Every year a group of friends and I go on an annual hike along Porters Creek to see the wild flowers. This year we had much cooler temperatures and snow, so many of the flowers we normally see weren’t open yet, but we saw quite a bit of trout lily! We always walk to Fern Branch Falls where we eat lunch and then we hike back. The hike is about 4 miles round trip, and it is a fairly easy hike especially if you are just strolling along the creek admiring all of the flowers, listening to the flowing water and the singing birds! There is quite a bit of history to see along the trail as well: Ownby Cemetery, the Elbert Cantrell Homestead, John Messer Farm Site, Cantilever Barn, Smoky Mountain Hiking Club Cabin. This trail is great any time of the year as there is always something fun and interesting to see!
There are a lot of nurse logs along the trail. A nurse log is a fallen tree which, as it decays, provides ecological facilitation to seedlings. Some of the advantages a nurse log offers to a seedling are: water, moss thickness, leaf litter, mycorrhizae, disease protection, nutrients, and sunlight. When the nurse log finally decays, the trees that it has nursed appear to stand on legs. The legs are the roots of the trees that have grown over the logs as the tree grows into maturity! Pretty cool, yeah?
In the slide show below, you’ll see the flowers that we saw on the hike, what a tree looks like if it was nursed, nursing trees, and historical sites.
Did you know?
Squirrel Corn: Squirrel corn had great significance as a Love Charm to the Mennominee Indians and a young man would throw the flowers to his intended love or chew the roots which gave a perfumed smell in the face of the woman causing her to follow him from that time forward. The Onondaga called this plant the “Ghost corn” believing it was “food for the spirits.” Like trilliums, the seed of this group is dispersed by ants because the seeds contain a fatty substance called elaisome, which is highly relished by ants. At the nest the elaisomes are eaten and the seeds are left to germinate. The plants are primarily pollinated by bumblebees. historically the plant was used as a tonic and for use in treating syphilis
Trout Lily: Trout lilies are often called fawn lilies (due to the mottled or spotted leaves and the appearance that resembles a fawn’s ears) or dog-tooth violets because the corms supposedly resemble a dogs tooth and flowers look kind of like violets. The name trout lily is given because of the mottled leaves and the appearance of the flowers during trout fishing season. It is sometimes called adder’s tongue because of the tongue-like flower shape of the flowering shoot as it emerges in the spring and resembles the open mouth of a snake. These plants are not pH sensitive and both species are found across the state of Tennessee and are common. There are no serious disease or pest problems associated with this species. Supposedly the corm is edible and tastes like a cucumber.
Blood root: This plant gets its name from the red sap in its roots that was used as paint by Native Americans and as a dye by early settlers. Today it has a wide range of medicinal properties, too many to list here but a publication by the southern US Forest Research Station in Asheville, NC has an excellent publication that covers all aspects of this plant. It can be located at: http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/gtr/gtr_srs086.pdf?
Wild Ginger: Native Americans and then Euro-American settlers also used the plant as a poultice to treat wounds. Medical researchers have identified two antibiotic compounds in the plant so its historical use as an antibiotic has been validated. The color and the location of the flower have an unusual and interesting story. The flower evolved to attract small pollinating flies that emerge from the ground early in the spring looking for a thawing carcass of an animal that did not survive the winter. By lying next to the ground flower is readily found by the emerging flies. The color of the flower is similar to that of decomposing flesh. Whether these flies pollinate the flower or not is in some dispute. Never the less they do enter the flower to escape the cold winds of early spring and to feast upon the flowers pollen. Some of the pollen attaches to their bodies and is taken with them when they visit the next flower.