by Paul Harwood
The north facing sandstone talus slopes of Pakatakan Mountain in the Dry Brook Ridge Wild Forest of the Catskill Mountains was the venue for a joint field trip between the Olive Natural Heritage Society and the Torrey Botanical Society on May 12, 2012. Nine participants met at the parking lot in the town of Margaretville. The town is still recovering from the damage Hurricane Irene caused last year and the subsequent flooding after the East Branch of the Delaware breached its banks and inundated the downtown area.
Pakatakan Mountain was a good choice for the trip as Adoxa moshetallina or muskroot has been historically collected there and a small population has been monitored by the New York Natural Heritage Program. The last survey in 2008 found a few hundred plants. We found three closely located, but separate clumps but unfortunately did not have time to do an accurate plant count. The Catskills (specifically Delaware and Greene Counties) is the only site in the eastern US where A. moshetallina, a relict species of the ice age, occurs. The nearest population is over 800 miles away so it is a botanical anomaly. It is thought that it prefers the cool updrafts caused by ice in the crevices of the talus slopes, much like another relict species, Aconitum noveboracense. A. noveboracense or northern monkshood is another species that only occurs in the Catskills in NY State.
But Pakatakan’s slightly sweet soil of pH 5.0-5.6 (Brooks, 1960) is home to another rare species Uvularia grandiflora Sm., largeflower bellwort. It has been found on Pakatakan historically and only last year, Morton (Sam) Adams and Steve Parisio, members of the Olive Natural Heritage Society, had sighted it there. Unfortunately, the unusually temperate winter and spring this year precipitated an early bloom so we probably missed the flowering and therefore were unable to locate it. Asplenium rhizophyllum had also been sighted and collected here but we were also unable to locate it, perhaps because it usually leafs out later in the season.
Large stands of Caulophyllum giganteum, Sanguinaria canadensis and Hepatica nobilis var. acuta were very much in evidence. Violets, Viola labradorica, Viola pubescens, Viola rostrata, Viola macloskeyi, festooned the slopes with their colorful display and large populations of Mitella diphylla and Tiarella cordifolia were also a sight to behold. Other notable plants that were sighted were Botrychium virginianum, Asplenium trichomanes and Carex sprengelii.
A complete list of species sighted can be found here.