When you do one of those 5,000 foot climbs in the Smoky Mountains, you see clear changes in the vegetation. The spruce-fir forest is only at the top. While we hiked the CT, I was interested in what changes in the plant life we would see as we climbed the Crab Orchard and Cumberland Mountains. We were at most reaching elevations a bit above 3,000 ft. rather than 6,000 ft. in the Smokies.
The effect of elevation on plant life along the CT is confounded with latitude change. As we progressed northward on the CT, the growing conditions for the plants were likely affected both by being further north and at times by higher elevation. This means that when we discuss plants that like cooler temperatures, not all the coolness is based on elevation. Some of it is latitude.
Generally to the south the ridge tops or other high points have drier growing conditions than lower areas. At the higher elevations (above 2000 ft.), which are all to the north, the high areas are often surprisingly moist. I believe this is caused by lower evaporation due to cooler temperatures and perhaps also more rain and/or fog on the mountain tops.
The table below gives some plants which might be more common at higher elevation on the Cumberland Plateau, Crab Orchard Mountains and Cumberland Mountains. This is very preliminary, and your input is requested.
|Common name||Scientific name||Form||UT Atlas Cumberland Counties||Comments|
|Wild Sarsaparilla||Aralia nudicaulis||herb||none||Should be searched for Particularly in Frozen head. Pounds has a vague memory of it there.|
|Black birch||Betula lenta||tree||many||All along the CT but more common with higher elevation|
|Yellow birch||Betula alleghaniensis||tree||many||Strangely not noted during our 2012 CT hike.|
|Pitch Pine||Pinus rigida||tree||Hawkins, Anderson, Campbell||Cumberland Gap area on ridge top|
|Striped maple||Acer pensylanicum||shrub||many||All along the CT , surprisingly not particularly more common with elevation|
|Mountain maple||Acer spicatum||shrub||Anderson, Claiborne, Warren, Grundy, Van Buren||Not seen during CT hike but should be a good indicator of elevation|
|Catawba rhododendron||Rhododendron catawbiense||shrub||many||Surprisingly only seen in the southern, low elevation section of CT|
|Buffalo nut||Pyrularia pubera||shrub||many|
|Interrupted fern||Osmunda claytoniana||fern||Many||Seen twice along the CT. Black Mountain and above Caryville but also seen at low elevation along Daddy’s Creek|
|Bead lily||Clintonia umbellulata||herb||5 counties|
|bunchflower||Melanthium woodii or M. parviflorum||herb||Campbell, Grundy||I am unable to separate these two vegetatively Scattered at low and high elevations|
|Leatherleaf meadowrue||Thalictrum coriaceum||herb||Claiborne, Cumberland, Morgan||All sites seen were near the tops of mountains|
|Showy Gentian||Gentiana decora||herb||Cumberland||Seen on the CT on Big Bruce Ridge in Campbell Co. not vouchered|
|American Lily-of-the-valley||Convallaria montana||herb||many||Brady Mountian and Cumberland Mountain|
|Filmy Angelica||Angelica triquinata||herb||0||In Frozenhead but apparently not vouchered|
|Veiny Pea||Lathyrus venosa||herb||Hamilton, Rhea||Also in Frozenhead. Morgan Co. not vouchered|
|Starflower||Trientalis borealis||herb||Not vouchered||One 3,000 ft. location in Frozen Head (not on the CT)|