Last winter, Brian Bockhohn mentioned that the Falls Lake State Park rangers had noticed a large, odd tree at the old Alfred Lowery homesite. This abandoned homesite is located within the B. W. Wells State Recreation Area, about a mile from Rockcliff Farm, and a short hike down an old roadway that is now a trail. The tree was fairly easy to find as it is quite large and is evergreen. It has grown up and through adjacent trees and is entangled with them, making its form distorted and unnatural. An end branch and a few cones were brought out for identification.
The tree turned out to be Cunninghamia lanceolata – the Chinese Fir, an unusual find for Falls Lake. Brian checked the State Parks database and found records of only a few in North Carolina State Parks. There is one growing near the superintendent’s residence at Eno River State Park, one at an old homesite at Jordan Lake, and 8 growing at an old homesite at Stone Mountain. A native of China, the tree was introduced into the United States in the early 1800’s as an ornamental.
The needles are graceful and arching but gradually taper to a sharp point, which makes them very prickly and difficult to handle. They are dark green above and have two very distinctive white bands on the underside.
The cones are small, about 2 inches or less across, and the scales are reflexed and pointed.
It would be interesting to know how the Alfred Lowery family came to pick this particular tree to plant at their home. Chinese Firs are still used in landscaping today but do not seem to be widely grown.
The old Lowery homesite is also an example of how domestic plants can become invasive and dominate an area of forest. The following photo, taken in mid winter, at first appears to be an evergreen tree. But the leafy evergreen foliage is actually English Ivy (Hedera helix) that has colonized the entire canopy of the tree.
The ivy in the canopy is supported by huge vines which cover the trunks of the trees.
Also present at the site is a huge Berberis vulgaris, European Barberry, whose limbs spread upward into the lower branches of the surrounding trees and shrubs.
We hope to learn more about the age and history of this homesite and the ruins of the farm buildings that still remain.