Naturalists are always being quizzed about this or that. Turn about is fair play. So, are you ready for a natural history quiz? Here are 20 questions related to the natural history of the southern mountains. My answers are given at the end. Don’t peek.

1. The Appalachians are about (a) 250 billion years old; (b) 250 million years old; or (c) 250 thousand years old?

2. At the height of the last Ice Age about 18,000 years ago glacial ice sheets extended as far south in the Appalachians as (a) northeastern Pennsylvania; (b) Mt. Mitchell; or (c) Clingmans Dome.

3. There are more than 40 peaks in eastern Tennessee and WNC that exceed 6000 feet, whereas from the Virginia-NC state line northward there is only one peak that exceeds 6000 feet: (a) Mt. Rogers; (b) Mt. Washington; or (c) Mt. Katahdin.

4. The European wild boar was introduced at the following site in WNC early in the 20th century: (a) Hooper Bald; (b) Clingmans Dome; or (c) Mt. Kephart.

5. The following animal is no longer reported – correctly or not — with regularity in WNC: (a) cougar; (b) otter; or (c) timber wolf.

6. The following poisonous snake is not found in WNC: (a) timber rattler; (b) copperhead; or (c) cottonmouth moccasin.

7. The elusive warbler that seems to say “teach-er, teach-er, teach-er” is the (a) ovenbird; (b) yellow-rumped warbler; or (c) yellow warbler.

8. Nighthawks are most commonly seen in WNC (a) in the spring; (b) in the fall; or (c) never.

9. Blackpoll warblers are most commonly seen in WNC (a) in the spring; (b) in the fall; (c) never.

10. The rufous-sided towhee seems to sing a song that sounds like: (a) “never more”; (b) “drink-your-tea”; or (c) “bottoms-up.”

11. The yellow-breasted chat is (a) a warbler; (b) a vireo; or (c) a thrush.

12. In WNC there are the following number of native evergreen rhododendron species: (a) one; (b) two; or (c) three.

13. The average peak flowering season for rhododendrons in WNC is (a) mid-April; (b) mid-May; or (c) mid-June.

14. The purple-flowered tree introduced from Asia with large upright flower clusters that appear in mid-spring and somewhat resemble lilac or wisteria in color is (a) butternut walnut; (b) the rare purple-goose tree; or (c) the princess tree or “Paulownia.”

15. Tulip poplar is in reality a member of the following family: (a) Ericaceae; (b) Fabaceae; or (c) Magnoliaceae.

16. Squaw root (Conopholis americana), which is also known as cancer root, is parasitic on the root systems of (a) oak; (b) hickory; or (c) magnolia.

17. A “spring ephemeral” is a flowering plant that (a) is here today and gone tomorrow; (b) flowers before the leaf canopy closes in overhead in very early spring and loses all of its above-ground vegetation by mid-summer; or (c) rarely flowers in the spring but is common in the fall.

18. The following wildflowers are true “spring ephemerals”: (a) bloodroot, violets, and wild ginger; (c) large-flowered trillium, chickweed, and wild bleeding heart; or (c) cut-leaved toothwort, squirrel corn, and spring beauty.

19. The Cherokees obtain the black colors for dying basket splints from (a) black walnut; (b) butternut walnut; or (c) buckeye.

20. The following naturalist was the first to arrive in the southern mountains: (a) F. Michaux; (b) W. Bartram; or (c) A. Gray.

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Naturalist's Corner

Back Then with George Ellison

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