The winds of the Blue Ridge whisper tales of the past, especially when they blow through the leaves of wild growing paper birch trees.
"Not very far from that region (I recall it as in Augusta County), some bird fossils have been found in a cave, including spruce grouse, and other more northern birds….time they died was about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. I can picture spruce grouse foraging on birch seeds new fallen on snow…can picture white-winged crossbills nearby, pine grosbeaks, hoary and common redpolls, and boreal chickadees, maybe even a few whiskey jacks (gray jays) chattering in what was at that time not a microclimate enclave. Of course a raven could show up and be wise to wolves slumping across a thicket. Maybe even a straggler caribou being hunted." - Clyde Kessler(For more on the fossils found in Augusta, see page 3: http://ccb-wm.org/raven/TheRaven/1962.pdf )
Cold hollows and protected slopes provide a refuge for these trees and other glacial relics or disjuncts (species that were left behind and separated from their kind as the glaciers marched north thousands of years ago). They occupy small and scattered habitats that maintain conditions that suit them, conditions that are more common hundreds of miles north. This tree's habitat typically has a climate that includes short cool summers and long cold winters. It prefers to have average July temperatures be below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. These birch trees, and the plant community of which they are a part, enjoy this little Blue Ridge mountain microclimate.
The paper birch trees depicted in these photographs grow at the base of a north facing quartzite talus slope in Albemarle County, Virginia.
This particular site was found by Mo Stevens many years ago. He always thought that he was dealing with Betula papyrifera, and not Betula cordifolia (as the experts insisted). Recent efforts have confirmed Mo's hunch. This is likely to be the strongest stand of B. papyrifera in the state.