debi, You have the most amazing road trips. I am so inspired by how you choose to enrich your life through such wonderful experiences with nature. When the days come that I have some open space in my life, I want to spend much of it connecting with nature at her most natural and sacred.

Lovely post!!

Eve said...

This habitat reminds me very much of my northern home. Chaumont Barrens is the Nature Conservancy's "wild walk" just up the road from my house and it was shallow limestone also. Cedars were the main plant. Prairie Smoke grew there and on my own property. Here is the link

You did a beautiful job documenting Debi!!

Julie Magers Soulen said...

That looks like a lovely area. The macro of the pink stonecrop is beautiful!

Julie Magers Soulen Photography


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