Pitcher Plant Extravaganza!

The pitcher plants are putting on a good show for The Nature Conservancy! This Low Mountain Seepage Bog in western North Carolina is home to one of only two populations of the green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila) in the state. Although the site is not located in the Grandfather Ranger District, it demonstrates the important role of fire in mountain habitats and in maintaining fire-adapted populations of rare plants.

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The green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila)

The green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila)

Pitcher plants require full sun for optimal growth and reproduction, and most mountain bogs are experiencing an encroachment of trees and shrubs due to a lack of disturbance. A key reason that this site supports green pitcher plants to this day is because the previous landowner burned it annually from 1908-1972, which prevented these woody plants from taking over. Beyond just creating shade, woody species use a lot of water. Monitoring wells at the site have demonstrated that areas with woody encroachment have a lower water table. This makes life difficult for water-loving pitcher plants.

Pitcher plants threatened by maple encroachment. Hang in there!

Pitcher plants threatened by maple encroachment. Hang in there!

Under TNC management, the site has been burned every 2-3 years since 1992. In addition to burning, TNC manually and chemically controls woody vegetation to prevent encroachment, and the cut stems help provide fuel continuity for burns. A burn was completed this year in late March with the help of the Georgia chapter of TNC and Mountain True. Burning conditions were excellent, and there was enough dry grass in the meadow portion of the preserve that we were able to forego drip torches and just set it off with our lighters.

Malcolm Hodges of TNC Georgia enjoying the show at this year’s March burn.

Malcolm Hodges of TNC Georgia enjoying the show at this year’s March burn.

Fast-forward to May; note the dead woody stems among the pitcher plants, the results of this year’s burn.

Fast-forward to May; note the dead woody stems among the pitcher plants, the results of this year’s burn.

Thanks, everyone! These happy pitcher plants are the reward for your hard work.

Despite producing these large, awesome flowers, the green pitcher plant reproduces mostly asexually through its rhizomes.

Despite producing these large, awesome flowers, the green pitcher plant reproduces mostly asexually through its rhizomes.

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An insect tempting fate.

An insect tempting fate.

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The forest edges around the wetland also support lush plant life.

The forest edges around the wetland also support lush plant life.

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Wildlife of the Grandfather District: The Ruffed Grouse

If you spend much time in the woods, you have probably heard a mysterious rhythmic booming sound carrying through the forest. This is the drumming of the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus). To make this sound, a male stands on a log or other high point and rotates its wings in a way that creates a vacuum. In our region, grouse are generally found above 1,500 feet in areas where young forest stands are common. They thrive best in a mosaic of habitat types where they can find food, cover, and the other resources they need without having to travel long distances.

You can see a video of a drumming grouse here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVfiIp3QGs4

A female ruffed grouse

A female ruffed grouse

Grouse populations have been declining across the country. This is a huge concern both for conservation and recreation as grouse are a popular game species. The reason for this decline is a combination of habitat loss, fragmentation, and a lack of fire and forest management that has led to aging forests.

 

How does the Grandfather Restoration Project benefit the ruffed grouse?

The single most important way to increase grouse populations is through the creation of early-successional habitat, specifically stands in the 5-15 year age range. The silvicultural treatments being used as part of the Grandfather Restoration Project help to achieve this goal. For the Roses Creek Project, 307 acres are being harvested using primarily a shelterwood system in which the canopy is opened up enough to allow for a new young stand to develop, while keeping some mast-producing trees that provide food for wildlife. Acorns are a favorite food of the grouse, and many large oaks will remain after harvest. This method can also help create the semi-shaded conditions that help new oaks to regenerate. The Ruffed Grouse Society expressed its support for the project.

A major goal of the Grandfather Restoration Project is to increase the use of prescribed fire as a forest management tool. Using fire to clear out some of the shrubs in the understory will make way for more herbaceous plants, which provide food and cover for chicks to hide from predators.

A prescribed fire at Lake James. Fire can help reduce the density of shrubs in the understory and increase herbaceous plant diversity.

A prescribed fire at Lake James. Fire can help reduce the density of shrubs in the understory and increase herbaceous plant diversity.

Also, differences in fire intensities within a burn create a natural mosaic of habitat types. For example, pockets of low-intensity fire will allow patches of mountain laurel and rhododendron to remain, and the leaves of these evergreen shrubs can help supplement the winter diet of grouse.

Differences in fire intensity within a burn can create a natural habitat mosaic

Differences in fire intensity within a burn can create a natural habitat mosaic

The Grandfather Restoration Project is working to create a continuous flow of different habitat types as forest stands mature through time. With efforts such as these, generations to come will experience the thrill of hearing the drumming of a grouse echo through the forest.

For more good grouse information:

The Ruffed Grouse Society website: http://www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/

Ruffed Grouse Conservation Plan: http://www.ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Learning/documents/Species/RuffedGrouseConservationPlanSep06.pdf

Managing Habitats for Ruffed Grouse in the Central and Southern Appalachians: http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/Wildlife/grouse/ruffed-grouse-habitats.pdf

Ruffed Grouse Ecology and Management in the Appalachian Region:           http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/grouse/grouse-project.pdf

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission website: http://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/Species/Birds/RuffedGrouse.aspx