Ask anyone and they've probably heard of the insect-eating venus flytraps of the bogs of North Carolina. You might not know, however, that the Blackwater Watershed harbors its own species of native carnivorous plant! The round-leaved sundew is a tiny plant with a taste for the living. These little predators live in environments most plants deem unsuitable for survival; tapping their roots into the mats of sphagnum moss that fill the local fens (peat-forming wetlands fed by an insource of groundwater). Fens are low in nutrients, especially nitrogen. Sundews have evolved to use insects as their nitrogen source instead of taking it from the soil through their roots. Their leaves contain many tiny dew-covered "hairs" or trichomes. This "dew" is actually a sticky digestive fluid that traps small insects like flypaper and breaks them down right there on the surface of the leaf. Be on the lookout for these tiny shimmering gems when you're hiking around the watershed!
Purple Pitcher Plant
Invasive? Well... sort of. Purple pitcher plants were not always a part of the Blackwater Watershed. They were transplanted here from Glade Run Bog in Pennsylvania when it was flooded during the building of a dam. Although technically non-native, these plants shouldn't be overlooked! Pitcher plants belonging to the Sarracenia genus usually form tall tube-shaped traps that remain dry due to their "lid". Purple pitcher plants are more squat-shaped and lack a lid that keeps them dry. They collect rainwater in their traps and add digestive enzymes to the water to help them break down their insect prey. These plants attract insects with an intoxicating nectar they excrete along their peristome or "rim". The insects begin to drink this and become woozy, causing them to fall into the trap, ensuring their fate.
A species that predates human history, fossils of the Cinnamon Fern have been dated back to 70 million years ago. Today, Cinnamon Fern is still in existence and can be abundant around the Blackwater Canyon. Named after the coloration of the spore-bearing fertile fronds of the fern that shoot up appearing to be covered in a cinnamon dusting. Fiddleheads emerge in the spring from the base of the plant giving way to the sterile leaves of the plant that many individuals often associate with ferns can grow up to 5 feet long making this one of the largest and most noticeable ferns in our region. The fronds of the fern turn yellow in the autumn, another touch to our truly mesmerizing autumn palate. These leaves are arranged pinnately-compound and grow erect. This species grows in clumps and grows from 2 to 3 feet in height but can reach heights of 6 feet, growing in moist areas near streams and boggy situations to shaded ledges of the Canyon.
Intermediate Wood Fern
Intermediate wood fern is a classic in the Blackwater Watershed. Another name for these dark green plants is the evergreen wood fern because they retain their green foliage throughout the winter! These ferns grow in a singular rosette and are common in moist, nutrient-rich shaded areas.
These brightly-colored ferns can be found all over the Blackwater Watershed. They range in size greatly from a few inches to a few feet! Sensitive ferns like it wet and establish near stream banks, springs, and other wetlands. Their name is derived from their sensitivity to the very first frost of the season, which causes the entire plant to die back for the year.
A very useful plant to know, jewelweed is a common plant found throughout the Blackwater Watershed. They are usually found by water and grow in very wet conditions. Used by the Native Americans as a medicinal plant to treat sunburn and poison ivy! To do so all you have to do is pick the leaves off of a thick-stemmed individual and split it down the middle to reveal the aloe vera-like interior of the stem; you can then rub this on your poison ivy or sunburn to find some relief! Watch out for their dazzling orange and yellow flowers in the spring.
Scattered through the damp mountain woods of the Blackwater, you will find this wildflower blooming from May through June. The name trillium is derived from the Latin words tri referring to the fact of the plant having three leaves and a flower of three plants and llium referring to it being a “funnel-shaped” flower. Often noticed just over the edge of the road or trail, this bright white petaled wavy-margined flower stands out as the bases out are washed in a pinkish purple that really gives this flower its flair. While only in flower for a little over a month, you can look for a fruit that it produces after, a three-angled scarlet berry. Look for the simple, ovate, and taper-pointed leaves of the flower as well. This flower grows along the forest floor in moist and acidic soils generally above 2,500 feet in elevation and grows to be 8 to 16 inches tall. Even on cloudy days this attractive trillium will add some color to your hike!
Littering the bogs and other various wetlands of the Blackwater region, the presence of this species often does not become apparent until later summer and fall as its vibrant yellow flowers will be in bloom adding additional color to brilliantly hued autumn landscape. In bloom this species of goldenrod can produce as many as 230 small yellow flower heads in a narrow, elongate array. In the most favorable situations this goldenrod can tower to heights of over 6 feet. Before this species goes to flower, it can often be identified by its basal leaves that will grow wherever it can gain a foothold in our wetlands, often growing around sphagnum and on other clumps of moss and peat formations. These basal leaves stand out in spring and early summer as they are elongated, to 9 inches long and 1½ inches wide, tapering to a long stalk that partially sheathes the stem.
What can be the dominant understory plant of our coniferous and mixed forest types surrounding the Blackwater watershed can be found right along many popular trails. A low growing species (3-6 inches in height) often noted by its singular of double oval-shaped shiny leaves, this species spreads so widely across shaded forest flowers through a system of creeping rhizomes. Rhizomes expand horizontally, developing new root systems and sprouting new shoots from nodes which is the area of the plant where the bud forms. Appropriately named, Canada Mayflower blooms in May and into June, where a zigzagged stem gives way to small, dense, cluster of tiny, white, fragrant, star-shaped flowers at its top which later gives way to a fruit. The fruits are small reddish berries that gain this red coloration in the fall. Berries have one to two seeds.
Pink Lady's Slipper
Another beauty often hidden right off of trails around the Blackwater, the slipper-shaped lips of the single flower of blooms a deep pink peaking in mid to late May. The flower is borne to leafless stalk. Growing in the acidic upland woods surrounding the watershed, this species is shade tolerant often growing under the northern hardwood canopy that is common here. The flower is hairy and pubescent throughout with two green basal leaves that are opposite to each other. This species has established an interesting relationship with a fungus in the genus Rhizoctonia. The lady slipper depends on the fungus to break open the seed, then attaches itself to it which is then supported with nutrients from the fungus. Once the lady’s slipper is able to photosynthesize, it is able to provide nutrients back to its fungal symbiont.