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Trail Stories: Poor Mt. Natural Area Reserve

Features Globally Rare Shrub

September 05, 2011|Dan Dennison | News7 News Director

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. — If you are both a hiker and a plant lover, one trail marries them.  The Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve in Roanoke County features a series of trails and also contains the world's largest population of a globally rare plant.

Most hikes begin at the trail access on 12 o'clock Knob Road about 4 miles west of the Roanoke city limits.  The Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve covers 925 acres and has a series of interconnecting trails.  On one recent Sunday afternoon Maurice Turner of the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club led a group of 17 people on a loop hike.  He describes the trail system this way, "It consists of three trails.  The Overlook Trail which was a trail built by the midweek group; a bunch of retired people. And then you have the Canyon Trail and we just came up on the Cascade Trail and the Piratebrush Loop which will take us back to the access trail back to the parking lot."

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Piratebush is the main attraction here, as this area has more of this rare shrub than anywhere else in the world.  It's pale green this time of year, but in the fall its leaves turn bright yellow. No one knows why there's an abundance of Piratebush here. Turner said, "It only grows in Table Pine. It's sort of like a fungus and it's only in an area in the type of shale that's in here; the soil. It's the bush that's light green and right now it has a pod that forms on the bush. I guess it's like a seed pod and most of the Piratebush you see on this Piratebush Loop and of course that's how it got its name."

The entire loop is about five miles long and is suitable for most hiking experience levels.  The highest elevation at the ridgetop is 3000 feet. And while the hike itself, when compared to many others in our region is unremarkable, seeing the rare Piratebush up close is fun and interesting. 

Piratebush is also found in a few other locations in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.  Scientists are somewhat mystified about why it grows in such abundance in the Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve and not in other places with similar conditions.

For more information on Piratebush and on the preserve go to http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/natural_area_preserves/poormt.shtml

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