Starkly Beautiful Cedar Glades

Nashville has marvelous local parks and greenways.  We are lucky folks. We can play, see beautiful native plants and experience nature in all its glory.

Counchville Cedar Glade July 2010

What many Nashvillians don’t know is that Middle Tennessee is home to a rare and endangered ecosystem. I’m talking about our wonderful cedar glades. Cedar glades are like nothing you’ve seen before; they’re characterized by a mosaic of exposed limestone, grassy glades with perennials and grasses; dense thickets of glade privet, fragrant sumac, St. Johnswort, Carolina buckthorn and Eastern red-cedar. All this surrounded by oak/hickory forests. The cedar glade ecosystem is home to many rare and beautiful wildflowers and grasses.

Gaura filipes

It’s a harsh and imposing micro-climate. Summers are hot and dry.  Winters, are cold, wet and often flooded.  Endemic plants and other organisms have adapted to these harsh conditions. Annuals bloom, set seed and die before the heat of the summer arrives and perennials, like the Tennessee coneflower have a tap root to reach into the limestone cracks searching for water.

Exposed limestone winter 2010

It’s an environment that historically has been viewed as wasteland. Farmers used them to store equipment and dump trash; they’ve  been turned into race tracks, drive inn theaters and automobile junk yards.  In the sixties  Echinacea tennesseensis was rediscovered and with a great deal of effort placed on the federally endangered species list and is now protected by state and federal law. It was this discovery that has led scientists, naturalists, botanists and people like you and me to work to save these rare and endangered ecosystems.

Gulf Fritillary sunbathing on the warm limestone

I love the glades~They never cease to amaze, delight or educate me~Every season offers some peek into a ecosystem vastly different from  the woodlands in most of Tennessee.   I visit at least once a year.  I wish you had been with me today~It was hot and dry and alive  with birds, butterflies and bees.  It may be hard to believe,  but, early  each spring those parched limestone paths are  covered with annuals blooming under water; and,  each summer  in the gravely fields are immense colonies of beautiful coneflowers.

Tennessee Coneflower July 2010

It’s all true; so when you visit a glade on the hottest day, of the worst summer in years, keep  those images  in mind.  Look around and marvel at what nature can do and what it can teach you…sometimes about yourself.

Gail Eichelberger of Clay and Limestone has a beautiful wildlife garden in middle Tennessee.

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  1. says

    Tennessee coneflower is now widely propagated in the nursery trade. You can even buy nursery-grown stock at big garden stores, under the cultivar name “Echinacea Rocky Top”

    …unfortunately, rabbits think it is CANDY. Most coneflowers are pretty critter-resistant, so I didn’t even think twice about planting four Tennessee coneflower in the main garden bed, but they were eaten to nubs, and thence into oblivion in two days. I was very sad, even more so because having an endangered plant die in my garden felt like I had kicked a passenger pigeon.
    UrsulaV recently posted..Rags and Tatters

  2. Catherine says

    I can’t get the rocky top TN coneflower to grow in my garden. I think the soil is too acidic in east TN.


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