#2 Blue Ridge Montane Basins Shortleaf Pine-Post Oak Savanna

 Blue Ridge Mountains Montane Basins Shortleaf Pine-Post Oak Savanna (background). Foreground is an acidic seepage slope grassland.

Blue Ridge Mountains Montane Basins Shortleaf Pine-Post Oak Savanna (background). Foreground is an acidic seepage slope grassland.

#2. Blue Ridge Montane Basins Shortleaf Pine-Post Oak Savanna

The second grassland featured here is one that is extremely poorly known. The Montane Basins Ecoregion comprises portions of southwestern North Carolina near Hayesville, northern Georgia, and extreme southeastern Tennessee (Copper Basin).

The historical vegetation of this ecoregion needs to be clarified (at least it does for me!). One of the earliest references to vegetation from this region is the 1818 boundary survey of the Georgia state line. Surveyors recorded shortleaf pine and post oak in TN in this ecoregion. Witness tree records from the Georgia Land Lottery need to be evaluated for this area to see what species were common prior to 1850. A high incidence of shortleaf pine and post oak would suggest adaptation to fire.

Much of the original vegetation of the Montane Basin ecoregion has long been altered. The broad rolling basin supports more agriculture compared to more mountainous areas nearby. The Copper Basin of Tennessee was devastated in the late 19th-early 20th centuries by the copper mining industry. The trees in the basin were harvested to fuel the smelting of copper ore and the sulfuric acid pollution killed much of the original vegetation.

Today, it is common to see species indicative of grasslands/savannas/open woodlands on roadsides and powerline corridors (e.g. Baptisia albescens, B. tinctoria, Sorghastrum nutans and S. elliottii, Liatris spp., etc.).

In Towns Co., GA along Chatuge Lake is an example of what may have at one time been a more savanna-like setting and that may be one of the few high-quality grassland remnants remaining in the ecoregion.

The site is the Basin proper and you must walk through an old field to get to it. Once past the blackberries, fescue, Johnson grass, and other weedy species, you enter a diverse, short-statured dry grassland.

Here grows the highly conservative American Bluehearts (Buchnera americana), prairie willow (Salix humilis) and a diverse array of native grasses, goldenrods, asters, thoroughworts.

This small-patch grassland is prone to being easily dismissed and overlooked because on its downslope side it grades into a seepage slope grassland (a type of slope wetland) that includes such rarities as green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila), coreopsis rosea, sundews, yellow-eyed grasses, and ten-angle pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare). More about this wet grassland community later....

In the meantime, more work is needed to better understand this extremely rare Blue Ridge grassland. Additional examples should be sought and consideration given to restoration. Unlike most of the surrounding mountain land which is largely owned by the US Forest Service, most of the basin lands are in private ownership, complicating conservation efforts.