On Friday, 11/23, I was planning for a potential visit to Virgin Falls in February and I ran across information that Virginia Spiraea – Spiraea virginiana – one of the rarest shrubs in North America, is found there. A bit more time on Google quickly revealed that Virginia Spiraea is also found along Rock Creek at Lula Lake, and I got pretty excited. Lula Lake is on Lookout Mountain just above the valley where I live south of Chattanooga. Found the Lula Lake Land Trust on Facebook, and lo and behold, there was a picture of a gentleman looking at their Virginia Spiraea posted only a couple of days earlier, and a notice that the property would be open today, Saturday. OK, there are now some tentative plans for Saturday.
The Lula Land Trust core property, which includes Lula Lake and the upper and lower falls, is a great place, and I wonder why I don’t get up there frequently. I’ve got great memories of visiting the lower falls and nearby bluffs frequently when my kids were growing up. The property was open at the time, but it was abused by some of the visitors, and I think the formation of the Lula Lake Land Trust and the way the property (as well as others acquired by the Trust) is now managed is tremendous. And I can still visit the wonderful, 75′ Lula Falls. (I think that’s the correct height for the lower falls.)
I asked the young man attending the sign-in table if he could direct me to the Virginia Spiraea, and he accomodated with directions. I took a glance at the trail map and chose an alternate, longer route – the Middle Trail. I had not walked this trail before, so I wanted to check it out (some steep sections, but a nice walk in the woods.) Since the colony of plants I was seeking was on the opposite side of the creek from the parking area, taking this trail also allowed me to use a bridge to cross the creek rather than wading. (Turns out I probably could have rock-hopped without water topping my boots, but no reason to risk that while carrying my camera equipment.) And added advantage was isolation. While it wasn’t exactly crowded – there may have been a dozen cars in the parking area – I’ll always take “less crowded” when possible.
Turns out there was another advantage. When I reached the Ford Trail to head back down to the creek (Virginia Spiraea is normally a stream-side plant) I noticed an area up ahead where the forest understory had been cleared. This turned out to the be the American chestnut orchard. Lula Lake Land Trust is involved in the effort to restore the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) to its position in the North American forest. That’s another story, and an admirable effort. One of the efforts to overcome the blight that destroyed the American Chestnut in the early 1900′s is by hybridizing with other blight-resistant chestnut species, and also by using a virus to modify the blight in pure Castanea dentata trees. Here is a photo of one of the trees. I don’t know if it’s a hybrid or pure.
Back to the ostensible objective of the visit – I headed on down to the creek and found the colony of shrubs. There were at least three species of shrub intermixed in this area, and I wasn’t able to identify which of the naked plants were Virginia Spiraea; I guess that will need to wait for spring (there’s probably not much interest in looking at a photo of a stick anyway.) However, all wasn’t lost, because one of the other shrubs mixed in was Virginia Sweetspire - Itea virginica – which I had photographed in blossom at another area of the Lula Lake propertyin May of 2010. It still had its seedpods, so I was able to photograph those.
It was a great day at Lula Lake.