It is early on a bright, sunny morning in late November on the granitic flatrocks of the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area. Following a hard overnight freeze, sheets of ice cover the depression pools formed on the surface of the flatrock. From a standing position, the tiny seedlings of Elf Orpine (Diamorpha smallii) look like small, red pebbles .
The next two photos are taken from a few inches above the ice, giving a clearer view of the developing seedlings of this remarkable annual, which is now beginning a new life cycle.
A high magnification close-up helps to illustrate the earliest stages of germination. In the shot below, the red pointer on the right indicates the first embryonic leaves. The red line on the left points to the buds of the first true leaves. Three other seedlings can be seen in the 4 leaf stage, as the rosettes begin to form. Growth will continue during periods of warmer weather, but at a very slow pace.
The depression pools are a harsh environment, but they do protect the tiny seedlings from competition with other plants.
Just off the edge of the granite flatrocks, a plant that appears to be a ground cover can be seen.
But a closer look reveals the groundcover is actually formed by young Ligustrum sinense – Chinese Privet – a serious invasive problem at Mitchell Mill.
This year, biologists in the Natural Resources Program of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources implemented a pilot program to control or eliminate Chinese Privet at Mitchell Mill. Fortunately the pilot program went extremely well. Help is on the way to controlling this invasive plant, which currently dominates many areas of the Mitchell Mill S. N. A.