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Source Walks: 10-13-95 and 10-14-95
Big Schloss, a prominence of Silurian sandstone, tops Great North Mountain approximately six miles (10 km) northwest of Columbia Furnace, Virginia on the West Virginia line. Two miles (3 km) southwest of this prominence the range is cut by Wolf Gap which separates the main ridge from Tibbet Knob. At 2964 ft (903 meters) elevation Big Schloss rises 700 ft. (210 meters) above Wolf Gap and 1500 ft. (460 meters) above the Little Stony Creek Valley to the southeast.
Wolf Gap is a "wind gap" or a gap without a stream. Of course, this gap, like "water" gaps, which do have streams, was also formed by the power of flowing water. However the missing stream — which was probably a large one since the gap is almost a mile wide — vanished millions, perhaps many millions of years ago, when its upper reaches were captured by another stream. The result is that within the gap a considerable area is drained by subsurface flow of water. This flow does result in one surface manifestation, a wetland which may have standing water at times. The variation of soils, flora and forest type between the mountain slopes and the floor of Wolf Gap present us with an exciting example of forest ecology.
Our first traverse is from the mid-slope of the mountain through the lower slope and ends in the wetland area of Wolf Gap. The second traverse again begins at the mid-slope and extends to the top of Big Schloss. A third traverse extends along about a mile of the Little Stony Creek Valley.
The mid-slope canopy of Great North Mountain above Wolf Gap is dominated by mature Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) with subordinate quantities of Black, Scarlet, Northern Red and White Oaks ( Q. velutina, Q. coccinea, Q. rubra andQ. alba), Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), White and Pitch Pines (Pinus strobus andP. rigida) . Red Oak is next in abundance to Chestnut Oak. Serviceberry (probably Amelanchier arborea ), Striped Maple ( Acer pensylvanicum), American Chestnut (Castanea dentata ) sprouts and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum ) constitute an understory and Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Minnie-bush (Menziesia pilosa ) and Upland Low Blueberry ( Vaccinium pallidum ) shrub layers. Teaberry ( Gaultheria procumbens), Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens), Four-leaved Yam (Dioscorea quaternata), Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and Marginal Shield Fern ( Dryopteris marginalis) form the ground cover. In places a bunch grass, probably Crinkled Hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa) , is abundant. Haircap and Leucobryum mosses, Cladonia lichen and Wreath Goldenrod (Solidago caesia ) occur along the trail and there is also a little Common Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) . Soils are typical of this forest type with a sharply delineated mor (Braun, 1950) layer on the surface.
Descending to the floor of Wolf Gap the forest gradually becomes more mesic with an increase of Red Maple, Black Gum, Northern Red and White Oak. These are also joined by Black Birch (Betula lenta), Tuliptree ( Liriodendron tulipifera ) and other mesic species as the wetland is approached. Some oaks in particular are large on the lower slope with one White Oak exceeding 40 inches (1m) dbh. An interesting occurrence on this slope is a single 29 inch (0.74 m) dbh Cottonwood (Populus deltoides). Other canopy species on the slope and on the gap floor are Black Locust ( Robinia pseudoacacia ) . Black Cherry ( Prunus serotina), Pitch and White Pines, seedlings and saplings of Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), a few small Pignut Hickories (Carya glabra and / or C. ovalis) and Butternut (Juglans cinerea ) . American Chestnut sprouts, Sassafras, Striped Maple, Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) and Redbud (Cercis canadensis) occur as well. There is a diverse shrub layer consisting of Minnie-bush, Maple-leaf Viburnum ( Viburnum acerifolium ), a few Black Haw Viburnum (V. prunifolium ), Witch Hazel ( Hamamelis virginiana ), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and associated with the wetland, Smooth Alder (Alnus serrulata), Winterberry Holly ( Ilex verticillata) and Black Elderberry ( Sambucus canadensis ) . A distinctive characteristic of the holly is a flattened crown shape. Dewberry (Rubus sp) is common on the lower slope and vigorous canes of a thorned blackberry and Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) occur in openings. A single shrub of the alien Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) was also seen. A feature of the White Oaks here was a heavy crop of acorns that appear almost sweet enough for human consumption.
Among upland and wide-ranging herbs on the lower slope are Wrinkled-leaf (Solidago rugosa ) and Wreath Goldenrods, Calico and White Wood Asters (Aster lateriflorus and A .divaricatus), Sanicle (Sanicula sp), White Snake Root (Eupatorium rugosum), Smooth Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza longistylis), Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata), Four-leaved Yam, Creeping Five-leaf (Potentilla simplex/canadensis), violets (Viola spp), a little Horse Balm (Collinsonia canadensis), Honewort ( Cryptotaenia canadensis), Sessile-leaved Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia), a Panic Grass (probably Panicum boscii), the Grape Fern Botrychium dissectum (in both forms) and Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) . The dried remains of Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) was noted as were small patches of Fern ( Thuidium delicatulum) and Leucobryum Mosses. The alien Garlic Mustard ( Alliaria officinalis) is abundant near the road.
Vines are represented by Common Greenbrier ( Smilax rotundifolia), Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans ) and a little Summer Grape (Vitis aestivalis) .
Herbs closely associated with the wetland and slope seeps were Northern Bugleweed ( Lycopus uniflorus), Clearweed (Pilea pumila) Crooked-stemmed and Panicled Asters (Aster prenanthoides and A. simplex ), Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus ), a jewelweed (Impatiens sp), a manna grass (Glyceria sp), a little Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), the sedges Carex gynandra and C. baileyi (perigynia still present for identification). Cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior) is quite common and one plant of Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) was seen. A number of unidentified sedges and grasses were present as well. Aster and Goldenrod flowers were being visited by bumblebees (Bombus sp) and large Bald - faced Hornets ( Vespula maculata) . Birds in the area included Chickadees (Parus sp ), small bands of Juncos ( Junco hyemalis) and Ravens Corvus corax) .
The base of the lower slope soils appears to be sand derived from the slope above or in-place weathering of sandstone since the underlying rock is probably the same in both places. The high proportion of mesic species like Black Birch (leaves mostly fallen) and Red Maple (leaves in color) has a decisive effect on the soil. Since the leaves of these species decay rapidly there is virtually no forest floor (undecayed litter) in the technical sense. Instead the decayed organic matter is incorporated into the mineral soil by organisms to form a type of sandy mull (Braun, 1950) . This soil contrasts starkly with that of the dry, ericaceous mid and upper slopes which have a distinct layer of undecayed organic matter (mor). While the mesic forest soil is still acidic, a review of the flora indicates likely movement, relative to the upland soils, toward a more neutral pH.
It is likely that the mesic character of the lower slope and floor of Wolf Gap is largely the result of a high water table that results from the absence of a stream. The presence of such a moisture dependent species as Cottonwood fairly high on the slope is in harmony with this supposition, since this tree could access this water by a root zone not far below the surface. Furthermore, since this flow would occur below a fairly steep surface slope, it would tend to move rapidly and be well æreated, and thus contribute to the favorable growing conditions indicated by other large trees.
Our ascent of Big Schloss began in cloudy weather and ended in light rain as Ravens called and Towhees ( Pipilo erythrophthalmus) darted in the shrubbery near the summit. The midslope forest as described earlier persists to near the crest of the ridge that towers above Wolf Gap. As this crest is approached the forest becomes more mesic with the appearance of American Basswood (Tilia americana ), White Ash (Fraxinus americana ), Pignut Hickory and Black Birch and with a considerable increase in the amount of Northern Red Oak. However the first Bear Oak ( Quercus ilicifolia) is also encountered here. On the ridge crest Calico, Wavy-leaf (Aster undulatus) and Bigleaf ( A. macrophyllus) Asters put in an appearance. As evidence of increased soil moisture and fertility, some large vigorous Poke (Phytolacca americana) plants laden with ripe berries also occur here. Other herbs found along the ridge included Many Knees (Polygonatum sp.), Plume Lily (Smilacina racemosa), and Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). Accompanying shrubs were Corymbed Spiraea ( Spiraea corymbosa ) and various species of Rubus, including thorned blackberries and a species with gland-tipped bristles resembling Red Raspberry . Continuing along the ridge toward Big Schloss at about 2800 ft (850 meters) elevation, we encountered Carolina Rose (Rosa Carolina) , a little Upland Low Blueberry, Deerberry, Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana), a species of Gooseberry (Ribes sp), Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis), Black Cherry, Red Maple, a little shrubby Cucumber Magnolia ( Magnolia acuminata), a single Black Haw Viburnum and Ninebark (Physiocarpus opulifolius), a shrub also at home along streams but heavy with fruit and thriving. Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is also common and a single Juniper (Juniperus virginiana) stood on an exposed rock. As on the slope below, Chestnut Oak continued abundant and in some cases showed sprout clumps with the widely-spaced sprouts characteristic of a frequent-fire disturbance regime. In an area with particularly imposing rocks these were covered with rock tripe ( Umbilicaria sp ?) and dark green clumps of Rock Fern (Polypodium virginianum). At the base of these rocks grew Woodland Sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus), Plume Lily, White Wood Aster and Wreath Goldenrod. The common phenomenon of the apparent increase in moisture soil fertility on sandstone ridge tops, as compared to the slopes, has been discussed in relation to our inventories of Garden Mountain and Mill Hill (see our sections on these areas). This phenomenon also requires caution in the application of the so-called "moisture index", which yields low moisture values on ridge tops.
Farther along an area is entered in which the ridge broadens, where soils are less rocky and deeper, and where Northern Red Oak dominates the canopy. However White and Chestnut Oaks and a little Sugar Maple also occur here. In places a broad leaved grass forms a dense ground cover. Most trees have an orchard-like form and many are quite large and may even be primary old growth, perhaps modified only by human-set fires and the loss of Chestnut.
As Big Schloss is approached one encounters great thickets and tangles of Common Greenbrier and Basswood is more abundant. Rock on the summit is a white, partially conglomeratic sandstone. Major tree species growing on and amidst the great rocks are Northern Red and Chestnut Oaks, Pitch and White Pines, Sassafras, Black Gum, Red Maple and Black Birch. Some of the Black Birch are nothing more than small shrubs but bear cones. Minor species are Serviceberry, Striped Maple, Witch Hazel, Minnie-bush, Mountain Laurel, Upland Low Blueberry, Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) and Mountain Holly (Ilex montana) with abundant red berries. Rock tripe and Rock Fern cover the rock surfaces.
With a latitude of approximately 39°N Big Schloss appears not to attain sufficient elevation to markedly influence the flora except for the occurrence of Mountain Holly on the summit. Also the relatively narrow connection between the upper slopes and Wolf Gap as well as the open slope down the valley militate against any substantial cold air accumulation in the gap. Consequently no markedly boreal species were observed there. This area thus presents an interesting illustration of the effect of topographic nuances in local floristics. For example, the lower valley of Ramseys Draft, which lies far south of here and at only a little over 2000 feet (610 m) asl, is host to a suit of boreal plants, since it is subject to the "mirror effect" engendered by the presence of high ridges up-valley,and which are a source of cool subsiding air during the early growing season in particular (see our section on Ramseys Draft ). Thus valleys beneath high slopes, such as those above Ramseys Draft, may have climates considerably cooler than far higher ridges themselves, such as Big Schloss, which, however, still fall short of heights adequate for sufficient lapse rate cooling.
It is noteworthy also that despite the prevalence of the Gypsy Moth ( Lymantria dispar ) in the general area recently, the forest on this part of the Great North Mountain shows little sign of the Moth and apparently put on vigorous growth during the past season as evidenced particularly by the thick leaf mat and absence of perforated oak leaves. The same is not as true however of the Stony Creek Valley, which is considered in the next section.
The Virginia Division of Natural Heritage (Smith, 1991 ) has proposed that the immediate area of Big Schloss be set aside as a “Special Interest Area—Zoological” because it has been used as a reintroduction site for the Peregrine Falcon ( Falco peregrinus) and because these birds have returned to the area and have been observed using the cliffs as habitat.
Source Walk: 10-15-95
A rapid foray was made up Little Stony Creek, beginning where Forest Road 92 crosses the stream and extending upstream for perhaps a mile. The stream is well, if tritely, named in that its course is over almost continuous outcrops and large boulders of sandstone. The narrow valley, as is typical for such siliceous country rock, supports an acid-mesic forest with abundant ericaceous shrubs and ground cover. The canopy is —or was— dominated by mature White Oak, many of which have been killed by the Gypsy Moth in recent years. Accompanying the White Oak are Chestnut and Northern Red Oaks, which have been less affected by the Moth, as well as Tuliptree, Black Birch, Red Maple, Black Locust, Black Gum, Sassafras, American Chestnut sprouts, White, Pitch and Virginia Pines and Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) . The Hemlock forms substantial groves but is not in general large. It seems Adelgid-free in the lower part of the traverse but shows signs of infestation farther upstream. In places Hemlock saplings show a spurt of growth as a result of White Oak canopy loss. Striped Maple occurs near the road at an elevation of 1500 ft (460 meters) and may occur at even lower elevations. While this species is usually not found below 2000 ft. (610 meters) in the vicinity of 38°N, its elevation here seems low even for the added degree of latitude.
The shrub layer is dominated by Mountain Laurel and
Minnie-bush with Smooth Alder ( Alnus serrulata) and a little Spice Bush ( Lindera
benzoin) near the
stream. A single bush of Wild Hydrangea
(Hydrangea arborescens) was seen. Common upland herbs are Spotted Wintergreen, Teaberry, Trailing
Arbutus, Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens), Common
Speedwell (Veronica officinalis) , Whorled Loosestrife ( Lysimachia
quadrifolia), Mountain Bellwort
( Uvularia pudica
), Calico, White Wood and Wavy-leaf Asters, Wreath Goldenrod, Potentilla canadensis/simplex, Indian Tobacco ( Lobelia inflata ), Four-leaved Yam and New York Fern (Thelypteris noveboracncis) . In moist areas Northern
As on the upper slopes of Great North Mountain, there appears to be an abundance of acorns. Although fruiting of White Oak is restrained by the past Gypsy Moth infestation, Northern Red and Chestnut Oaks were very productive and their acorns littered the trail.
Unless Striped Maple is an example, there appears to be little floral evidence in this valley for cold air drainage/accumulation from above. While the upper valley slopes are capacious and well directed, the steep lower valley may prevent accumulation at the level observed. However the question cannot be answered by this brief foray. Also, see our explanation above regarding lapse rate cooling.
Braun, E. Lucy, 1950, Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America. Macmillan Pub Co. Inc., New York.
Smith, Lawrence R., editor 1991, Ecological Diversity Protection on the George Washington National Forest, Technical Report 91 – 1, Dec. 1991, Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, Div. Of Natural Heritage, Richmond, Va.