Last Thursday I joined ten others for a Chesterfield Parks and Recreation hike thru Chub Sandhill Natural Preserve in Sussex County, Virginia. I love hiking with these folks! The pace is moderate, the company is good, and our fearless leader, Mark Battista, is an enthusiastic, well-informed naturalist. The hikes are listed in the county program guide and fill very quickly.
The first leg of our hike was thru a long leaf pine restoration burn. The loblolly forest we walked thru shows remains of old sand mining and has been planted with long leaf pine seedlings. The burn had been done in the previous week and cleared out the underbrush. We could see the long leaf pine seedlings, yellow on the outside from the fire but with strong green buds in the center of each. This is called the ‘grass stage’ and the seedlings look like long tufts of grass. Just before we pulled off for the hike we passed a growth several years older – the needles are so long and soft looking! Each needle can be up to 18″ long – excellent for weaving pine needle baskets! Click here for a site that describes the growth stages of the long leaf pine.
For lunch we drove a bit further down the road to a boat ramp at the Nottoway River. Highlight of that stop was the discovery of a resurrection fern growing on a sycamore tree along the bank of the river. This plant shrivels up during dry times, then unfurls when it rains. I saw a lot of it in Charleston, SC last spring but I hadn’t seen any in Virginia. This specimen had both a unfurled area near the base of the tree and a drying portion further up the trunk.
Our next jaunt was thru a mature loblolly forest with several vernal pools. The path was cushiony soft with pine needles! This area has been a preserve since the mid 90’s, and scattered throughout were old dumps of jars, bottles and rusted cans. Not far from one of the pools we discovered an old jar and can that had been undisturbed for so long that moss and ferns have taken up residence! Nature’s own terrariums! In another of the pools Mark pointed out spotted salamander eggs – and pulled out a bunch to show us! They looked like orange jello with tiny raisins scattered throughout!
I’m looking forward to two more hikes in April – hopefully wildflowers will be blooming by then. Destinations are Belle Isle State Park in Lancaster County and Hickory Hollow Nature Preserve in the Northern Neck. Stay tuned!!