The Extinct "Glades" of the Cumberland Plateau

One of the rarest wet grassland types in the Southeast -- Cumberland Plateau acidic wet meadow. Extant, high-quality examples are extremely rare and possibly non-existent. This photo shows Mt. Crest Bog, Bledsoe Co., TN. Photograph from Dr. Hal DeSelm's slide collection, originally part of Dr. Royal Shanks' slide collection that DeSelm inherited. This site is a few miles east of Fall Creek Falls, TN presumably on the south side of Hwy 30. This particular area of the Plateau is a broad flat upland drained by a slow, meandering stream known as Glade Branch. The term Glade was used for peat bog sites on the Plateau around the turn of the 20th century according to a great paper in 1914. Many plateau streams are named "Glade Branch" or "Meadow Branch" and likely referred to sites like this. This site was visited by Univ. of Tenn. botanists in the 1930s-40s where they documented a number of rarities including Rhynchospora wrightiana (need to confirm specimen was destroyed in 1934 fire of UT herbarium), Calopogon tuberosus, and may have been one of the two reported localities for Calopogon oklahomensis in TN (surprising). 

Here is an excerpt from a manuscript that we are preparing for publication that summarizes some of the early descriptions of these Plateau wet grasslands.

Neel (1914) has provided one of the most thorough early accounts of what he called the “natural meadows” of the Cumberland Plateau. According to him, this term was applied by the locals to describe tracts of land that were treeless or nearly so and covered with “coarse wild grass” when the first settlers observed them in the early 19th century. As for their distribution, he notes they are “dotted around irregularly over the Cumberland Plateau.” As for size, “they vary from less than one acre to several acres…” but he wrote “I know of one near Crossville, Tennessee, that must contain in the neighborhood of fifty acres” – the latter he considered to be much larger than average. Neel described these “natural meadows” as “level as the prairie and practically free from tree growth.” He remarked that these meadows were clear when the first settlers observed them and they stay clear. He notes that the only woody plants are small “water maples” (probably red maple, Acer rubrum var. trilobum) and alders (Alnus serrulata) that grow “along the branches that always flow out of them [the meadows].” As for the open meadows, “a sod of…sedgegrass…covers the ground.” He continues, “with the exception of moss [presumably Sphagnum spp.] that grows freely down among the sedge plants, this is about all that grows in the ‘meadow’….” Apparently few to no woody plants are found in the open flat meadows except along the small streams. Towards the margin these meadows are encircled by “forest” but “the trees of this forest stop at the dead line for them [the meadows], as though held back by magic.” Between the forest and the open meadow “a few shrubs extend just a little beyond the trees and there the sedge begins.”

Killebrew and Safford (1874) use the term glade to describe some open treeless communities of the Plateau surface. Their usage differs from the standard usage of the term by modern vegetation ecologists, who use the term to refer to open, shallow-soiled rock outcrop communities. Though sandstone rock outcrops (glades or flatrocks) are known from Cumberland County, they applied the term glade to open, bog-like, meadow-like, or marsh-like grasslands nearly devoid of trees (somewhat similar to the usage of the term glades to describe the Florida Everglades). 
In many places there are glades of greater or less extent, which are, in fact, small prairies, destitute of timber, and covered with coarse, rank grass. The superabundance of water in the soil and on the surface is the cause of the absence of timber.”

The glades and wet lands along the smaller streams, when drained, make the best of meadows.”

Such glades are also described by them from Van Buren County:
The level lands along the streams are natural sour, but can be easily reclaimed by drainage and the liberal use of alkalis, and rendered vary valuable for the production of the cultivated grasses.”

According to an interview I had with Dr. Ed Clebsch in about 2004/2005, he told me that he had seen many examples of these Plateau meadows prior to their loss. He said that during the 1940s farm machinery and mechanized equipment was introduced on a wide scale to the Plateau. During this time, many meadows were converted to farm ponds.

Today, no intact high-quality examples are known to exist. This represents an extinct or very nearly extinct wet grassland type.