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Walk in the Woods

Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve

with Livability Educator Jaclin DuRant

April is coming to a close, and this is one of my favorite times of year to wander in the woods. Insects are out in force, wildflowers are blooming, and animals of all sorts are able to be found if you are willing to take a moment and look. On the last weekend in April, I took a walk in the woods at the Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve (ERCHP). I have wanted to check this area out for quite a while. Part of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, ERCHP is said to be home to a variety of threatened and endangered plants and a very unique mountain ecosystem, the cataract bog.

photo of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) in Bloom

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) in Bloom

I love unique ecosystems in part because I find the diversity of life that is capable of surviving in all kinds of places fascinating. The cataract bog is a mountain ecosystem composed of an area where water seeps slowly over a granite outcrop. In addition to the water seepage, there is also the granite outcrop itself, which supports its own community of organisms. It was really incredible to stand on the outcrop, listening to the water pour over the edge in a thundering fall and be able to turn around and see prickly pear cactus and other xeric (dry) native plant species thriving right alongside the water.

photo of Prickly pear cactus (Genus Opuntia) growing on a granite outcrop

Prickly pear cactus (Genus Opuntia) growing on a granite outcrop

Beetles (Order Coleoptera), are everywhere, and it isn’t too surprising to find them everywhere when you realize that beetles make up almost a third of the described animal species on Earth. My walk in the woods at the Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve was absolutely beetle-tastic. My favorite thing about this particular hike is the variety of ecosystems that are present along such a short trail, and I found beetles in every one of them. I saw ground beetles, bark beetles, lightning bugs, scarab beetles, aquatic beetles, lady beetles, and many more. The diversity of beetles went hand in hand with the diversity in habitats available in this beautiful place.

photo of a beetle

A beetle

I was happily surprised to see a pink lady slipper in bloom alongside the trail. Quite a few Orchid species are native to South Carolina, but it’s always a treat to find one in the wild. Pink Lady’s Slipper, like many Orchids, engages in a mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationship with specific soil fungi from the Rhizoctonia genus. Without the presence of the fungus, the Pink Lady’s Slipper can’t survive. Though this plant is not considered endangered in South Carolina, it is imperiled in other parts of its range partially due to collection by people who want to have this beautiful flower in their own garden. Unfortunately, since it has very specific growth requirements including the fungal symbiosis, most collected specimens don’t survive, and collection reduces the ability of wild populations to reproduce. So, I collected this beauty with a photograph that I can enjoy for years.

photo of Gorgeous Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid flower (Cypripedium acaule)

Gorgeous Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid flower (Cypripedium acaule)

My final surprise of the day was an almost 2 foot long copperhead snake basking alongside the trail. I was lucky to see him, camouflaged as he was in amongst the leaf litter. I grew up extremely scared of snakes, but my love of nature has brought me into contact with them over and over again, and I now view these beautiful animals with fascination and a healthy dose of respect. Copperheads are the most common venomous snake in our area and can be found in a variety of habitats. Like most animals, copperheads will bite when threatened, but are rarely dangerous if left alone and viewed from a distance. I did just that, backed away to a distance of 5 feet, and took my photographs with a zoom. Many of the reported bites from copperheads and other venomous snakes in our area come from people who were trying to pick up or kill the snake. It is essential to remember that these animals are great for pest control, play important roles in the natural environment, and are usually not dangerous if we leave them alone.

photo of Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix): I took this picture with my zoom.

Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix): I took this picture with my zoom.

My walk at the Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve was full of wonderful surprises. Heritage preserves offer fantastic opportunities to experience our state’s natural and historic resources and are free. For more information, check out SCDNR’s website.