Whitetop Wildflower Walk

Despite rainy weather, 13 intrepid wildflower enthusiasts joined Master Naturalist, Judith Foster, and hike leader Carol Broderson for the Blue Ridge Discovery Center's outing to Whitetop Mountain. The hikers met at Elk Garden, where the fault line divides the two 750+ million-year-old volcanic rock types that make up Mt. Rogers and Whitetop, Virginia's two tallest mountains. Whitetop has Virginia's highest road and one of the few mountaintop balds. In Native American stories, the bald was the devil's footprints or the Great Spirit's revenge on the Green Hornet that kidnapped children. Scientists hypothesize that a Pleistocene glacier scoured the top and that mastodons and woolly mammoths were the first of many grazers that kept it clear.

The usually northern red spruce/yellow birch forest flanks the meadow and gradually gives way to mixed hardwoods down the trail. Whitetop does not have the Fraser fir that normally accompanies the red spruce and that covers Mt. Rogers. WHY? The conifers on the top of the mountain were not logged, due to their smaller size, but some of the hardwoods were.

The high meadow had thorn less blackberries, colonies of bluets, and the first of many wood anemones we saw. The rare three-leaf cinquefoil was near the usual kind with five leaves, and we also noted the rare umbrella leaf. We saw this plant we could not identify:

Many late spring flowers were still blooming in the woods: red trillium, clintonia, rosy twisted stalk, saxifrage, sweet Cecily, Indian cucumber root, wild geranium and columbine.

We also saw Solomon's seal and false Solomon's seal blooming, and both blue and black cohosh that Jenny, a midwife in our group, sometimes uses in her practice. We discussed the medicinal properties of many plants, like the bountiful mayapple. Canada mayflower, Jack in the pulpit and foamflower were also abundant. We saw the rare fringed phacelia (Photo taken May 1).

We also saw another waterleaf family member, purple blooming Virginia waterleaf. Non-flowering lycopodia lined the path, club moss, ground pine and running cedar, miniature representatives of ancient tree-size plants. We have a fossil of one in the New River Valley.
We discussed the viburnum family and the plentiful witch hobble and noted the difference between mountain maple and striped maple.
After the first walk, a group traveled to the other side of the mountain to see the pink ladyslippers.

We stopped at a meadow, wondered what kind of tall iris we saw, and decided once and for all the difference in various fleabanes, thanks to Jane for counting numerous petals. She also took us to her special spot for another orchid, the large whorled pogonia. Though we found many, none were blooming. Something for later! Thanks to the Hoffmans for interpreting bird song. We heard wood thrush, both the black-throated blue and the black-throated green warblers, junco, field sparrows, and a towhee. We saw a raven frolicking on high.
-Carol Broderson
PARTICIPANTS: Chloe Dalton, Sara Fennell, Jane Floyd, Jenny and Sara Fox, Carol Glodowski, David and Sherry Hoffman, Fran Levin, Harriet Locke, Cecelia Mathis, Inga Lisa Peterson, Taryn Rubin
PHOTOS AND PHOTO EDITING: Cecelia Mathis, and Jane Floyd and Sara Fox, photos