Galax’s enduring popularity

Galax is an evergreen groundcover found throughout the Blue Ridge. The plant can thrive in various settings, but the ideal habitat is a cool moist site with partial shade and acidic soil. It occurs in extensive patches that can reward the observer in every season. As Peter White observed in Wildflowers of the Smokies (1996), “In early spring, its round, evergreen leaves carpet the dormant forest floor. By summer, a tall pillar of tiny white flowers line many park trails. Then, as winter approaches, the deep green leaves turn bronze and crimson to contrast against the coming snows.”

Evening gosbeaks to make rare appearance

“Seen for the first time amid the snows of winter and against a background of darkling pines these strange and beautiful waifs of the northland seem somehow out of place, as would some rare and singular exotic plant blossoming in ... winter.” — Dr. Elliot Coues, Birds of North America (1925)

Head up bird watchers! According to a recent news release posted online at eBird — an excellent source of information sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology — advised that early “observations are hinting at the largest movement of Evening Grosbeaks in the Northeast in more than a decade.” 

Honey locust pods are well-protected

Strap-shaped honey locust pods can be up to 2-inches wide and a foot or more in length. Hanging in abundance along roadsides, they bring back memories. My buddies and I used to gather them to eat the sugary pulp.

Finding the balance between good and evil

The Cherokees believed that they must keep the world in balance, in a state of equilibrium …. that if they did not maintain equilibrium, then droughts, storms, disease, or other disasters might occur …. They tried not to exploit nature. When a hunter killed a deer, for example, he performed a special ritual in which he apologized to the spirit of the deer and explained that his family needed food.

Oil Nut, that most curious fruit

For Elizabeth and me, the fall season is one of the most invigorating times to get out in the woods and prowl around. Many of the most beautiful wildflowers found in the Blue Ridge, especially the lobelias and gentians, are then coming into their own. And most of the others are in their fruiting stages. The transition from flower to fruit (or seed) is both logical and enjoyable. The varied fruiting forms — which run the gamut from drupes, berries, and pomes to follicles, utricles, loments, and legumes to capsules, achenes, samaras, and nuts — are as attractive and intricate in their own way as any wildflower. And they are, after all, the grand finales of the germination-flowering-pollination cycle.

Mis-identifying mushrooms is a risky mistake

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in September 2004.

The cool and humid forests and valleys of the Smokies region are said to be home to a greater variety of mushrooms and related fungi species than any other place on earth.  To some, mushrooms seem spectral and fantastic — like something out of a dream world, best avoided. To others, they represent adventure — objects to be sought out, identified, and understood for their own intrinsic beauty and place in the ecological cycle. And then there are those who pursue them as delicacies — gourmet items that wind up on the kitchen table.

Turkeys played important role in Cherokee culture

Editor’s note: This George Ellison column first appeared in The Smoky Mountain News in August 2016.

The comeback of the wild turkey in the southern mountains in recent years is one of the notable success stories in wildlife restoration. Thirty or so years ago, the sighting of a flock of wild turkeys was a rarity. Thanks to the combined efforts of the National Wild Turkey Federation and its local chapters, working in conjunction with federal and state wildlife agencies, such sightings — while always memorable — have become rather commonplace. 

Virgin’s bower is a favorite mountain wildflower

It’s late July and before long summer will be slip-sliding toward autumn. The gap between now and then is often overlooked in regard to wildflowers. The first flaming cardinal flowers appear along the creeks and purple Joe Pye weeds and ironweeds throw up their scraggly heads. The entire countryside will be blanketed in a seemingly endless array of thistle, flowering spurge, evening primrose, mullein, heal-all, mints, goldenrods, asters, and so on. 

Just sit on the porch and breathe

I write this down in the country again ... seated on a log

in the woods, warm, sunny midday. Have been loafing here deep

among the trees, shafts of tall pines, oak, hickory, with a thick

undergrowth of laurel and grapevines — I sit and listen to the

pine tops sighing above, and to the stillness ...

— Walt Whitman, Specimen Days (1892)

A rich newspaper account of Bryson City circa 1910

Despite the boosterism (and alliteration) that permeated a front page layout (perhaps instigated by the ever-energetic Jack Coburn, who is profiled in the article) published by the Asheville Gazette-News for July 16, 1910, some of the descriptive content excerpted here provides a lively and interesting accounting of the town and county as they were in 1910.

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