Blackland Prairie Outing July 14th
by Carla on June 25th, 2018

Experience globally rare Blackland Prairie habitat with ORLT and the Georgia Botanical Society!  This multi-stop tour, which was coordinated by the GA Bot Socs, includes a stop at a  prairie protected by ORLT in 2017,  a stop at Oaky Woods WMA, and depending on heat, we will also explore limestone bluffs and cooler places. Afterwards, folks are welcome to stay for dinner at Yoder’s in Montezuma and for a pastry shop visit.

The prairies support several species that are rare in the state of Georgia, including Boykin’s milkwort (Polygala boykinii) and Dakota vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida), and a disjunct population of Southeastern Bold Goldenrod (Solidago rigida). In bloom will be gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), shown at left. Southeastern Bold Goldenrod, which typically blooms August-September, may also be visible if it blooms early. Walking along forested trails through chalky bottomland hardwood forests, we will also see species such as dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and Cherokee sedge (Carex cherokeensis).

The prairies are located in Houston County, south of Macon. The walk is free and open to the public. No registration necessary.

Meet at 10am at Flash Foods/Taco Bell in Bonaire, at the corner of GA Hw. 247 and 96.

Facilities
: At the meeting site only. Participants invited to nearby Yoder’s Mennonite restaurant for dining afterwards and the bakery shop

Walking Difficulty: Easy to moderate, lasting all day, some bushwhacking, covering up to 3 miles, mostly in grassy habitat and along jeep trails.

Bring: Snacks, water, lunch, butterfly binoculars, notebook, hat, sunscreen.  Wear long pants, hiking shoes for ankle support and double socks to avoid ticks and chiggers. 

Trip Leader: Tom Patrick, (706)476-4541 (cell)   tom.patrick@dnr.state.ga.us

Questions for ORLT? email Carla Francis, Outreach and Development Coordinator (carla@oconeeriverlandtrust.org) or call 706-552-3138

Photo from Gardenia.net

A Unique Blackland Prairie Protected

Below is an article about the blackland prairies, published in ORLT's Spring 2018 Newsletter:

Globally Rare Habitat is One of Just a Few in Georgia

By Laura Hall, Land Steward


Conservationists and landowners Russell Bennett and Carlton Walstad have established conservation easements preserving some important habitats for Georgia.

A total of 1,200 acres is located in Houston County, near Perry, and includes both chalk woodlands and rare Blackland Prairie.

Blackland Prairies, also known as Black Belt Prairies, are sometimes called “gumbo flats,” due to the sticky consistency of the limestone-rich clay when it’s wet. The prairie hosts hundreds of native grasses and showy wildflower species.

Created by a combination of seashells left behind when ancient seas ebbed and frequent fires, Blackland Prairies are found along a shoreline that once curved from middle Georgia through northern Alabama. Unfortunately, in many areas, these grasslands have been destroyed by agriculture and by efforts to suppress fires, which results in less fire-tolerant plants.

According to Tom Patrick, a botanist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Blackland Prairies are a globally rare habitat and are found in only a few locations in Georgia, including the Atlantic coastal plains and the red uplands of Houston County. Examples open to the public are found in the Ocmulgee and Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), owned by the state near Kathleen, Georgia. The wildflowers typically peak in July.

Patrick has identified several species of conservation concern on the property, including Southeastern Bold Goldenrod (Solidago rigida), which has previously only been found in northwest Georgia.

Patrick also has found Boykin’s milkwort (Polygala boykinii), and Dakota vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida) on the properties. These plants, which are considered rare in Georgia, have been added to the Georgia Rare Natural Element database.

The landowners are planning to continue prescribed fire as part of the future management of the prairies.

While protecting Blackland Prairie is important, the “associated mesic chalk slope” forests and bottomlands found near these areas are also of “significant conservation concern,” according to Kristina Sorensen, a biologist who completed the documentation of the natural resources on the properties.

“These woodlands have a slightly different composition than typical mesic and bottomland hardwood forest due to the alkaline nature of the soils,” Sorensen says. “Typical overstory species include chinkapin oak, Shumard oak, white ash and redbud with dwarf palmetto in the understory. And in the bottomland green ash, Florida maple, sugarbery, laurel oak and swamp chestnut oak. There is often no midstory and the understory is dominated by dwarf palmetto, river cane, numerous ferns, vines and large expanses of Cherokee sedge (Carex cherokeensis).”

In addition to the Blackland Prairie easements, Bennett and Walstad have also preserved 100 acres of greenspace that is contiguous to Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County.

This property contains mesic and bottomland hardwood forests along Rocky Creek, which flows into the park and adjoins another 900 acres that the landowners preserved in 2016.

Photos by John Gwaltney. The purple flower is Dakota vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida) and the white flower is Boykin's milkwort (Polygala boykinii).


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