Friday, June 19, 2015

Dryopteris celsa at Panther Creek

On the way back to Gainesville from western Virginia (I drove), I stopped to visit an old friend and colleague, Tom Goforth of Crowdog Native Ferns and Gardens in Pickens, South Carolina. I spent a few lovely days with Tom to catch up, and we visited one of my favorite sites from my PhD studies, a place Tom has known of and visited for years: Panther Creek in northeastern Georgia. The highlight of this spot, for me, is Dryopteris celsa. This was the first place I ever saw this fern, one of the allopolyploids in the North American Dryopteris complex. Getting to the populations of D. celsa at this site involves wading across a rive and choosing the right valley to walk up on the other side, amid dense forest and a thriving understory. It's a really beautiful place:

However, we came across an unfortunate surprise once we found the valley with D. celsa. The population of this fern, which had been thriving the last time I visited four or so years ago, has been drastically reduced. We saw very many fewer adult individuals of D. celsa than last time, and almost no evidence of new recruitment in the form of young sporophytes. Tom and I are both at a loss as to what may have caused this; climate change and wild hogs seem like the two most likely suspects. The remaining D. celsa individuals are still lush and beautiful, but I worry now that the population may be on its way out.

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