Friday, July 25, 2014

Prairie Flora in North Carolina: Buffalo Clover

I don't get phone calls about Buffalo Clover (Trifolium reflexum) very often, but when I do I take them seriously! 

Threatened in North Carolina, barely half of the historically reported locations are believed to still be extant. Like many other species associated with open, historically fire maintained habitats, the populations have dwindled or disappeared along with the habitat.

Nearly all North Carolina sites have been documented in the Piedmont, so hearing of a potential site in the North Carolina mountains (Madison County, north of Asheville), was a bit unexpected. In fact, this would be the western-most population in the state. I traveled out to take a look.

Patti Waltz discoverer of the Buffalo Clover in Madison County.
My first surprise was the steepness. The site climbs approximately 300' in elevation (topping out around 1960') in less than 400 linear feet (that's an 80% slope)!

The site is densely bouldery with numerous ledges and crevices. Widely scattered prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) made resting on these problematic. Other open sun-exposed rocks have large clumps of species associated with high pH rocks; such as Limestone Goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata) and Shale-barren Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium). Spreading Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) was apparent in places, while moister, shadier areas had dense patches of River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).

Patch of River Oats under Black Walnut above outcrop

Eastern red-cedar, black walnut, Biltmore Ash (Fraxinus biltmoreana), Georgia hackberry (Celtis tenuifolia), and Red bud are common trees along with patches of aromatic sumac (Rhus aromatica), coralberry (Symphyocarpus orbiculatus), and an occasional fringe-tree (Chionanthus virginicus). Where Patti Waltz removed invasive plants, especially Japanese honeysuckle, the rich, black soil is often exposed. In such pockets, the Buffalo Clover has emerged.

There are a few "protected" sites where Buffalo Clover occurs in the Piedmont, but none are found in such unusual ecological settings.  This is one of the reasons our goal is to protect multiple examples of each species across their natural range in North Carolina. 

1 comment:

  1. This is absolutely thrilling. Many thanks to Patti for contacting us!