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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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