Wildflowers of Virginia Shale Barrens Trip


April 22, Earth Day, with warm sunny weather, was an appropriate time for three Headwaters Master Naturalists and guests Mike Smith of the local PATC Chapter and Roger and Cynthia Barouti of Allegheny Highlands Master Naturalists to explore rare plants at four area shale barrens and a couple other locations.

Jay Shaner, a well- known wildflower expert from Staunton, led our trip through Allegheny, Botetourt, Bath and Augusta counties. Shale barrens, because of the dry, south-facing slopes and temperatures that often reach 140 degrees, harbor rare plants that have adapted to these harsh environments.

Our first stop was near Bessemer along Craig Creek in Botetourt County, just west of Rte. 220. This location has Virginia White-Haired Clematis, which is found in only seven counties in Virginia. The defining feature of these plants is the hairy white, bell-shaped blossoms, where other wild clematis have lavender blossoms with very little hair. We also saw the yellow Shale Barren Ragwort and Shale Barren Pussytoes, plus common wildflowers such as Bleeding Heart, Wild Pink and Rue Anenome.

On a second stop on the south side of Craig Creek, we were not able to find Clematis. After lunch we stopped along Rte. 42 opposite the Cowpasture River at a small shale barren where we saw Shale Barren Primrose, Shale Buckwheat and Plume Lilly.

The Baroutis knew of a couple sites on or near the Walton Tract in the George Washington National Forest south of Millboro Springs, so we stopped there. Plants found there included Walking Fern, which is fairly rare, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Twin Leaf and both Red and Grandiflorum Trilliums. The Trilliums and Twin Leaf were very prolific in a rich, moist forest.

The next stop was along Rte. 633 west of Millboro where we saw the Millboro Leatherflower, a rare Clematis and also Wild Oats. This required a bit more walking along the road from the parking area, but was well worth it.

Our final stop was along the old Parkersburg Turnpike near the crest of Great North Mountain, on the east side of Deerfield Valley. Here we saw Clematis Albacoma ( also a rare type of white-haired clematis), Wood Vetch and Wild Pink.

All in our group agreed that this was by far the best way to spend Earth Day. Many thanks to Jay Shaner for taking a whole day to impart his vast knowledge of rare wildflowers in western Virginia.

– Malcolm Cameron, Cohort III, April 2019

Top photo is of Jay Shaner with trip participants by Malcolm. Photos below are by Malcolm and HMN Jean Stephens. Click on a photo to enlarge it and view the photos as a slide show.