Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Stark Beauty of the Cedar Glade in Late Winter

Upturned faces looking toward the sun*

Last fall when we began to add more cedar glade plants to our landscape, Sarah (garden coach) suggested I visit a local glade (Couchville Cedar Glade). She described a field of Tennessee Coneflowers with their 'upturned faces looking towards the sun'. It was a charming description and I promised her and myself to get out there as soon as possible.

We didn't make it to the glade until later in the season and by then the coneflowers weren't in full bloom. Nashville was at the tail end of a serious drought and it was baking hot....probably not much different than is normal for a glade. I was prepared for the stark landscape of a cedar glade, but not for how deeply this flat, arid land would affect me.

It has a beauty that can't be easily defined. It requires one to look closely at the ground to see small plants like sedum, moss and lichens; while remembering to look ahead to see the huge expanses of exposed limestone and to the shrubs and trees at the edges of the glade. (all photos enlarge)

Even in the intense heat there was life. A few Coneflowers/Echinacea tennesseensis were still in bloom, emerging from cracks in the limestone. There was evidence all along the wet weather stream bed of flowering plants that are able to tolerate the dry baking summer or the wet, cold winters. But bloom time was over.

This past Sunday, we made a late winter visit. The first thing you see is this open field.

Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) pioneer seedlings have begun to colonize. This will be a Red-Cedar/Hardwood Forest unless nature or the park naturalists burn the fields to control the growth and protect the glades. I don't know if or when they will have a burn, but the Little Bluestem and other grasses won't mind at all.

The Trail

The trail is a one mile loop that passes through the field and into a small shrub woodland. Shrubby St. John's Wort/Hypericum frondosum, Coralberry/Symphoricarpus orbiclatus, Aromatic sumac/Rhus aromatica and Glade Privit/Forestiera ligustrina populate this spot; along with the ever present red-cedars.

The glade was sopping wet....which is one of the characteristics of glades in winter; sticky, gooey wet.

The Tennessee coneflower field.

Gravel, limestone and full sun is the perfect home for Tennessee coneflower; it has a long tap root that extends into cracks searching for water and soil. There are only 5 known and naturally occurring populations all within 14 miles of Nashville. This Cedar glade supports the largest and most successful colonies of this federally endangered plant.
It was was thought to be extinct in the 1960s but in 1968, it was discovered to be growing in Lavergne, TN. That site is now a trailer park.

I want to photograph the glade from the same vantage points each time we visit. Don't you think this will be a good spot?

Opuntia humifusa/Eastern Prickly Pear is Tennessee's only cactus and is well established in the rocky, gravely portions of the glade. The spines are actually greatly reduced leaves and the fleshy pads are specialized for water storage and photosynthesis. I understand that it makes a tasty jelly, too.

This beauty is Leavenworthia stylosa. It is also called Nashville Mustard and is a member of the mustard family. This form has sweet violet coloring. There is an all yellow form and a yellow and white form. Leavenworthia is endemic to the Central Basin's cedar glades....you won't find it in a woodland setting.

Leavenworthia like many cedar glade plants can tolerate being under water for a period of time.

The wet weather stream. I wish the photograph could depict the water moving through the glade. During the summer it is bone dry and looks like a stone trail. I noticed coneflower growing in the water. This is a classic cedar glade ...a rocky, gravelly or grassy opening that might be surrounded by red-cedar forests or red-cedar/hardwood forests.

A closeup of the stream bed; aren't the colors spectacular. I like the way the green moss waves in moving water.

You can see how wide the stream bed is during wet weather. I just managed to get across and keep my tennie runners dry.

During the summer this is one massive limestone bed. It is beautiful in its starkness.

You have to keep looking down, there is so much to see on the glade floor.

I love this little sedge, it's also growing in my yard. I haven't had any luck identifying it. Identifying sedges is difficult even for experts or so I have been told! I do remember that sedges have edges, a nice rule of thumb, but even that is not completely accurate.

I managed to keep my feet dry until I accidentally grabbed onto a tree branch and was speared by this thorn. I was so shocked I stepped into the muddy water. The tree is Gleditsia Triancanthos /Honey Locust.

It's time to go, here's one last look before we leave the trail. That's 400 million year old Ordovician limestone.

There should be even more plants in bloom at the Glade next month.


*photo of Coneflower from the Kemper Center/ Missouri Botanical Gardens


  1. wonderful, wonderful walk through the cedar glade. i am beginning to understand. i have to admit it is hard for me to get cedar glade conditions. this helped tremendously.

    i had no idea you could make a jelly from prickly pears. need to try it sometime!

    be careful of those honey locusts! the irony, always being careful not to get wet-then it happens! lol

  2. Tina,

    So glad you came by to look, it is really different isn't it. Imagine pioneers looking for land to farm and getting stuck with a glade!

    On the drive out to the glade you can see glady conditions in most of the front yards. My yard is not extreme but I have shallow soil and limestone beneath.


  3. What does Prickly jelly taste like? It sounds interesting! I would love to have some of those native coneflowers in my yard. Do you go and collect the seeds from them?

  4. Dave,

    I know you jest, but hey would smack your hand if you collected seeds! If I remember correctly the problem with TN coneflower is that it can't tolerate much shade so it can't get past the forest edges to grow elsewhere and it's seed dispersal system isn't effective either. It still exists because it is protected.
    I got my plants from Growild, there is a hybridized selection 'Rocky Top' but I think it lacks the charm of the Tennessee coneflower.


  5. Dave,
    I haven't ever tasted the jelly but I am going to try to locate some.


  6. Nancy,

    Do you have juniperus where you live?


  7. Thanks for an informative and fascinating post, Gail. That area is very different from our part of Tennessee, we do have rock outcroppings, but our terrain is so hilly, not a flat spot anywhere. But we do have those cedars and tons of moss. I have seen the coneflower for sale at Sunlight Gardens, a native plant nursery north of Knoxville. They come to plant shows with their wares, will be on the lookout for it. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  8. Frances,

    I love the glades and wish Tennesseans knew what a precious resource we still have. So thanks for reading what seemed a very long post!


  9. This was a wonderful post Gail !
    I have two plantings of the cultivated coneflowers from the original ones (at least that is what the tags say ?) .. I think they are beautiful.
    We have limestone outcrops all along the Kingston area and Thousand Lake District .. amazing to see.
    That stream was wonderful with the different colours .. Iloved watching them as a kid .. to have frog eggs near by was like heaven .. watching the tadpoles etc ..
    Great walk through the are .. Thanks !

  10. Joy,
    So glad you stopped by, aren't those kind of childhood memories wonderful


  11. Thanks for the interesting tour. I'm a detail kind of person, I just love the close ups!

  12. Gail, This is a different type of landscape. Thank you for such an interesting tour. We have a couple different native coneflowers here. Sunflowers also follow the sun! (I wonder if most flowers do??)

    Oh, I can't forget. You've been "tagged." Hope it's okay. Check out the post I created tonight. :-)

  13. crafty,

    It is an unusual landscape. Glad you appreciated it...You are so right about the flowers flowing the sun....I see it in the daffodils, which is very frustrating because they are looking toward the driveway and street and I want them to look toward the house! Things one doesn't plan on when gardening.

    I'm it now! Everyone's on notice...no home free and no tag backs.


  14. cinj,

    Hello. You would love the glade, it is all about detail...other wise it is lots of rock and trees.

    Is your new place in the woods?


  15. Yes. We're snuggly nestled among the pines. We have a few other varieties, but no too many!

  16. cinj,
    You may already be doing this and it is something I wish I had paid closer attention to. But can you reign in your gardening urge and watch the land for a season or two. You may have some wonderful pockets of wildflowers and natives that you could build your garden around.

    That's a tall order for most of us...the urge to garden is very strong.


  17. I have been observing for some time now. We have a very few wildflowers here. I saw about 4 varieities last summer and only one or two of each. I have two acres-most of it woods, so I definately plan on keeping natural lands surrounding me. The woods we're in used to be a pine tree farm so very few non pine things have crept in.

    I am looking to get some screening from the road. The pines are very close together so all of the lower branches have been shed.

    I know I'm not going to be going hog wild without knowing what's going on with my other house.

  18. Hi Tina,

    I am feeling ever so miffed...I just managed to erase my entire post for today, photos and all! SIGH!

    How are you?



"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson