Marshall Forest and Lavender Mountain

Marshall Forest is located on a southern extension of the Armuchee Ridge within the city limits of Rome, Georgia.  At least 100 acres of this Nature Conservancy Reserve have never been logged, making this an incredibly rare site because most of the south was clear cut between 1865-1945.  It’s not a large preserve; the protected area is less than a square mile, and it’s bordered by suburban development and bisected by the busy Horseleg Creek Road.  The forest is dominated by white oak, post oak, chestnut oak, black oak, tulip, mockernut hickory, black cherry, loblolly pine, and shortleaf pine.  Shrubs include dogwood, hawthorne, maple leaf viburnum, black cohosh, and several invasive species.  Because much of this site has never been logged or plowed, rare shrubs such as mock orange (Philadelphus) still grow on the virgin soil.  

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Recent heavy rains followed by heavy winds knocked over lots of trees in Georgia including this pine being held up by an oak in Marshall Forest.

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The largest trees in Marshall Forest that I saw were about this big.  This shortleaf pine was 100 inches in circumference.

Marshall Forest is surprisingly open.  The late Louise Lipps studied this site some 40 years ago.  She determined the open nature of Marshall Forest resulted from a 30 year periodicity of ice storms.  The age of the pine trees corresponded with 30 year cycles of ice storms that destroyed forest canopy, allowing pines to grow in newly created openings.  If not for the storms, hardwood trees would eventually shade out pines.  Instead, pines are quite common here.  I think windstorms also explain the openness.  In my opinion it looked like wind knocked over many of the trees because their root systems were unstable on the soggy ground after all the recent rain.

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With all the fallen dead wood, woodpeckers enjoy a bounty of insects in the rotting timber.  A nearby telephone pole has been nearly shredded by woodpeckers.

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The Nature Conservancy had to saw a path through fallen trees following a recent storm.  I counted about 80 rings. These must not be the 250 year old pines that are reportedly still growing here.

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Some slob left a beer can in a tree snag.  Why does anybody drink light beer?  Might as well drink water.

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Marshall Forest is surprisingly open.  Mature forests are not at all dense, like most of the second growth that covers the state today.  Up until the 19th century old growth forests provided plenty of grazing for bison and horses in little patches such as this.

I found some large trees, but not as many as one might expect in a virgin forest.  The slope of the land and thin soil may prevent exceptionally large trees from growing here.  I did measure a shortleaf pine that was 31.5 inches in diameter, and a post oak that was 30 inches in diameter.  Supposedly, some of the pine trees in this forest are 250 years old.

I was surprised that I didn’t see any squirrels or squirrel nests in Marshall Forest.  Maybe early evening was the wrong time of day to see them.  There were large chestnut oak acorns scattered all over the forest floor.  Some of them were as big as pecans.  The only notable songbird to cross my path was a white breasted nuthatch.  A flock of 6-8 turkeys roamed an old pecan orchard across the street from the forest, and the tom was displaying to the hens.  This piece of land is protected by the Nature Conservancy as well, and it stretches to the Coosa River.

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Chestnut oak is a dominant tree throughout Marshall Forest.  Some of the acorns were as big as pecans.

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I couldn’t figure what this structure on the trail was.  An old well?  Cistern?

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Old storm damage.

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A tom turkey was displaying to half a dozen hens here , but when I approached to take a photo they wandered behind tall grass.  This stretch of land is protected by the Nature Conservancy as well and reaches all the way to the Coosa River.

I took a wrong turn before I got to the preserve and accidentally discovered a rare stand of 30 foot tall giant bamboo cane growing on a high bluff adjacent to the Coosa River.  (See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/canebrakes-are-forlorn-landscapes/ )  I spotted a red fox darting into the canebrake.  I wasn’t able to stop and take a photo of the bamboo though.

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In this tiny woodlot behind the Comfort Inn where we were staying in Rome, I saw 5 gray squirrels, cardinals, mockingbirds, a tufted titmouse, chipping sparrows, and a Carolina wren in 5 minutes.  Suburbs with little woodlots are better wildlife habitat that pine tree farms, that’s for sure.

Lavender Mountain

Lavender Mountain is located behind Berry College in Rome, Georgia.  It’s open to the public.  A northern disjunct population of longleaf pine grows on this unique site.  Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) was a dominant tree on the coastal plain of southeastern North America until the 19th century when this ecosystem was pretty much destroyed.  However, it was rare on the piedmont and in the mountains.  Because it has long needles, it’s more vulnerable to ice storms and not as well adapted to cooler winters as shortleaf pine.  It requires frequent fire for regeneration.  Nevertheless, on some  ridges with thin soils longleaf pine does occur as far north as Rome, Georgia.  Fire must have been common here for thousands of years to enable longleaf pine to exist on Lavender Mountain.  Berry College protected the mountain from logging, but fire suppression and beetle infestation has taken a heavy toll, and oaks began to predominate as they do throughout most of the rest of the region.  Now, scientists are trying to re-establish longleaf pine savannahs on the mountain.

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Berry College campus in Rome, Georgia.  This chapel looks like a medieval castle.  A huge cow pasture fronts the college.

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Lavender Mountain Road behind Berry College leads to Lavender Mountain.  I can easily imagine mammoths, horses, bison, and elk grazing in an environment like this during the Pleistocene.

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Longleaf pine seedling.  This is the first longleaf pine tree I’ve ever identified.  Shortleaf pine has needles 3-6 inches long.  Loblolly pine has needles 6-9 inches long. Longleaf pine has needles 9-18 inches long.  These needles were longer than 9 inches.  Longleaf pine seedlings can survive fire whereas the other 2 species of southern pine can survive fire as adults but not as seedlings.  Same goes for most species of oak.  Without fire longleaf pines will eventually disappear from an environment.

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Scientists are trying to re-establish longleaf pine as a dominant species on Lavender Mountain.  Berry College always protected the area from logging, but fire suppression and pine bark beetle infestation has allowed oaks to outcompete longleaf pines.

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Berry College used to grind their own corn for the cornbread they fed to their students.

I walked on the last half mile of Lavender Mountain Road, but I didn’t have time to hike the trails.  The mountain is on the right side of the road; a creek bottomland forest is on the left side of the road.  Post oak, white oak, black cherry, mockernut hickory, shagbark hickory, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, and longleaf pine can all be found growing here.  Curiously, oregon grape holly is a common shrub.  Birds have spread this ornamental plant to the mountain.  I heard lots of birds here, but the only call I recognized was from a pileated woodpecker.  I saw deer prints.  Herds of deer roam the campus at night and early in the morning.  It was worth the visit.

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Lavender Mountain is on 1 side of the road.  This creek bottomland is on the other side of the road.

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Oregon grape holly is a common shrub in the bottomland.  It’s not native.  Birds have spread the seed from ornamental plantings.

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3 Responses to “Marshall Forest and Lavender Mountain”

  1. James Robert Smith Says:

    I’m envious! That place has been on to-see list for decades! Doubly painful when I consider that I once lived within easy driving distance and still never saw it (when I lived in Gilmer County).

    One of my high schoolmates got a full academic and athletic scholarship to Berry. He’s the first person who told me about the amazing campus. At that time–1970s–it was the biggest (land area) college campus on the continent. Not sure if that’s still true.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    There are several other places near Rome I’m going to be visiting and revisiting while my daughter attends college there.

    Black Bluff Preserve and the Coosa Riverwalk both look interesting. A nearly unbroken stretch of 2nd growth forest grows between Cartersville and Rome along Highway 411. I hope that stays undeveloped.

  3. Herschel Norman Says:

    Ridges and south-facing slopes of Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Tallapoosa County, AL support examples of remnant fire-suppressed mountain (piedmont) longleaf pine forests. Although no old-growth longleaf remain on site, there are many stands of 70 year-old trees inter-mingled with old-growth hardwood trees, including a few 125 year old post and red oaks. We stem-mapped three 5 acre stands, each supporting 150 longleaf trees. Longleaf size-class distributions ranged from 3-22 inches DBH and there was evidence of invasion by off-site tree species. However, intrusion of off-site trees is not the most significant management challenge to restoring native forest structure and species composition. The biggest challenge is to develop ways to reduce and eventually eliminate excessive fine fuel that has accumulated over 75 years of fire suppression and, at the same time, maintain many extant, cone-producing sized longleaf and the old-growth oak trees. Accumulated litter has resulted in a duff layer that averages 7 inches deep, with more than a foot at the base of longleaf pines. The prolonged burial of tree boles appears to have altered bark thickness at the base of many longleaf. On-going work includes plans for prescribed burns, monitoring of fire effects, experimental removal of patches of litter and duff, cutting of off-site trees, and perhaps planting of containerized longleaf in created patches of mineral soil.

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