An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

August 3, 2008

Mt. Rogers - Grayson Highlands State Park

If I were to leave my house, travel north going up the coast for 7-8 hours, I would arrive just outside of New York City. Going in the opposite direction, I would end up in Charleston, South Carolina. Going east for that long could not be an option, as it would only take me about 30 minutes until I reach the ocean. However, going due west from my house following the Virginia/North Carolina border, I would still be in Virginia but culturally and geographically further from my home than I ever would be in Manhattan or the Low Country. It was in the westerly direction that I headed and ended up in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. This was my fourth visit to Mt. Rogers, and when I go I stay at Grayson Highlands State Park.
This garden was at the Visitor's center. There were a few items I did not recognize, like the blue plant in the second picture.

Behind the Visitor's Center you can pick up several trails, including the one leading to the Twin Pinnacles. Along the way is one of my favorite individual trees. This is a Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), and if there are such things as sacred trees, this must be one. It seemingly grows directly out of the top of the boulder in a clearing with no other trees close by. Further along the trail ferns cover large patches of the forest floor. The golden structures are Dodder, a very parasitic plant.
Lichens are part algae, part fungus.
I found this plant to growing in several places, usually in rock crevices or in mostly gravel. I think it is Saxifraga michauxii.
My dad would bring home Running Cedar (Lycopodium digitatum?) for mom to use at Christmas. That was before it was listed as endangered.
This is the view from the top of the trail, and you can see into North Carolina and Tennessee.
Other wildflowers abound throughout the park.

Does anyone know what this one is, maybe some kind of Vetch?

The next day we hiked to the top of Mt. Rogers, which happens to be the highest peak in Virginia at 5729'. In order to get to the top you have to go on the Appalachian Trail and through a landscape unlike any other in the state. During the last ice age there was a vestige of a glacier here, and there are many plant species that would be more comfortable in Canada, than in Virginia. Red Spruce, Fraser Fir, Hemlock and thick groves of Rhododendrons grow in this windswept, forlorn landscape. When I am here, I feel like I am in another world.

There are several groups of wild ponies in the area, and although you are told not to approach them, some of them are very approachable.

After a long hike, a dip in waterfall pool sounds great, until you actually put a body part in the water which was incredibly cold.

I apologize for the heavy picture load, and I will post more later.


  1. Great pictures, and what looks like a great trip, Les. I don't get to do much "nature" traveling, due to elderly parents whom I care for on weekends and a roommate who owns stock in benadryl and thinks that staying in a hotel where they don't put a mint on your pillow is "roughing it", so it's fun to travel vicariously. I'm stumped on the blue plant (looks like something in the statice family, perhaps?) and agree that the pink one is in the pea family, but beyond that, ya got me!

  2. That is a cool picture of the tree! I had an awful problem with dodder this year-thanks for the pic-wish I had seen it earlier:) That pink flower does look like vetch. Looks like a good trip.

  3. I think your blue flower is Echium vulgare, Viper's Bugloss and the pink looks very much like one of our three kinds of Vetch, a Vicia, but I don't know the species.

    Very cool tree and the wild ponies were a surprise. Did you go camping or just hiking?

    The Turk's Cap Lilies are blooming like crazy here now too.

  4. Jeff,
    My wife thinks that going outside in the summer is only for getting into the car and turning the AC on. So this weekend was a father/son trip. Thanks for the hints on the unidentified plants.

    I read up on Dodder a couple of years ago, so I am sorry that you have it - must be the Devil to get rid of. It has an unusually life cycle that includes hermaphroditism and when it matures it has no roots, it just sucks the life out of the host, using somebody else's roots. Yes, it was a great trip.

    Christopher C.
    Thank you for the ID. I have never seen either of the the two plants, especially here on the coast. That tree is very special to me, must be something in my pagan ancestory. We camped the whole time in the state park campground.

  5. I actually pulled the Autumn Joy sedum and moonbeam coreopsis the dodder had invaded. I think it came in with some mulch. I will watch for it next year. Funny thing is, the dodder did not harm either of those plants and it had been there all season. Just an ugly weed like thing resembling spagetti that took away from the plant.

  6. That's a beautiful park, and I can see why you find that amazing tree on the rock to be sacred. What a view you enjoyed from the top, but the wildflower pictures were just as lovely. And who knew there were wild ponies in the highlands of Virginia? Not me.

  7. Hi, Les--Isn't that pink flower crown vetch (coronilla varia)? A friend of mine planted it on an embankment years ago and is still pulling it out--it's very pretty and very fragrant and very very very invasive. I love the pictures of the ponies, especially the one scratching his back. Have you ever seen the wild horses in Corolla, NC? It looks like a great trip, though I'm like your wife and Jeff's roommate--I love to hike as long as there are clean sheets and maybe a hot tub at the end of the day . . .

  8. Tina,
    Reading about Dodder made it sound like a monster, but I thought it did have an odd kind of beauty to it.

    It is a special place.

    We have a friend with a cottage in Corova (11 miles north of Corolla), and when we visit, wild horse watching is on the list of approved activities.