Sunday, July 6, 2008

Botanizing with Dogs....The River Road Shale Barren Meets River Road

My brother-in-law Larry Anderson, past president of the Chevy Chase Chapter of Izaak Walton League of America, has been urging me to come up to their property along River Road in Montgomery County to see a Shale Barren. Well today was the day. A "Shale Barren" is a plant community that grows on shale. Because shale doesn't hold water particularly well, and many barrens, face west,so they absorb a good deal of afternoon heat, conditions are hostile for plants; there are some species that can tolerate it though, including a number of "Shale Barren Endemics", plants found only on Shale Barrens.

Before exploring the Barren, we toured the property which is a fascinating place. Members are restoring the original log homestead, which dates to the early 19th Century, and includes a two story house, a Springhouse at the edge of a pond near the house, and a solid log outbuilding adjacent to the house. Other interesting projects include a plantation of Castanea pumila, the Dwarf Chinquapin which is a smaller relative of the American Chestnut whose seeds are a good source of food for many mammals and birds.

Armed with the species list from a May 7 Field Trip with Cris Fleming, Dwight Johnson, and Kristen Johnson of the Maryland Native Plant Society, and escorted by two energetic retrievers, we spent a couple of hours exploring the area. The Shale is exposed along the road and we saw a number of interesting species without leaving the pavement; Ruellia sp., Senecio obovatus, Arabis lyrata, Aquilegia canadensis, Achillea, Antennaria sp Houstonia sp. (upright! much like a species we saw throughout our Shortia trip), and a huge Celtis. This is really the only sunny area and unfortunately Montgomery County could not be dissuaded from mowing it so we missed some of the taxa seen in May. Izaak Walton officials are communicating with the County and trying to have mowing eliminated from this site. I hope they succeed because strictly speaking, the sunny (mown) area is the classic shale barren. Where the woods overgrow, the more typical mesic species gain a competitive edge over the Shale Barren Flora.

Farther up the hill we saw, in the woods, Hedeoma, Antennaria plantaginifolia, a number of Celtis, lots of Carya tomentosa,Hieraceum venosum, Silene caroliniana and a lot of other interesting plants. We saw a large wide-spreading colony of a quite broad leafed carex that I did not identify, but will return to; it was just beginning to flower. It was a very interesting trip, and I will surely go back. We can only applaud the Izaak Walton League for championing the preservation and protection of this rare and unusual community.

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