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Tread gently among the trout lilies

2012 March 15
by Robert

By Ken Moore
Flora columnist

More than four weeks ago Dave Otto spotted a trout lily in flower on Bolin Creek. Since then I have seen what I would describe as “peak” trout lily flowering along many woodland trails. Normally “peak” flowering lasts only a week or so, and two weeks ago, during my final winter flora field trip, I called attention to lily seed capsules already ripening and slumping to the ground. Soon those capsules will split open, and eager ants will collect and bury the seed in their underground condominiums.

Trout lilies "as far as the eye can see" still on Bolin Creek slope. Photo by Brian Stokes

So last week while surveying the Adams Tract tree identification markers, I was pleasantly surprised on my descent down to Bolin Creek. The northern slopes of the Adams Tract were sheer carpets of trout lilies in “peak” flowering, as far as the eye could see.

One has to marvel at nature’s wisdom, not allowing this tiny woodland lily to put all its eggs in one basket, so to speak. Flowers appear early at some locations (think of micro environmental niches like sun exposure and cool air pockets) and later at other locations.

And, as is certainly the case along Bolin Creek, plants at any particular site do not flower all at once. Though most of the population may flower in unison, there are always a few that pop up early and a few that linger past the prime of the others. They are spreading their opportunities for success over the entire short six- to eight-week seasonal appearance above ground. Such strategic wisdom is characteristic throughout nature’s diverse populations of flora and fauna.

Fresh foot traffic leaves trout lily bulb to wither above bare ground. Photo by Ken Moore

While it was wonderful to view carpets of lilies, mosses, ferns, grasses and other flowers on the steep slopes above the creek, it was terrible to observe several long patches of bare ground where bunches of mosses and even the bulbs of trout lilies were left exposed to wither along the edges.

The Town of Carrboro was not given additional resources when handed the extra responsibilities of erosion control and trail maintenance of the Adams Tract, so it is especially bothersome that residents don’t support their efforts to manage the trails and protect the slopes. As dog walkers frequently don’t keep their pets leashed as requested by town signage, neither do walkers, runners and bikers keep to town-designated trails during their visits. Visitors who choose to step over barriers to closed trails or make their own short cuts contribute to erosion and degradation of the wildflower slopes.

Additional deterioration of the vegetation on the slopes results from unsupervised children who naturally like to climb and scramble over rocks and up and down steep slopes. The mossy wildflower slopes of Bolin Creek are not an appropriate playground.

Thoughtless foot traffic destroys wildflower habitat on Bolin Creek slopes. Photo by Ken Moore

Perhaps Friends of Bolin Creek, who partnered with the town for the grant providing funds for the tree labels years ago, and the neighbors who cherish the corridor may combine their energies to educate visitors to treat the area with more respect. Those slopes have no defense against our footsteps.

Please do walk the trails often during this season to make your own discoveries, taking care that your footsteps are gentle ones, and gently educate others to follow your example.

Email Ken Moore at Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

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