From the parking lot, we looked out on the windblown landscape of Grayson Highlands State Park. We saw huge rock outcrops surrounded by beautiful meadows and balds. On the hill directly in front of us, scattered Red Spruce and Highbush Blueberry grew, fading into the mountains behind them.
All around us, breeding birds with northern affinities sang, Black-Throated Green Warbler, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Dark eyed Junco, and Black-capped Chickadee. We were here to visit Sullivan Swamp, one of only thirty known Appalachian Shrub Bogs in the world. Upon entering the small valley of Sullivan Swamp, my feet started to sink into the marshy ground. Huge, furry fronds of Cinnamon Fern, just beginning to unfurl, grew on the tufts of earth that rose a few inches above the surface of the bog. We walked through thick matts of green and red Sphagnum moss, trying not to think about all the plants we were stepping on. Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) and Northern White Violet (Viola macloskeyi) grew everywhere in the sphagnum mat. I photographed a patch of Thymeleaf Bluet (a different species than the bluet common in the piedmont, (Houstonia cerulea)) growing on some rocks.
The weather was gray and rainy, perhaps the reason none of Sullivan Swamp’s famous butterflies were out, but we did find a new species of plant for the location, Pink Lady Slipper.
Growing on the higher, drier ground off to one side of the bog, underneath a thick layer of Rhododendron, were a few Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum).
It was a beautiful place with rare and interesting plants, but I think that later in the summer when more things are blooming and more butterflies and Odonates are flying would be a better time to visit this fantastic ecosystem.
See the Blue Ridge Discovery Center blog here and here for more information on Sullivan Swamp.