Idyllic – that’s the only way to describe the ancient forests that have flourished in our mountains for eons. Though they occupy such a small portion of the landmass of South Carolina, our humid gorges and sheltered coves hold a disproportionately large number of our rare species and have been a refuge of life through change for millennia. The cove forests of the southern Appalachians harbor more species of trees than all of northern Europe and over 4,000 species of vascular plants. This makes our backyard a biodiversity hotspot. Our hills, the southern Blue Ridge escarpment, host more species of Trillium, Wild Ginger and Salamanders than any other similar-sized patch of ground. These forests are home to tropical ferns found growing beneath Yellow Birch, more typical of Canada. The humid gorges, high rainfall, diverse geology and elevation range create the magic to make such combinations possible.
Stroll through a piece of Jocassee Valley that was transported to the South Carolina Botanical Garden, from what is now Lake Jocassee, back in the 1960s and discover for yourself what André Michaux found there nearly 250 years ago – the legendary Oconee Bell. Or stroll further through the vibrant colors of a cove brimming with trillium and other spring wildflowers growing in rich, neutral soils such as we find in Eastatoe Valley. The collection of plants found here will be the finest exhibit of its kind, a laboratory for research, an outdoor classroom, and an inspiring nook for all to enjoy.
The coastal river bluffs forest ecosystem serves as a connection of sorts between the Appalachian mountains and the Florida panhandle, with climate change and rivers allowing for the spread of mountainous vegetation to the Sunshine State. One of the many forests along the Natural Heritage Garden trail, the Coastal Rivers Bluff Forest is especially unique.
One cove forest in particular is the rich cove forest, which boasts an impressive array of trees and wildlowers.
Those aforementioned wildflowers are on full display in the Woodland Wildflower Garden in the Cove Forest section of the Natural Heritage Garden, which is teeming with native wildlowers, ferns and shrubs.
High in organic matter, yet limited in terms of nutrients, the acidic cove forest is a hotbed for evergreen diversity.
The Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment is a haven of floral diversity, and it is on full display in the cove forest section of the Natural Heritage Garden.
Like acidic cove forests, mountain bogs are rich in organic matter but poor in nutrients. However, their moist soils support a bevy of fascinating plant life.
Found by a man who didn't name it and named for a man who never saw it by a man who couldn't find it, Oconee Bells dots the streambanks in the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment.
There are some great birding stops along the Natural Heritage Garden trail, particularly in the cove forest section. From kinglets to hawks to woodpeckers, the cove forest is thriving with diverse bird life.