Diamorpha smallii (Elf Orpine) and Early Succession

Three years ago, the worst incident of vandalism in recent memory occurred at the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area.  Thieves made away with huge blocks of moss and plants, including the subsoil and sand.  It is speculated that a truck was driven onto the granite flatrocks from an adjacent road, and chunks of sod and plants were scooped out with shovels and loaded into the bed.  Scrape marks from the shovels could be seen on the granite surfaces.

The following photo was taken by Hugh Nourse a few days after the incident was discovered.  The photo shows the nearly complete removal of all of the plant material in a wide area, leaving only the rock surface and sand.

Bare Granite Surface and Sand After Theft of the Plant Community

Bare Granite Surface and Sand After Theft of the Plant Community

Three years later, a photo taken of the same denuded area, from the same position, shows a remarkable colonization  by the adjacent plant community.  Especially interesting are the large numbers of Diamorpha smallii present now.  Three years ago, before the theft, very few were present here.  We noticed last year a large number of new colonies, and this year they have spread further, in even larger numbers.

Area of the Plant Theft 3 Years Later

Area of the Plant Theft 3 Years Later

The following photos illustrate the colonization of some of the remaining bare areas of sand with winter rosettes of Diamorpha smallii.

Diamorpha smallii Elf Orpine

Diamorpha smallii
Elf Orpine

Diamorpha smallii Elf Orpine

Diamorpha smallii
Elf Orpine

Plants have not only spread from the edges of the affected area, but have established scattered colonies in the middle of the area as well.  Below, colonies of lichens, mosses, and Selaginella can be seen.

Scattered Colonies of Mosses, Selaginella rupestis, and Lichens

Scattered Colonies of Mosses, Selaginella rupestris, and Lichens

Closer views of invading colonies of mosses, lichens, Selaginella, and Diamorpha smallii.

New Moss Colonies

New Moss Colonies and small rosettes of Diamorpha smallii

Selaginella rupestis and Diamorpha smallii

Selaginella rupestris and Diamorpha smallii

The beds of moss creeping into the affected area from the edges are also full of lichens and Elf Orpine.

Moss, lichen, and Diamorpha smallii

Moss, Lichen, and Diamorpha smallii

It is ironic that an unfortunate act of vandalism provided the opportunity to observe the colonization of a barren flatrock area by an interesting  group of plants, many of which are regarded as slow growing.   Although it is a rare annual, Diamorpha smallii has the capacity for rapid population expansion under favorable conditions, and has been thriving the past several years at Mitchell Mill.

Herb Amyx

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One Response to Diamorpha smallii (Elf Orpine) and Early Succession

  1. john pelosi says:

    Thanks for that fascinating report!

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