Spring Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

In our “golden years” we are fortunate to be able to enjoy two wonderful spring times, one in our winter SW FL home and one in our new summer home in Boone, NC. In the North Carolina mountains the explosion of ephemeral wildflowers, the arrival of migratory birds, and the regrowth of new leaves on trees and shrubs is time for a joyous celebration of the reawakening of the ecosystem after a long winter’s slumber.

The Blue Ridge Parkway in our area provides many opportunities to enjoy spring. The vistas are superb and I show one of our favorite views looking over Pierce Lake towards Grandfather Mountain on May 6 when the leaves are just emerging. The growth and blooming of spring wildflowers occurs during a brief window of time before the new tree leaves block much of the sunlight reaching the forest floor. The trilliums are a spectacular component of this flora. The painted trillium has a red mark at the base of the petals and lines which would seem to be nectar guides for insect pollinators. The flowers of Wake Robin have an odor of rotting meat and attract flies as pollinators.

The Jack in the pulpit is an odd shaped arum that can change from male to female depending on the resources available to it (pollen is cheaper to produce than seeds). It attracts fungus gnats which fall into the tube and ultimately carry pollen from male to female plants.

While ephemeral wildflowers are reproducing quickly, and using their new leaves to amass energy stores in their roots, lichens (symbiotic association of algae and fungi) and moss growing on nearby rocks are living at a very slow pace. They are engaged in a struggle for space on their rock substrates and this photo illustrates how patches of lichen are surrounded by mosses. The mosses grow more rapidly and would likely dispossess the lichens from the rock except for allelopathic chemicals produced by lichens that inhibit the growth of mosses..

Birds are of course very active in spring acquiring breeding territories and mates. This male barn swallow was photographed picking up mud to use in building a nest. As an insect eater it cannot live this far north in winter and has recently arrived on migration from Central and S America. Wood thrushes similarly winter in Central America and migrate to eastern N America to breed. Their wonderful melodic song is a true sign of spring.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

View all posts by Bill Dunson