Don Hendershot

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A week or so ago White House energy adviser Carol Browner was hitting the morning TV circuit, telling anyone who would listen that the majority of the more than 200 million gallons of crude that gushered into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s Deepwater Horizon blow out on April 20 was gone. According to Browner, 75 percent of the oil had been captured, burned, evaporated or broken down by natural environmental processes.

It’s long been understood that the Gulf is quite resilient when it comes to oil and other hydrocarbons. After all, there have always been seeps along the Gulf floor where hydrocarbons bubble up and escape. And since the beginning of the offshore boom there have been leaks and accidents.

Today — with more than 600 platforms and more than 30,000 miles of pipeline in the Gulf — leaked oil is not hard to find. And the warm fecund waters of the Gulf apparently produce a plethora of oil-gobbling microbes. And crude is water-soluble. Just the expanse of the Gulf and the motion of the ocean help dilute and disperse the oil.

But how gone is gone? Remember, we’re talking about BP and government estimates. They told us in late April that — gasp — 1,000 barrels a day were leaking into the Gulf. After they went back and sharpened their pencils, they admitted that was a slightly low estimate – and it was more like 40,000 barrels or more per day. They also told us, initially, that there was no underwater oil because oil rose to the surface. But discoveries by researchers from the University of Georgia, the University of South Florida and others of huge undersea plumes of oil that could be traced back to the Deepwater site made them recant those statements as well.

Apparently there are no more huge slicks sliding around on the surface of the Gulf and that is, indeed, a good thing. But the status and/or effects of those undersea plumes, where cooler temperatures and fewer microbes could mean a longer shelf life for the oil, are still to be determined.

And Browner failed to mention that the 25 percent of oil unaccounted for in that report is more than 10 times the total volume of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez. If BP and government officials are having trouble finding oil, I’m sure Louisiana coastal residents could help them out.

Drew Wheelan, American Birding Association’s conservation coordinator, did a fly over of coastal Louisiana in early August. “In the last four days I have seen more oil, by volume, than I had previously in my entire first 11 weeks here in Louisiana,” reported Wheelan.

Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge near Grand Isle was one of the first places impacted by the oil spill. Oil washed ashore as early as mid May. On Aug. 13 Wheelan noted, “This oil on Elmer’s Island has been there since the very first days that the oil hit, somewhere around May 20. From the air, it is very apparent that they have just begun to scrape some oil out of the northwest corner of the deposit. This oil has been there for literally two and a half months without effort to pick it up.”

There were also reports of oil onshore last week from Pelican Island, Oyster Bayou, Bayou De West and many other locations. Plus slicks near South Pass and North Pass at the mouth of the Mississippi.

The well is not leaking at the moment and the oil in the Gulf is being diluted and/or dispersed and both of those are really, really good things. But there is a lot of oil left in the environment, especially in coastal Louisiana, and there are a lot of unanswered questions regarding the fate of those undersea plumes. I wouldn’t raise any “mission accomplished” banners just yet.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Sometimes I wonder what I’m a gonna do cause there ain’t enough time for all the summertime blues. And by blues I mean all those wonderful summer wildflowers that run the gamut from lavender to blue to violet and purple.

Joe-pye, Eupatorium maculatum, is raising his regal pale purple head along road shoulders, in fields and from almost any conceivable opening now. This large aster may grow to a height of 15 feet and the flowering inflorescence can be more than a foot high and a foot across. In summers past, I’ve seen beautiful stands of Joe-pye intermingled with the rich purple New York ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis, in the open area at the intersection of Raccoon Road and U.S. 276.

Tall bellflower, Campanula americana, is another robust blue wildflower blooming now. The beautiful blue flower is an inch or so across and the protruding style turns up sharply at the end. It is pretty widespread across Western North Carolina and can be found along the Blue Ridge Parkway around the Waynesville Overlook.

The Parkway is a great place for summertime blues. Heintooga Spur Road and the Flat Creek Trail from Heintooga Picnic area offer a wide variety of summer wildflowers. Some of the blues to see there include obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana, which can be found along Heintooga Road. Obedient plant got its name because if you take your finger and gently push the corolla to one side or the other it will, obediently, remain in its new position.

Stiff gentian, Gentianella quinquefolia, a small purple wildflower with a closed corolla may also be found along Heintooga Road as well as numerous places along the Parkway, especially the road shoulders around Richland Balsam.

An especially striking summertime blue is monkshood, Aconitum uncinatum. The plant can grow 2 to 4 feet tall and the blue to purplish-blue, rounded, hood-shaped flowers are clustered at the end of the stem. One of the most reliable places I know of to fine monkshood is along the Flat Creek Trail.

I have also found turtlehead, Chelone lyonii, along Flat Creek Trail. Turtlehead also has a somewhat closed lavender-purple corolla. I think these closed corollas invite bees and other pollinators to crawl in and roll around, insuring they will collect lots of pollen. Devils Courthouse trail is another good place for turtlehead.

And as long as we are talking hoods and heads it may be a good time to mention skullcap, Scutellaria incana. Skullcap grows to about three feet tall. It has square stems and opposite leaves. The lavender to purplish-blue flowers are clustered in racemes at the end of the stem. The upper part of the corolla is hood-like while the lower lip is larger and wider and there is a conspicuous patch of white near the throat of the flower. It is common along the shoulder of the Parkway.

It’s not spring, but it’s clearly not too late for a wildflower pilgrimage. In fact the wildflower show in Western North Carolina is far from over. Grab a hand lens and a field guide and get outside and revel in the summertime blues.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Toni Mullany of Waynesville sent me an email the other day noting a guest scoping out her phlox. She described the critter thusly: “It is about the size of a large bumblebee. It is all black. It has furry head and a large proboscis. Its movements are rather slow.  There is usually a pair. It seems to be a cross between a butterfly and a bumblebee drawn by Dr. Seuss or a very creative 6 year old.” And I believe that is about as good a description as one could give in reference to the hummingbird clearwing moth, Hemaris thysbe.

Hemaris thysbe is in the family Sphingidae or sphinx moths. The hummingbird clearwing moth ranges from Alaska through British Columbia to Oregon and east across the Great Plains to Maine and south to Florida and Texas. And while the body of the bug itself is about the size of a large carpenter bee, the wingspan is usually just over two inches. This brightly colored moth is diurnal and hovers while nectaring at flowers with its long proboscis like a hummingbird.

The thorax (remember it’s an insect — with a head, thorax and abdomen) is generally a golden to brownish olive above and cream or yellowish below. The abdomen is so dark burgundy that it often appears black much like the throat of a male ruby-throated hummingbird. The cellophane-like wings are mostly clear with reddish borders.

There are four species of Hemaris in the Americas. They include H. thysbe, H. diffinis, H. gracilis and H. senta. Senta is a western species commonly known as the Rocky Mountain clearwing. I believe thysbe would be the most common species in Western North Carolina. Diffinis or the snowberry clearwing can easily be distinguished from thysbe by its yellow thorax and abdomen. Gracilis or the slender clearwing is a pretty rare moth in the East. It can be distinguished from thysbe by its chestnut bands or streaks on the sides of the thorax.

Some of the primary host plants for the genus Hemaris include honeysuckle, hawthorns, cherries, plums and snowberry. Hemaris caterpillars pupate in cocoons that are spun on the ground.

The hummingbird clearwing in Western North Carolina probably hatches two broods, one between March and June and one between August and October. In the northern part of their range, Hemaris moths generally produce one brood sometime between April and August. In Louisiana and other southern states the hummingbird clearwing may produce as many as six broods.

Besides phlox, adult hummingbird clearwings will nectar at various asters, bee balm, vetch, blueberry, thistle and butterfly bush.

If you have butterflies and hummingbirds in your yard or flower garden, be sure to keep an eye out for these small imposters.


Are you a fledgling birder? Would you like to learn more about the feathered flocks that visit your feeder and grace your yard?

Join Simon Thompson at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at 8:15 a.m. for a very informative and personal “Introduction to Bird Watching.” The two-hour program costs $15 for Arboretum members and $19 for non-members. You may register online at or by phone at 828.665.2492.

Thompson is one of the foremost birding experts in the Carolinas and has gained national and international recognition through his Ventures Birding Tours. He is also co-owner of Asheville’s Wild Birds Unlimited. To learn more about Thompson and Ventures and Wild Birds Unlimited go to or drop by Wild Birds Unlimited at 1997 Hendersonville Road in Asheville.

Thompson brings his same enthusiasm for birding and joy of sharing whether he is pointing out a cinnamon-breasted warbler on the Cape of South Africa to someone with 600 species on his life-list or explaining the difference between a song sparrow and a chipping sparrow to a beginner on the grounds of the North Carolina Arboretum.

Thompson emphasized that the program is geared for beginners and said it would begin with a walk around Arboretum grounds. “We’ll walk around the grounds where we’ll likely see chipping sparrows, bluebirds and robins,” he said, “but, of course, we’ll keep our eyes open for whatever we might find.”

He said emphasis would be put on shape, size, habits and habitat. “But we’ll also listen,” Thompson said, to see if participants can learn about songs and calls.

According to Thompson the second part of the workshop would be inside and would be a little more formal. Thompson will delve into the world of optics and field guides discussing the pros and cons of the myriad of choices and helping workshop participants learn how to choose which products are best suited to their needs.

This program is a great place to start if you are a novice birder interested in getting a good start on techniques and equipment that will make it easier for you to get a grasp on this truly accessible and thoroughly enjoyable hobby of bird watching. I have often seen beginning birders go home crestfallen from a “bird walk” or “birding program” where the majority of participants were accomplished birders and no one had the time to stop and point out the robin or towhee that was singing.

You don’t walk out on a golf course for the first time and shoot a 75. You don’t walk out into your backyard for the first time and know all the species of birds that can be seen or heard. You have to learn. You have to learn technique and you have to learn skill and you need the proper equipment.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


They not only stare at them, they eat them. Well, maybe not all trees, but woody browse in general. Hopefully, this penchant for woody invasives like Canada blackberry will make goats the perfect organic weed-whacker for protecting the grassy balds of the Roan Highlands.

The Baa-tany Project is a volunteer-based project operating under a special use permit with the USDA Forest Service. The idea is to use goats — in this case angora goats — to help restore the grassy balds of Roan. The project covers about 79 acres between Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge. Partners for the project include USDA Forest Service, East Tennessee State University, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Friends of Roan Mountain, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Tennessee Division of Natural Areas, Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club, Wake Forest University, The Nature Conservancy and Appalachian State University.

The origin of these balds, like many across the Southern Appalachians, remains a mystery. We know they were here to greet the first Europeans. John Fraser wrote about them in 1787 and Asa Gray, for whom the imperiled Gray’s lily is named, called them, in 1841, “the most beautiful east of the Rockies.” Besides Gray’s lily, there are at least 26 other species listed by the Federal government as, proposed, endangered, threatened or sensitive.

Some scientists believe the balds are remnants of ancient grasslands that evolved during the Pleistocene (from 1.6 million to 10,000 years ago) and perpetuated by the natural conditions of the southern highlands.

Others suggest that large herbivores like woolly mammoths may have helped create and sustain the balds, and that their successors including bison and elk helped maintain the balds. Some researchers believe Native Americans may have burned the high peaks regularly, thinning and altering the soil so that trees could not grow. Others believe the balds are simply the natural evolutionary results of the physical environmental (climatic and edaphic factors) processes of the southern highlands.

Whatever their origin, there is no doubt that balds have become an integral part of the environmental and cultural fabric of the Southern Appalachians. The Baa-tany Project marshaled and herded by Jamey Donaldson, botanist, consultant and adjunct curator of the John C. Warren Herbarium at East Tennessee State University, is a unique experiment integrating and involving the human psyche (through the herder and his goats) in a healing restorative process that may say as much about the environmental struggles of the human condition as it does about the environmental challenges of the high grasslands.

To find out more about the Baa-tany Project go to goat%20project/goat%20project.html. And if you hurry, you may even be able to join the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy for a goat-viewing hike on Roan Mountain. Today is the last day to RSVP — so call 828.253.0095, ext. 205 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The girls love to surprise Mom with bouquets of wildflowers. The other day they came in with a handful of one of my favorites, bee balm. Monarda didyma, bee balm or Oswego tea, is a striking perennial wildflower common across much of the eastern U.S.

It is in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It exhibits the common mint characteristics of square stem and opposite leaves. It grows to three feet tall where it is topped by a rich red, round flowering head. The head or cyme may be up to four inches across composed of several tubular flowers arrayed in a circle.

Bee balm likes moist soil and is pretty shade tolerant. It is often found along wooded stream banks in Western North Carolina but also makes its way to road shoulders (especially the Blue Ridge Parkway) and the edges of openings and spoil areas.

I asked Izzy to show me where she got her bee balm and she led me down a dim path in the woods along the little stream that borders our yard. Bee balm, like all mints, spreads by rhizomes and often forms small colonies.

After a hundred yards or so down the trail, Izzy stopped. “It’s around here somewhere,” she said, “just look for the flowers.” And sure enough, about 20 or 30 yards ahead of us a couple of dozen scarlet inflorescences glowed from the shadowy forest.

While bee balm is shade tolerant, it also thrives in full sun and has many landscape applications. It blooms from late June through August and makes a great perennial border and/or adds color to any wildflower garden. It also attracts pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies and bees and can be a colorful and useful addition in your vegetable garden.

Bee balm, like most colony forming plants, will, over time, begin to thin in the center. You can avoid this and keep your colony dense and beautiful by dividing the roots every two to three years. This is best done in fall or early spring. Dig up the rootstock and remove the older inner section, then replant the divisions a foot or so apart. Bee balm may be grown from seeds or rootstock.

Native Americans used bee balm for a variety of ailments like headache, fever, digestive problems and oral care. The antiseptic thymol, which is widely used in a variety of mouthwashes, occurs naturally in bee balm.

Before the colonists dumped King George’s tea in the Boston Harbor, the Oswego Indians were enjoying beverages brewed from Monarda didyma. The sudden shortage of tea led the colonists to embrace this beverage and thus Monarda didyma became Oswego or “liberty” tea. The name bee balm comes from the use of the crushed leaves of the plant to relieve the pain of bee stings.

Bee balm should be blooming now along the Parkway. It is generally quite prevalent around the Waynesville Overlook and in the vicinity of Big Witch Gap.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


We were in Rock Hill, S.C., this past weekend enjoying our annual Fourth of July ritual of visiting my little sister. She has horses and a pool, and if we went anywhere else for the Fourth, we would probably have to divorce our kids. We had some free time mid-morning Saturday — ever notice how families without young children forget that 7 o’clock comes twice in the same day?

We were cruising downtown Rock Hill where they were setting up for their annual Red White & Boom! celebration when I noticed signs for Glencairn Gardens. With time to kill and anxiety building in little bodies, I decided to check the gardens out. We followed the signs and found a small shaded parking area where a few concrete steps served as a portal to another world. Concrete paths wound and looped their way past flowers, shrubs and trees; past ponds, tiered fountains and other water features all under the canopy of large pines, oaks and other hardwoods while sunshine splashed down bright and hot in manicured openings.

Youthful anxieties were quickly transformed into boundless energy as young legs bounded up and down paths, stopping to check out fountains and ponds and shaded nooks and crannies. Adult stresses faded as elephant ears and pickerelweed took me back to hot Louisiana summers, and Denise took mental snapshots of striking ferns and other plants to see how and where they might fit in our yard.

While it is hard to quantify, there is little doubt that physical environment, precipitated by green spaces such as Glencairn, aid the human psyche in shedding anxieties and stresses, reinvigorating our senses and mental faculties, enhancing our well-being and strengthening our sense of place.

When we entered Glencairn, we walked into a space that was clearly 6 to 8 degrees cooler than the heat that was building along the asphalt and concrete of downtown. The air was fresher — green plants are amazing air purifiers — and there was even a calming noise reduction from the nearby thoroughfares. Some environmental benefits of urban green spaces include, enhanced public health, wildlife sanctuary, pollution mitigation, storm runoff reduction, environmental education and community building.

We are sure happy that Rock Hill town fathers, back in 1928, saw the value of Dr. David and Hazel Bigger’s backyard garden when it was bequeathed to them, and that current town officials have had the foresight to enlarge (to 11 acres) and enhance this community garden and green space.

If you’re ever in Rock Hill and find your spirits in need of a lift or your mind and body in need of some naturetherapy, be sure and check out Glencairn Gardens. They’re located near downtown at 725 Crest St. You can get information regarding the garden by visiting or by calling 803.329.5620.

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.