This remarkable valley is a "biological hot spot" known for its wealth of disjunct northern species and extensive wetlands. It is the site of the Central Appalachian's only national wildlife refuge since it was designated in 1994. Lying at a mean elevation of 3200 ft (975 meters) asl and just north of the 39° parallel, the Valley's climate resembles that of similar areas in the Adirondacks of New York. Like the Cranesville Wetland complex, Canaan Valley occupies a breached anticline with a core of Pocono Sandstone and rimming Greenbriar Limestone, while the Mauch Chunk Formation forms the surrounding mountain slopes. Although the valley's climate results in part from its high elevation, there is also a contribution from the surrounding topography which consists of plateau-like mountains that rise 500 to 800 ft (150-240 meters) above it. Because of this topography the mountains are themselves areas of accumulation of cold air which on cool nights spills into the Canaan Valley in a pre-cooled state. As a consequence the valley's growing season is as short as 93 days with subfreezing temperatures recorded every month of the year. Cool climate species are also favored by a yearly precipitation of 51 inches (130 cm) and only 81 cloudless days. Although minimum temperatures in the range of -23°F (-31°C) are not particularly low, the short, cool growing season largely governs biologic systems here.
At fourteen miles (22 km) in length and five miles (8 km) in width, the Canaan Valley contains approximately 8400 acres (3400 hectares) of wetlands as well as more than 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of hemlock-spruce-northern hardwood forest. Balsam Fir is also a component of this forest. All valley forests are secondary and the same is true for most other vegetation there. This is largely a consequence of destructive logging and fires, beginning in 1863 and continuing past the turn of the century, and which destroyed a spectacular virgin forest dominated by Red Spruce and Hemlock (Brooks, 1910). Further modification resulted from irresponsible agricultural practices. The result is thousands of acres of open wetlands where swamp forest once stood and grass and forb meadows where forest was cleared for agriculture. Yet much of the valley, including these denuded lands, is still covered with native vegetation which presumably is an early successional stage preceding ultimate reoccupation by forest. Also much of this secondary vegetation, like the primary, is boreal in character and thus merely involves a change in species ratios. Of course it will never be known how many species were lost in the man-made holocaust.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fact Sheet, Canaan Valley plant communities of both wetlands and uplands total at least 40 with 580 species of plants. Of these, 109 plants have a distinctly northern range. All ecological types of wetlands discussed earlier (p.____) are represented.
The native fauna includes 290 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes among which there are many disjunct northern species. This is particularly true of birds which include the American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), Black Duck (Anas rubripes), Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), Common Snipe (Capella gallinago) as well as many other species already recorded for high elevations in this work. There is even a record of nesting by the Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica), a bird of the western plains and mountains. Notable among mammals are the Northern Flying Squirrel, Rock Vole, Northern Water Shrew, Snowshoe Hare and the Fisher (p.____). Many of the valley's wetlands are directly related to the Blackwater River which drains the valley and this river is habitat for more than twenty fishes which include a variety of darters, minnows, dace, suckers and bass as well as both native and introduced trout.
Disjunct northern plants uncommon in the Central Appalachians include Balsam Fir, Glaucus Willow, Alder-leaved Buckthorn (Rhamnus alnifolius), Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), Purple Avens (Geum rivale) and Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), the last named being at its southern limit in the valley. Many others too are northern, but like Trembling Aspen, Fire Cherry and Red Raspberry are more common. In addition, there are a number of rare plants, some like Glade Spurge (Euphorbia purpurea), Swamp Saxifrage (Saxifraga pensylvanica) and Jacobs Ladder (p.___) are not markedly northern or are Appalachian while others, like Southern Mountain Cranberry, are abundant mountain species just to the south but reach their northern limits here.
The Blackwater River gathers its waters in numerous headwater and streamside wetlands and springs. Because substantial areas are underlain by Greenbrier Limestone, this formation exerts its influence on ground and surface waters, which thereby are made less acid and richer in nutrients than would be the case if only normal wetland processes such as organic decay were dominant. Consequently pH ranges from 6.9 to 7.7 in river water discharged from the valley (US Fish and Wildlife Service). Despite this there are still numerous locations in the valley where acid bog communities develop in relative isolation from the limestone-buffered ground water or are swamped by surface water from acid soils upslope.
1. This climatic information is taken from the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge.
2. The original source of much of the data on the
flora is the work of Fortney ( 1975 ). A checklist of these and
other species is provided by Norma Jean Venable's undated popular
booklet " Canaan Valley" published by the West Virginia
University Extension Service.
The Freeland Road Tract, a meadow and wetland 86 acres (35 hectares) in extent, is the first purchased unit of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The following traverse extends northwest from Freeland Road initially through a meadow, then Balsam Fir groves, shrub swamp and spiræa thicket to the northeast boundary stream. A loop is then made to the southeast through an alder swamp to the starting point.
The meadow adjoining Freeland Road consists of mixed grass, forbs and sedges which at this season are largely brown and yellow, perhaps due to early frosts. The meadow is of course secondary to the original vegetation, which was probably conifer or conifer-northern hardwood forest, and to which it seems to be reverting. The meadow fringes and grades into an area of scattered hawthorns, which in turn yield to groves of Balsam Fir behind which lies a largely shrub swamp. Species in the meadow-forest interface are Wrinkle-leaf Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), Grass-leaved Goldenrod (S. graminifolia), Bog Goldenrod (S. uliginosa), large clumps of Carex folliculata, the rush Juncus subcaudatus, Marsh St. Johns-wort (Hypericum virginicum), the Hawthorns Cratægus punctata and C. flabellata and Balsam Fir. Here also, where the affects of grazing still linger, is Rough Cinquefoil (Potentilla norvegica) and ambiguous, wide-ranging northern species that could be either native or introduced. Where there is more moisture we see the first Meadowsweet (Spiræa alba) and Doghair Spikerush (Eleocharis tenuis) also ominously known as "Kill Cow." Then farther on, among the groves of Balsam Fir, where the soil is a little above the zone of saturation, are small communities of acid soil plants that include Partridge Berry, Rubus hispidus, Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) as well as Polytrichum commune and Lycopodium obscurum.
In addition to Meadowsweet, plants encountered along the interface between the wetland and Fir groves are Black Cherry, Golden Ragwort, Drooping Wood Reedgrass (Cinna latifolia) in tall golden clumps, Flat-top White Aster (Aster umbellatus), the Mana Grasses Glyceria striata and G. melicaria and, in a little open water, the water starwort Callitriche heterophylla. Farther along this interface there is Purple-stem Aster (Aster puniceus), Northern Swamp Buttercup (Ranunculus septentrionalis), Clayton's Bedstraw (Galium tinctorium) and Arrowleaf Tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum), the last named with its flowers covered by black fungus.
Now the traverse enters an area of Spiræa
interspersed with wet openings occupied by the sedges Carex
gynandra and C. lurida, Northern Bugle
uniflorus), Water Smart weed(Polygonum
punctatum), Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) and
Crested Shield Fern (Dryopteris cristata). In a few adjacent
somewhat dryer areas are found Hay-scented Fern, Panicled Aster
(Aster simplex) and the grass Allegheny Flyback (Danthonia
compressa). Approaching the boundary and stream vicinity
the growth of Spiræa thickens and there is some Silky Willow
(Salix sericea). From these thickets a Gray Catbird called.
Herbs found in openings in the vicinity were tall, seed-heavy
Rattlesnake Managrass (Glyceria canadensis), a "Bluegrass"
(Poa sp.), Smaller Forget-me-not (Myosotis laxa), Winged
Monkey-flower (Mimulus alatus), the sedge Carex vulpoidea,
Field Mint (Mentha arvensis), Mad-dog Skullcap (Scutellaria
lateriflora), the Spike Rush Eleocharis obtusa, a willow-herb
(probably Epilobium ciliatum) and, in the stream, American
Brooklime (Veronica americana). Also present here is Yellow
Avens (Geum strictum) one of several members of this genus
in the valley that are subarctic or circumboreal in their ranges.
As the traverse looped southeast it entered an area of Speckled Alder with scattered Red Spruce, Hemlock, Red Maple and a little White Ash. Here in a quite moist habitat, a single tree of Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) and a few small plants of Red Raspberry (Rubus strigosus) were seen. The latter species is abundant along Timberline Road a mile north of this location and perhaps elsewhere in the valley. Other species encountered in this alder swamp were Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata), a Skunk Current (Ribes glandulosum), Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana), Canada Brome Grass (Bromus purgans), Cinnamon and Sensitive Ferns and in more acid patches a little White Wood Sorrel. In one place a paper nest of White-faced Hornets had been disturbed by a bear or other animal. Additional species noted as the fir groves were again approached were the sedge Scirpus cyperinus, a few Yellow Birch, Dotted St. Johns-wort (Hypericum punctatum), the circumboreal Beggar Tick (Bidens cernua) and the Common Horsetail (Equisetum arvense).
Of 73 species recorded in the traverse, seventeen or more are markedly northern in distribution while the rest are wide-ranging with both northern and southern ranges. If such species as Polygonum punctatum, which ranges from Quebec to tropical America, are excluded, no distinctly southern species were encountered.
From the rich flora of shrubs and herbs and the lack of ericacea, the soils of this tract appear, with minor exceptions, to fall in the range of circumneutral pH. This is in agreement with the general location which is over Greenbriar Limestone bedrock. A possible consequence of this low acid environment may be the relatively high ratio of Balsam Fir to spruce here since the former apparently tolerates less acid conditions than the latter (Fowells, 1965).
The Deer Run/Abe Run Trail system is located in Canaan Valley State Park at the base of Canaan Mountain and extends west from the campground area. Abe Run Trail and the first segment of the Deer Run Trail form a closed loop, about a mile in length, that passes through mixed upland forest, open shrub swamp and coniferous swamp forest. Elevations are near 3200 feet ( 976 meters ) asl on relatively flat terrain. Our inventory consisted of two counterclockwise traverses of the loop on the mornings of 6-25-97 and 7-31-97 and forays up the Deer Run Trail during the afternoon and evening of 6-24-97 and 6-25-97.
The area in the vicinity of the trails is mapped as underlain by Greenbrier Limestone ( Cardwell et al,1968 ). The sandstone encountered in some of our traverses may be isolated beds within the Greenbrier or infolded or down-faulted parts of the overlying Mauch Chunk Group.
The first segment of the Deer Run Trail runs through a tract of northern hardwoods with subordinate conifers. Our inventory of this forest, on a clear, warm afternoonof 6-24-97, disclosed a mature canopy dominated by Sugar Maple with smaller amounts of Red Maple, Beech, Black Cherry, Yellow Birch and Hemlock. Some of the Red Maple, Black Cherry and Hemlock were of unusual size, ranging up to 3 feet ( one meter ) dbh. Beech were generally smaller than other canopy species. Black Cherry had the generally good form typical of this species in the Alleghenies but not in the Valley and Ridge.
The forest here was quite open with Great Rhododendron ( Rhododendron maximum ) virtually the only understory. Ground cover was extensive if not particularly diverse and consisted largely of ferns, sedges and grasses. In places there were large patches of Hay-scented ( Dennstaedtia punctilobula ) and New York ( Thelypteris noveboracensis ) Ferns, but in most places sedges and grasses dominated. First among the sedges was Carex debilis, followed by C. gracillima, with C. intumescens and C. laxiflora far less common. Among the grasses Fowl Managrass ( Glyceria striata ), the forest bluegrass ( Poa alsodes ) as well asother unidentified species of Poa and other grasses were common. Other herbs sighted were Intermediate Shield Fern ( Dryopteris intermedia ), the forest grass Brachyelytrum erectum, abundant White Wood Sorrel ( Oxalis montana ) in full bloom, species of Violet ( Viola sp ), Northern Swamp Buttercup ( Ranunculus septentrionalis ), Sweet-scented Bedstraw ( Galium triflorum ), a few patches of Canada Mayflower ( Maianthemum canadense, Indian Turnip ( Arisaema triphyllum ) and Golden Ragwort ( Senecio aureus ). On our 7-31-97 visit we saw Thyme leaved Bluets ( Houstonia serpyllifolia ) here. Among birds heard and/or seen were Red-eyed Vireos (Vireo olivaceus ), Blue Jays ( Cyanocitta cristata ) and Crows ( Corvus brachyrhynchos ), with the last-named doubtless attracted by the nearby campground. Among insects a small aggressive deer fly attracted unwelcome attention. Also, small dull- collored lepidoptera were common.
After traversing most of this tract of upland forest, the trail forks, with the Deer Run Trail continuing to the left and Abe Run Trail branching to the right. Not far beyond the fork both trails enter a short stretch of open shrub swamp on board walks. Along the Deer Run Trail a small stream flows from the south where the main Park road is visible nearby. Here the open shrub swamp cosists largely of sedge/grass/forb meadow with Speckled Alder ( Alnus rugosa ), Alder-leaved Buckthorn ( Rhamnus alnifolia ), Red Spruce, Balsam Fir ( Abies balsamea ), Yellow Birch and a few Black Ash ( Fraxinus nigra ). The Buckthorn then had numerous green berries and both it and the Fir were heavily browsed by Deer, with the Fir showing a clear browse line. A conspicuous feature were tall plants of an alien Yellow Iris ( Iris pseudocorus ), which had evidently been introduced in a misapplied effort to "beautify" the natural habitat.
Most striking among the sedges were tall culms of Carex crinita. Also present were C. stipata and the Bulrush Scirpus atrovirens. Other common herbs were Broad-leaved Cattail ( Typha latifolia,),White Hellebore ( Veratrum viride ), Jewelweed ( Impatiens sp ), Rough Bedstraw ( Galium asprellum ), Golden Ragwort, Fowl Managrass, Indian Turnip, Sensitive Fern ( Onoclea sensibilis) and a riotously-blooming white-flowered stitchwort, identified as the alien Lesser Stitchwort ( Stellaria graminea ) from its flowers. Another alien, then also in bloom, was Sweet Vernal Grass ( Anthoxanthum odoratum ), whose compact panicles seemed to protrude everywhere in openings. An isolated clump of tall Reed Canary Grass ( Phalaris arundinacea ) stood near the road and Poas of various species, whose identities would become clear later, were also part of the scene. Of special interest was Glade Spurge ( Euphorbia purpurea ) which seemed to thrive here and was in full bloom.
Most of the species listed above are characteristic of the eastern and interior part of the wetland. As will be discussed later in more detail, this is likely a consequence of more alkaline water associated with the stream and ground water in contact with the Greenbrier Limestone. By contrast the far ( west ) side of the wetland is under the influence of the acidic swamp forest adjacent to it. There are found Haircap ( Polytrichum sp ) and Peat ( Sphagnum sp ) mosses, Cinnamon Fern ( Osmunda cinnamomea ) and large patches of Northern Beech Fern ( Phegopteris connectilis ). Also scattered throughout were hybrids of Crested Shield Fern ( Dryopteris cristata ) and a Spinulose Shield Fern as indicated by its spinulose pinnules. This may be Dryopteris boottii. Intermediate Shield Fern was also common in the edge zone and within the swamp forest.
During the afternoon of 6-25-97 the traverse was extended along the Deer Run Trail into the forest west of the open shrub swamp. As indicated above, the swamp forest edge here, which contains large patches of deep green Sphagnum, is more acid than the shrub swamp. A little off the trail to the north, where the swamp forest also borders an extention of the shrub swamp, this relation is again shown by the restriction of Great Rhododendron to the swamp edge under the forest canopy. By contrast the open shrub swamp here contained no ericaceae or other acid-dependent plants. It did however contain Mountain Maple ( Acer spicatum ), then in bloom, a number of vigorous, well-formed Black Ash, a Meadowrue ( Thalictrum sp ) and Marsh Purslane ( Ludwigia palustris ) as well as abundant grasses and sedges.
Farther away from the open swamp edge the forest ranges from swamp to upland type. A spot inventory yielded Red Maple, Yellow Birch, Black Cherry, Hemlock, Red Spruce, Beech, Great Rhododendron, Hay-scented and Intermediate Shield Ferns, Canada Mayflower, Carex debilis, seedlings of Mountain Ash ( Pyrus americana ) and Dicranum, Polytrichum and Hypnum mosses. Moving farther into this forest along the Deer Run Trail, large amounts of New York Fern were suddenly encountered, and this was shortly followed by Bracken Fern ( Pteridium aquilinum ). Next,again attesting to the extreme acidic character of this forest, there appeared large patches of Common Clubmoss ( Lycopodium clavatum ) and Ground Pine ( L. flabelliforme ) intergrown with Haircap and Leucobryum Mosses, Interrupted Fern ( Osmunda clatoniana ), Mountain Ash seedlings and Partridge Berry ( Mitchella repens ).
At this point a side trail led to an observation platform that overlooks the same open shrub swamp noted earlier. On approaching the platform the diversity of acid tolerant and obligate plants seemed to increase. These included Bracken Fern, extensive intergrowth of Peat and Haircap mosses, Striped Maple ( Acer pensylvanicum ), Sourtop Blueberry ( Vaccinium myrtilloides ), Carex intumescens, Mountain Ash, Ground Berry ( Rubus hispidus ), the same club mosses mentioned earlier and Star Violet ( Dalibarda repens ). While the latter was not in bloom on this visit, we were to see it in full flower a month later. A spot inventory of a square meter at the swamp edge, under trees and slanting north light,revealed Star Violet, Partridge Berry, Canada Mayflower, Creeping Snowberry ( Gaultheria hispidula ), Sourtop Blueberry, Ground Berry,Intermediate Shield Fern, Leucobryum Moss and Mountain Ash seedlings, all of which are acidiphiles and most markedly boreal.Although not included, Spring Bluets ( Houstonia caerulia ) were blooming elsewhere along the forest edge.
While little attention was devoted to them, signs of fauna included calls of the Hermit Thrush ( Catharus guttatus ), a Song Sparrow ( Melopiza melodia ) and a pair of 3/4 inch ( 2 cm ) brown Crane Flies mating. Also, at this same location, on the previous evening, a large raptor, likely a Red Shouldered Hawk ( Buteo lineatus ) was startled up from the sedges not a hundred yards ( 100 meters) distant. Calls of this species were also heard from time to time in the area.
In what follows we will recount an inventory of the swamp here done after a circuit from the west. This circuit was made during the morning of both 6-25-97 and 7-31-97 and in each instance began where the Abe Run Trail branches from the Deer Run Trail and followed the former. Initially this trail also crosses the open shrub swamp on a board walk but for a greater distance than that of the Deer Run Trail. Here also the swamp is dominated by Speckled Alder and sedge/grass/forb meadow with Alder-leaved Buckthorn, Red Spruce, Balsam Fir, Yellow Birch and scattered Black Ash. A little Winterberry Holly ( Ilex verticillata ) and Glade St. Johns-wort ( Hypericum densiflorum ) were noted as well. In one place, near the west end of the board walk, there was a distinctive groundberry whose leaf shape and "hispid hairs and bristles intermixed,some of which bore small terminal [ pink] glands "fitted the description of Rubus davisiorum ( Strausbaugh and Core,1978 ). As along Deer Run Trail, the same alien Yellow Iris borders the small sluggish stream near the swamp center. Glade Spurge is extraordinarily abundant and vigorous and is confined to the swamp interior. However, although vigerous-appearing in June, it was in July covered by a pervasive white mold. Other herbs tallied on the 6-25-97 traverse were the sedges Carex crinita, C. lurida, C. incomperta, C. canescens and Scirpus atrovirens, White Hellebore, Broad-leaved Cattail, Golden Ragwort, then in bloom, Wrinkle-leaf Goldenrod ( Solidago rugosa ), Sensitive and Cinnamon Ferns, Dryopteris boottii, Fowl Managrass, various unidentified grasses and the aliens Velvet Grass ( Holcus lanatus ) and Sweet Vernal Grass. A prize of this visit was a single plant of the rare northern disjunct Purple Avens ( Geum rivale ) in the last stages of flowering.
On crossing this same section of swamp on 7-31-97 we noted in succession the following: Golden Saxifrage ( Chrysosplenium americanum ), Carex prasina, the managrass Glyceria melicaria, Rough Bedstraw, the meadowrue Thalictrum pubescens, Drooping Wood Reedgrass ( Cinna latifolia ), Field Mint ( Mentha arvensis ), then in bloom, and Great Bulrush ( Scirpus validus ). Here we entered the area of abundant Glade Spurge now covered by heavy white mold. This was accompanied by Purple-stem Aster ( Aster puniceus ), followed by a clump of Common Milkweed ( Asclepius syriaca ), which had attracted several Monarch Butterflies ( Danaus plexippus ). We now had reached the stream which contained a lush growth of Small Burreed ( Sparganium chlorocarpum ) and was bordered by beautiful headed-out Fowl Bluegrass ( Poa palustris ). It was here also that we heard an overflight of Canada Geese ( Branta canadensis ) and saw a Chipping Sparrow( Spizella passerina ). These were followed by the rush Juncus brevicaudatis and the sedge Carex echinata, while a Turkey Vulture ( Catharies avia ) soared above.
As we approached the swamp edge and bordering forest there was a dramatic change, with not markedly acidiphile or circumneutral species replaced by acid lovers. Here Sphagnum in low spots alternated with Haircap Moss (possibly Polytrichum commune ) on high hummocks and Grounberry ( Rubus hispidus ) was conspicuous.Spruce reproduction appeared to be quite vigorous at the forest edge, but no Balsam Fir smaller than 3 inch ( 8 cm) dianeter saplings were to be seen and each Fir had a sharp browse line at deer height visible across the swamp.
The forest proper here is essentially swamp forest dominated by Hemlock but with Red Spruce, Balsam Fir up to 10 inches ( 25centimeters) dbh or more, Yellow Birch, Red Maple and on higher areas, Beech, Black Cherry and Sugar Maple. A little Striped Maple and other small trees formed a rather sparse understory. However large woody debris was common and in one place a good example of a "nurse tree" was seen. In this instance it was a large conifer, long fallen, upon which numerous other trees had taken root. However there was little sign of reproduction in the form of seedlings of any species, possibly a consequence of the deep shade cast by the conifers. During the June passage through this forest what sounded like a Solitary Vireo ( Vireo solitarius) was heard and in July a Hermit Thrush and a Black-throated Blue Warbler ( Dendroica caerulescens ) attracted our attention.
Continuing along the trail, which turns to the south, we entered a more elevated area of largely mature hardwoods consisting of Sugar and Red Maples, Beech, Yellow Birch and Black Cherry, with some trees as large as 3 feet ( 90 cm )dbh. Then turning again, this time eastward, we encountered outcrops of sandstone and not only Intermediate Shield Fern but also, in close association, the deciduous Spinulose Shield Fern Dryopteris carthusiana. Where the forest was swampy, on our July traverse we found tussocks of the northern sedge Carex trisperma as well as C. stipata,, and nearby, the Small Green Wood Orchid ( Habenaria clavellata ), in bloom. We then came to the area with Star Violet, also in bloom, and widely distributed along the previously-mentioned trail to the observation platform.
Having once more arrived at the shrub swamp overlooked by the observation tower, we conducted an inventory of the July flora. The swamp, which evidently was the former site of a beaver pond, occupied both sides of a small stream, presumably Abe Run. At this site it is largely herb meadow, but with scattered Speckled Alder, Alder-leaf Buckthorn and Balsam Fir. A little Hardhack ( Spiraea tomentosa ) was also seen. Sedges included Carex lurida, C. scoparius, Scirpus microcarpus and Great Bulrush, with the latter being decorated by small spiders of a color shade matching the Bulrush'es brown spikes. Other herbs observed here were Juncus articulatus, the tall Fringed Bromegrass ( Bromus ciliatus ), Marsh Purslane, a species of the liverwort Scapania, Sundrops ( Oenothera perennans ), then in bloom, abundant Broad-leaved Cattail, Rough Avens ( Geum laciniatum ), Flat-top White Aster ( Aster umbellatus ), Wrinkle-leaf Goldenrod, Grass-leaved Goldenrod ( Euthamia graminifolia ), Blue-eyed Grass ( Sisyrinchium angustifolium ) and abundant Common Milkweed with Monarch Butterflies in attendance.
As in many places in this Valley, we see a marked contrast between the swamp and the adjacent forest flora with respect to acid-adapted species. Here the contrast is particularly striking between the circumneutral or alkali tolerant swamp species and the strongly acidiphile plants such as Star Violet, Blueberries and Canada Mayflower on the adjacent bank. Only contact with groundwater in the case of the former and vertical rainwater leaching in the case of the latter, can reconcile this contrast.
Our traverse here began at the main Park road, descended into a shallow ravine, extended north along the base of Middle Ridge and finally crossed the end of this Ridge to Club Run for a total length of somewhat more than a mile ( 1.6 km).What follows is a sequential description of our inventory.
Initially encountered near the road was a copse of upland forest with a canopy of mature Yellow Birch, Beech, Black Cherry, Red Maple and Hemlock, withj Striped Maple and Smooth Serviceberry ( Amelanchier laevis ) as understory. Also present was a holly of indefinite identity but likely Mountain Holly ( Ilex montana ). Then descending through an opening,we identified Cinnamon Fern, the Rush Juncus biflorus, Flat-top White Aster, Grass-leaved Goldenrod and the Dewberry Rubus flagellatus.
At the bottom of the ravine the bed of a small stream exposed a grayish tan sandstone. This rock was probably part of the Mauch Chunk Group, as were other rocks encountered along the traverse. It is likely that the contact with the underlying Greenbrier Limestone lies near the base of the Ridge. The canopy in the ravine was dominated by Hemlock with abundant Witch Hazel ( Hamamelis virginiana ) in the shrub layer. Herbs concentrated in the stream vicinity were Wood Nettle ( Laportea canadensis ) and the mana grasses Glyceria melicaria and G. striata. Beyond the stream the trail climbed through a canopy of Hemlock, Beech, Red Maple, Yellow Birch and the first and only ( very minor ) Black Birch seen by us. Only Striped Maple was seen in the understory. Round-leaf Violet ( Viola rotundifolia ) Hay-scented Fern, a few plants of Beech Drops ( Epifagus virginiana ) and a little of the fungus Tylopilus felleus were present in the ground cover. Some Beech here were more than a foot ( 0.3 meter ) dbh and exhibited fire scars. Perhaps related to this fire were numerous associated small Beech saplings. It is worth mentioning that Black Cherry comprised some of the largest trees seen here and had the usual good form characteristic of the Alleghenies.
Again moving along the trail we saw Indian Turnip, White Wood Aster ( Aster divaricatus ) and more sandstone, which was now reddish in color. Although not seen before, we now encountered a few Sugar Maple and White Ash, with some of the latter exceding 20 inches ( 50 cm) dbh and possesed of a form almost as straight and tall asthe Black Cherry. The latter as well as the Beech continued abundant and were soon accompanied by Ground Pine, New York Fern and Carex intumescens in the ground layer. Here also we heard a Thrush singing in the distance.
Where a large Black Cherry had fallen, a rich, reddish mull type soil was exposed and accompanied by Intermediate Shield Fern. A little beyond this tree we saw more Sugar Maple, Allegheny Fly-back grass ( Danthonia compressa ), the forest grass Brachyelytrum erectum and an isolated Red Spruce sapling about 6 feet ( 2 meters ) high; then more and abundant Beech with lesser Cherry and Sugar Maple. Here also was more Round-leaf Violet, a single Large Round-leaved Orchid ( Habenaria orbiculata ) and a rather small, tan American Toad ( Bufo americanus ). Continuing along the trail, which was really an old road, we noted it to be fringed by Fowl Managrass and Poa alsodes, while a few Halberd-leaf Violets ( Viola hastata ) grew in the adjacent forest.
It should be noted that the forest here was mature and quite open with little underbrush, likely due to deer browsing. Also not far off the trail stood a single large Tuliptree, perhaps 2 feet ( 0.6 meter) in diameter, of good form, and the only member of its species seen by us in Canaan Valley during all our inventories to date.
Shortly after the Tuliptree,we began climbing to a mild summit of the Ridge. noting Carex gracillima on the way. On this slope we entered a markedly different and more acidic habitat which intensified on the slope descending to Club Run. The canopy consisted almost entirely of Red Maple, Beech and Black Cherry with little undergrowth but a dense ground cover of Tree Clubmoss ( Lycopodium obscurum ) with Hay-scented and New York Ferns. A likely related feature is a light, sandy soil, tan in color, and because of its texture, dry on the trail, throughout the area in which Club Moss prevails. This was unlike most of the soils traversed earlier, which seeminly were more clay-rich and consequently moister and darker in color.
At the bottom of the "Lycopod slope " we reached an open swamp or glade along Club Run, which, like the other streams visited, is a branch of the Blackwater River. This glade. which may also be in part Beaver meadow, appeared to be dominated, at least here, by Meadowsweet ( Spiraea alba ), but with abundant Glade St. Johns-wort, Sourtop Blueberry, Rubus hispidus, Wild Raisin ( Viburnum cassinoides ) and , in the distance, near the stream, a few shrubs of Black Elderberry ( Sambucus canadensis), conspicuous in July for its white blooms. The edge of the glade was in a sense a continuation of the forest slope and consequently very acid. In addition to the shrubs already mentioned, there were abundant Peat and Haircap mosses, Crested and Bracken Ferns, Common Clubmoss ( Lycopodium clavatum ), Hairgrass ( Agrostis hyemalis ), Carex lurida, C. folliculata, Juncus brevcaudatis, Deertongue Grass ( Panicum clandestinum ), Bog Goldenrod ( Solidago uliginosa ), and Narrow-leaved Gentian ( Gentiana linearis ). Birds seen were Common Yellowthroat ( Geothlypis trichas ), Black-capped Chickadee ( Parus atricapillus ) and Turkey Vulture.
Additional fungi collected and identified by R.Hunsucker on this traverse were the following;
Gyrdon meruloides ( Ash bolete)
Most of these are found on dead wood
We need only review our photographs to experience again the Blackwater glades. Their spectrum of colors is broad and always changing-in a matter of weeks from blue-green to gold-streaked-in a harmonious blend of alder swamp, copse of Balsam Fir and waving Blue Joint Grass meadow. Their sweeping vistas are among the most inspiring in the Central Appalachians. Though recovered now to only a semblance of their pristine state, these wetlands of a different time still raise our expectations. The stretch to brooding Canaan Mounain in a wilderness that is each year growing wilder, that may conceal species only now returning after a century's devastation and human meddling.
Vital to the health of the glades is the enveloping upland forest. While Canaan Mountain on the northwest seems secure, the thin buffer strip of northern hardwoods on the southeast is hardly sufficient to protect the wetland from a monstrous golf course that lies in that direction. This circumstance is all-the-more significant because the entire area is underlain by Greenbrier Limestone,through which subterranian solution channels may facilitate the transport of herbicides and other chemicals to the glades.
The Blackwater Trail itself is a 3/4 mile ( 1.2 km) circuit through upland forest but passes near the River plain and glades in its middle section. Elevations vary only from 3270 feet ( 997 meters ) at the start to 3240 feet ( 988 meters ) near the River. The rapid transit of 6-26-97, made under threatening rain clouds, was in the nature of a econnaissance, with seasonally significant observations of some of the flora. Our traverse on the afternoon of 7-24-97 included inventories along the first part of the trail and a spot inventory of the glades, while that of 7-30-97 covered the remainder of the trail. Both of the July traverses were done under idyllic weather conditions.
The trail begins inauspiciously at the golf course parking lot in an open field. During our July visit we did a rapid inventory of this open area under sunny afternoon skies. Ground cover here was dominated by the most luxuriant growth of Allegheny Fly-back Grass ever seen by this observer. Other grasses noted were Autumn Bent ( Agrostis perennans ), another Bent, Agrostis giganteus, Deertongue Grass and a beautiful stand of Fringed Brome, which we were also to see along Abe Run. An additional species also present in June both here and in the Deer Run/Abe Run Swamp, was Sweet Vernal Grass.
Large, Vigorous Dotted Thorn ( Crataegus punctata) and patches of tall Common Milkweed perfuming the air marked the transiton to forest. The Milkweed was being patronized by large numbers of Monarch Butterflies and by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds ( Archilochus colubus ) with as many as four of these birds at a time perched on Dotted Thorn limbs above the Milkweed while others worked the blossoms. Accompanying were other butterflies, including large and small fritillaries ( Speyeria sp and Bolaria sp ), Spring Azure ( Lycoenopsis argiolus pseudargiolus ) and Wood Nymphs ( Cercyanis sp ).
The forest canopy here was mature with some large trees. While a minor component, Red Maples were some of the largest trees, ranging up to 30 inches ( 76 cm )dbh. The dominant species however, was Sugar Maple, with Beech and Black Cherry also abundant and a fair amount of large, straight White Ash in places. Yellow Birch appeared to become more common toward the River and in places was joined by Hemlock and greater concentrations of Red Maple.
This forest was very open, with little or no understory or shrub layers. Most tree seedlings appeared to be Sugar Maple but Beech sprouts and/or seedlings were also common. The ground flora also appeared to lack diversity and was discontinuous. In June it was dominated by ferns, sedges and grasses. Prominent among these were New York Fern. Carex debilis and Poa alsodes, with lesser quantities of Carex intumescens, C. normalis, C. swanii and Brachyelytrum erectum. There was also scattered Cinnamon and Hay-scented Ferns nearer the River.
After traversing a stretch of this upland forest, the trail entered another open, grassy slope on which in July we encountered tall, brilliantly blue-flowered Blue Vervain ( Verbena hastata ), Pasture Thistle ( Cirsium pumilum ) in bloom, another thistle ( Cirsium sp ), Indian Tobacco ( Lobelia inflata ) and the aliens Smooth Hawkbeard ( Crepis capillaris ) and Long-stalked Cranes-bill ( Geranium columbinum ), also in bloom. Here too was a single bush of Roughish Arrowwood ( Viburnum dentatum ), which was blooming in June. Curiously for this grassy slope, which did not seem particulrily acidic, there were several small patches of the characteristcally acid-soil species Rubus hispidus and Sourtop Blueberry.
Birds seen or heard along this section of the trail were Red-eyed Vireos, Chipping Sparrows, and in the distance, over the glades, Canada Geese.
After passing through a short stretch of essentially Sugar Maple forest with outcrops of limestone, a little Great Rhododendron, Intermediate Shield Fern and possible Dryopteris carthusiana, a side branch of the trail led to a "station 3 " on the edge of the River and glades.Here, despite the underlying limestone, the vegetation just above the River was decidedly acidic in character. Growing here in the semi-open at the forest edge, were Great Rhododendron, Sourtop Blueberry, Hay-scented and Bracken Ferns, White Wood Sorrel, Haircap and other mosses. Only a matter of feet to the north, covering the River bank and extending to the distant line of Speckled Alder thickets, was the tall grass/ sedge meadow dominated by Bluejoint ( Calamagrostis canadensis ) grass. Here on the June visit all had been blue-green, but in late July multicolored with golden heads of Bluejoint and other grasses maturing. Grasses other than Bluejoint in July were Reed Canary Grass, Fowl Bluegrass, Virginia Wild Rye( Elymus virginicus ), Rice Cutgrass, The mana grasses Glyceria striata, G. melicaria, and in particular, tall open-panicled C. grandis. Sedges were represented by Carex tribuloides, C. lurida, C. vulpioidea, C. tenera, C. scapania, the southern coastal C. hyalineolepis, Scirpus cyperinus, Great Bulrush, Eleocharis obtusa and E. palustris; the rushes by Juncus effusus and J. acuminatus. Associated with these were Blue Vervain, here, as on the upland, in bloom, Field Mint, Tear-thumb Vine, Common Monkey Flower ( Mimulus ringens ), also in bloom, Elliptic-leaf St. Johns-wort ( Hypericum ellipticum ), Small-flowered St. Johns-wort ( H. mutlum ), Clayton' s Bedstraw ( Galium tinctorium ), Rough Bedstraw, Sweet-scented Indian Plantain ( Cacalia suaviolens ), Rough Cinquefoil ( Potentilla norvegica ), Mad-dog Skulcap ( Scutellaria lateriflora ) and Sensitive Fern. Small Burreed was seen in the River itself. Woody plants included Meadowsweet, Balsam Fir, Hemlock, Red Spruce, Speckled Alder, a little browsed-down Roughish Arrowwood, Swamp Rose ( Rosa palustris ), also browsed, and a little a little Red Raspberry ( Rubus strigosus ).
Birds seen in July were Song Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing ( Bombycilla cedrorum ) and an Eastern Kingbird ( Tyranus tyranus ). Small lepidoptera similar to those seen in other, including calcareous, wetlands, were common and were accompnied by an unusual 3/4 inch ( 2 cm ) very dark, almost black opaque-winged member of that order with orange foreparts. Fish also were seen in the stream, which had a more substantial current than on the June visit.
A measurement of a soil sample from the River bank top among Bluejoint grass yielded pH=5.6, which, if correct, indicted sustantial leaching here also.
West of "station3" the trail parallels the edge of the glade but remains within the upland forest. On the rapid transit of 6-26-97 the following species and terrain features were succesively noted: Initially seen were Poa alsodes, Carex intumescens, C. gracillima, Bottlebrush Grass ( Hystrix patula ) beginning to head out, White Hellebore, Carex laxiflora, Sweet-scented Bedstraw with unusually large leaves, White Snakeroot, White Baneberry ( Actaea pachypoda ), Intermediate Shield fern, a single plant of Goldies Shield Fern ( Dryopteris goldiana ), a live land snail and White Wood Sorrel. Noted also was the dark organic soil on the slope and between protrusions of the light bluish-gray limestone. Next observed were Hemlock and Great Rhododendron with concentrations of Red Maple seedlings at their edges. The Rhododendron was also observed growing between limestone protrusions, which showed pronounced evidence of dissolution by their rounded forms and channeled surfaces. These observations were followed by the call of a Red-shouldered Hawk over the glades, a single plant of Christmas Fern ( Polystichum acrostichoides ), abundant Scirpus atrovirens in the trail, Indian Turnip, a large patch of Common Clubmoss and Stiff Clubmoss ( Lycopodium annotinum ) under a large Red Maple, a bush of Ninebark ( Physocarpus opulifolius ) in bloom, a Red Squirrel ( Tamiasciurus hudsonicus ), a nine inch ( 23 cm ) dbh Hophornbeam ( Ostrya virginiana ) and a very large Interrupted Fern plant.
On the morning of 7-30-97 we repeated the traverse west from "station 3". However this time we tallied species on both sides of the forest-glade ecotone. Beginning at the glade edge, we identified Spreading Dogbane ( Apocynum androsaemifolium ), Drooping Wood Reed Grass and Rattlesnake Managrass ( either Glyceria canadensis or G. laxa ) and in the stream, Duck Potato or Wapato ( Sagittaria latifolia ) in bloom. We also again noted Great Rhododendron concentrated at the forest edge despite the close proximity of limestone. A soil sample taken at the base of a Rhododendron just above limestone had a pH of 6.0, seemingly indicating a higher alkali tolerance of this plant than anticipated. As is usual for this shrub, this soil had a high content of organic matter.
Next recorded on the acidic forest soil were Partridge Berry in association with Great Rhododendron, Miterwort ( Mitella diphylla ), Lady Fern ( Athyrium filix-femina ), Northern Beech Fern, White Wood Sorrel and species of Bazzania and Polytrichum. However, growing directly on a limestone block were Alpine Enchanters Nightshade ( Circaea alpina ), species of Anomodon, Fissidens and Brachythecium mosses and Delicate Fern Moss ( Thuidium delicatulum ). These were followed by Nodding Fescue, Crooked-stem Aster ( Aster prenanthoides ), then at the stream edge, by Larger Starwort, Floating Pondweed ( Potamageton epihydrus ) and submerged Sphaganium. On the bank moist areas were American Water-pennywort ( Hydrocotyle americana ), Clammy Hedge-hyssop ( Gratiola neglecta ) and a Beggar Tick ( Bidens sp ).
We now entered a part of the adjacent forest where Hemlock and Red Maple were more abundant and seemigly related to deeper soil cover over the limestone. Associated with the Maple in particular were seedlings of Mountain Ash and Mountain Holly. Then at the River's edge again we observed the meadowrue Thalictrum pubescens. the moss Aulacomnium palustre, Marsh Yellow Cress ( Rorippa palustris ) and Cowbane, all on moist soil.
The adjacent upland forest had now become even more acidic. Hemlock, Red Maple, Great Rhododendron, Northern Sweet Violet ( Viola blanda ), Partridge Berry and patches of Leucobryum moss were common. Subsequently we arrived at the area of large patches of Common and Stiff Clubmosses under the large Red Maple that we had encountered on the 6-26-97 traverse. A short foray here to the River bank revealed blooming Tall Coneflower (Rudbecia laciniata ) and Common Milkweed with Hummingbirds on the latter. Also seen were a few bushes of a willow, likely the alien Crack Willow ( Salix fragilis ). Tree Swallows ( Iridoprocne bicolor ) were active over the glades.
A further point of interest was the presence of what appeared to be, at least from a distance, of scattered Red Maple in the glades. Apparently located on local elevations, they likely were benefitting from leached and acidfied soil in such places.
Although our inventory ended here, where the trail turned away from the glades, a final observation along the southward-trending section was of several very large Bigtooth Aspen ( Populus grandidentata ) which opportunistically occupied the forest edge.
The overall impression of the upland forests gained from the foregoing inventories is one of low vascular plant diversity, especially with respect to woody plants. Furthermore, there appears to be little difference in diversity between carbonate and non-carbonate terrain except for the greater abundance of some species such as Sugar Maple and White Ash in the former and Red Maple in the latter. Canopy trees regularily encountered numbered only eight species with understory and shrub species even fewer in number. In contrast, a dry, ericaceous oak forest at moderate elevations at Hoop Hole in Virginia's Valley and Ridge had a minimum of 38 woody species with 18 reaching canopy size. Rich mesic limestone areas such as at Blowing Springs, also in the Valley and Ridge, may have 400 or more vascular plants, including over 70 woody species in a relatively small area.
Fortney ( 1975 ) reported 523 species of vascular plants for the entire Canaan Valley, a total, which was recently updated to 580 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Certainly the brief inventories reported here missed many species that would have been seen in a more comprehensive effort. These include such rare disjuncts as Cranberry Tree ( Viburnum trilobum ), Jacob's Ladder ( Polemonium van-bruntae ) and Swamp Saxifrage ( Saxifraga pensylvanica ), all of which have been reported in areas inventoried by us.
The lack of diversity in trees and shrubs of the
upland forests is likely a consequence of the exclusion of many
species by climatic conditions such as the short growing season,
which corresponds to that of northern New England and adjacent
Canada. However, no examples of the most diverse of tree habitats,
the steep colluvial slope, were inventoried by us here. The accompanying
relatively low diversity among herbs in limestone areas is more
difficult to explain since there are many forest herbs that are
adapted to these climatic conditions. It may simply reflect our
less than comprehensive surveys.
Fortney, R. H. ( 1975 ). The vegetation of the Canaan Valley, West Virginia: a taxonomic and ecological study. Ph. D. Dissertation, West Virginia University, Morgantown, W. Va.
Fortney, R. H. ( 1993 ). Canaan Valley- An Area of Special Interest Within the UplandForest Region. in Upland Forests of West Virginia, Steven L. Stephenson ed. McClain Printing Co. Parsons W. Va. 47-65.