The early spring Sandworts are starting to bloom at the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area. They are most likely Minuartia glabra (or Minuartia groenlandica var glabra). If so, their common name is Appalachian Stitchwort. The following photos show their opposite, linear leaves and the creased and cleft petals of the flower. They are very fine, wiry plants with small flowers.
The Diamorpha smallii (Elf Orpine) has begun lateral branching and a few plants are showing signs of budding. Bloom may only be a few weeks off in spite of the cold.
Early Saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis) is blooming in many areas across the margins of the flatrocks, often near or within a group of lichens, or in the midst of new moss growth.
Rock Spike Moss – Selaginella rupestris – is very common in the areas with large numbers of Minuartia, and in the final photos of this group, young Minuartia plants can be seen coming out of the Selaginella.
Invasive aquatic plants are common at Mitchell Mill. This photo shows two growing in the same shallow pool on the flatrock surface. The plant with the round leaves is Ludwigia grandiflora ssp. hexapetala – the Common Water-primrose. Although it is a native plant, it can be highly invasive, and causes problems in some of the inlets of Falls Lake. Myriophyllum aquaticum or Parrot Feather, is the plant with the fine, delicate, feather-like foliage. Interestingly, it originated in South America, in the Amazon Basin, and has spread nearly world-wide, reproducing by fragmentation. Only female plants are found outside South America, so no seeds are ever formed in the rest of the world. Obviously this has not proven to be a hindrance to this plant.
The worst invasive at Mitchell Mill is the two-legged or four-wheeled variety, which is extremely destructive. The following photo shows tire tracks destroying most of a colony of Elf Orpine and Appalachian Stitchworts, both of which are North Carolina protected species. We are hoping that the State Parks will close the entrance area into the flatrocks from Rt 96, which is partially closed by boulders, but can be bypassed.