Posts Tagged ‘tobacco plant’

Spirit Creek State Forest and Wildlife Management Area in Richmond County, Georgia

April 9, 2020

The fascist germaphobes closed all the parks in my area, but we were able to find a nice place for a nature walk anyway.  The Spirit Creek State Forest and Wildlife Management Area covers about a square mile in south Richmond County, Georgia.  It’s the former site of farmland used to produce food for Gracewood State Hospital and School.  The former opened in 1921 when many people still relied on their own food production.  Later, it was leased as pasture to cattle farmers before state foresters converted it to a state forest and wildlife management area where hunters can shoot deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, and waterfowl.  Some areas are designated for archers, and turkey can only be killed with bows or shotguns.  Oddly enough, hunting for feral hogs and coyotes is not allowed here.

Map of Spirit Creek State Forest and WMA.

Spirit Creek, a tributary of the Savannah River, flows through this protected area.  Marcum Branch and Middle Fork Creek originate near the Columbia County/ Richmond County line, and they join to form Spirit Creek, and the tributary is dammed upstream from Spirit Creek Forest to form Gordon Lake–a golf course water trap.  On our nature walk we journeyed down a gravel road and butterflies led the way.  Seemingly, the same butterfly, a dark phase of a tiger swallowtail butterfly, flitted ahead the entire way, as if it wanted to show us a beautiful scene that made the trip worthwhile.  I saw several species of butterflies including a black swallowtail and a small brown skipper that wouldn’t stay still for identification.  I also observed the regular phase of tiger swallowtails.  I heard cardinals, a tufted titmouse, Carolina wrens, and mockingbirds; but I heard and saw more species of birds in my backyard earlier that morning. I spotted a gray squirrel and deer prints were a common sight on the gravel road.

The forest is species poor.  Originally, this location was likely a rich bottomland forest along the creek and a typical piedmont oak-hickory-pine forest on the hills.  Now, it consists mostly of planted loblolly and shortleaf pines.  Supposedly, longleaf pine grows here, but I didn’t find any.  The only oaks were some overcup oak saplings.  Black cherry and sweetgum are common here.  Birds distribute cherry pits in their droppings, and cherry trees thrive in the open conditions.  I did encounter 2 interesting plants–a sourwood tree and a tobacco plant.  Sourwood normally grows in rich hardwood forests and this specimen stood out in the otherwise monotonous woods.  The poisonous nicotine in tobacco deters most animals from eating it.  Nevertheless, the larva of 17 species of butterflies and moths feed upon it, making them in turn toxic or bad tasting for birds.  Tobacco is native to North America and was cultivated by Native Americans, though I wonder if this particular plant occurs here naturally or descends from a tobacco patch planted a long time ago. Spirit Creek Forest is regularly logged, and evidence of logging is all around.  I took a photo of a logged over section, but it’s so ugly I’m not even going to show it here.

Here’s an unexpected plant–tobacco (Nicotiana sp.).

Spirit Creek State Forest used to be a cow pasture..

Dark phase of a tiger swallowtail butterfly. It seemed like this butterfly led us down a half mile of the trail to show us the waterfall.

At the end of the trail we found what I imagine the butterfly was showing us–a beautiful little waterfall.  It was only 18 inches high, and I suppose a naysayer could call it a rapid but I prefer to have a more enthusiastic attitude.  Our nature walk was a welcome diversion from being quarantined.  We had the whole forest to ourselves.

Surprise.  I wasn’t expecting the waterfall.  Maybe less than 24 inches tall, but I’m calling it a waterfall.

View up Spirit Creek.

There are more rapids up Spirit Creek.

The picnic tables next to the waterfall need repair.  I found an empty beer bottle and an abandoned college textbook here.