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My first bloodroot of this year, near Grassy Knob March 15, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, Southern Appalachians.
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Bloodroot, March 15, 2012

With the warm spell we’ve been having, the woodland wildflowers have been popping, just like the small, hard popcorn kernels that suddenly explode into large fluffy versions of themselves. As I walk through the woods, I can practically hear the popping sounds as the kernels of flowers expand with amazing speed into their full splendor.

What I truly love about the bloodroot is the way the stem of the flower fits perfectly into a specially designed notch in the leaf.

I saw the bloodroot pictured above on a section of the Mountains-to-Sea trail south of Asheville near Sleepy Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I traverse the MST for a short distance as part of a two-hour loop that’s become a regular exercise hike for me, in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest. It involves climbing up an obscure stairway off the South Ridge Road and continuing up an unmaintained trail to the top of Grassy Knob.

The summit of Grassy Knob (3319′) is quite close to the Parkway, but practically no one hikes to it from the Parkway, and even fewer people hike there from the center of Bent Creek around Lake Powhatan. What makes it a good exercise hike is that you climb very steadily about 1000 vertical feet in about two-thirds of a mile—not exactly extreme, but if you go at a good pace, I guarantee you will get your heart rate up. And it’s much nicer than the treadmill at the gym.

You leave the South Ridge road at these mysterious steps that have no sign explaining their existence.

Staircase that doesn't explain itself

You get into a zone of old, gnarly laurel that becomes spectacular in early summer.

I have a fixation about the texture of laurel bark.

The last push to the very top always works up a good sweat. You’ll notice a metal sign on the tree that marks the boundary between Bent Creek (national forest land) and the Blue Ridge Parkway corridor (national park land).

Nearing the summit of Grassy Knob.

On a certain fallen tree, I always sit and have a drink of water before making my way back down. When I hit the MST, I turn northeast on it instead of just crossing over it as I do on my way up. (The MST is too gradual for my uphill exercise climb, but I enjoy following it on my way down.)

This is one of my three favorite exercise hikes close to Asheville. The second is from the Parkway at the Tanbark Ridge tunnel past Rattlesnake Lodge and on to Rich Knob. The third is from the Parkway at the Craggy picnic area over to Lane Pinnacle (the real pinnacle, not the false summit with the views) and back. I will soon be abandoning these hikes, because, itinerant soul as I seem to be, I am moving to Sylva at the end of the month. There I will see what I can do with the Plott Balsams.

I will miss these hikes. And I’m sure I must seem at best footloose and at worst a rather unstable personality, for all these moves in the past few years. But I have my reasons, and I like the place I’m going to, where I’m close to the Smokies and I can hear the roar of the Tuckasegee River. More about that in a later post.

I love the rippling light on the raceway of Bent Creek. It is bordered with a somber row of Norway spruce, a species that is not native—but then, it’s not invasive, either.

Raceway on Bent Creek

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Comments»

1. Chris Sass - March 17, 2012

For me, seeing the first bloodroot of the year is always a deep joy, an occasion that marks the changing of the seasons in the forest. It’s amazing how quickly they emerge from beneath the leaf litter and open, often with the single leaf still wrapped tightly around the stem. Bethann and I saw our first bloodroot of the year last Sunday (March 11) on our exercise hike. They are delicate and ephemeral – a hail storm in the middle of the week stripped them of their white petals. But today when we went on the hike again, we were happy to see that small colonies of newly opened bloodroot had already sprung up since the storm.

Jenny - March 17, 2012

Thanks for your comment, Chris. It was my mother who opened my eyes to the beauty of the bloodroot. She had a unique perception of nature: on the one hand a deeply emotional response, and on the other hand an interesting abstract, logical way of looking at the structure of plants. It was she who pointed out to me the way the stem fits through the notch in the leaf.


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