A Natural History of Cranberry Glades, West Virginia

Eric F. Pauley

Flora and Fauna

Vaccinium macrocarpon (large-fruited cranberry) Eriophorum virginicum (cottongrass) Ursus americanus (black bear)

Because cold air drains off the surrounding mountainsides and collects in this natural topographic "bowl," the local climate is noticeably cooler than might be expected at both this latitude and elevation. These cool conditions have favored the persistence of northern plant species over the last 10,000 years of post-glacial warming. Numerous species found here have their main geographic distribution much further north. For example, Vaccinium macrocarpon (the large-fruited cranberry) and Vaccinium oxycoccos (the small-fruited cranberry) are primarily northern species but are common and are in fact the namesake of Cranberry Glades.

Several species are at or near their southernmost limits here:

In addition to rare plants, the Glades and its surrounding area also support numerous species of wildlife: white-tailed deer, black bear, beaver, red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), raccoon, turkey, ruffed grouse, and a wide variety of songbirds. The area is popular for trout fishing as well. Wetlands support numerous amphibians, including salamanders, newts, and frogs. Perhaps because of the cool climate, only a few reptiles are typically found (mostly small snakes and one turtle). The venomous timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) has been found in the area, but it is quite rare. See and hear a few of the common reptiles and amphibians of the area.

In recent years, coyotes (Canis latrans) have become more apparent in the Glades valley. They can often be heard howling and yelping at night, traveling in small groups through the forest. To some degree, coyotes are believed to exert a controlling influence on deer populations.

Irritating insects, ticks, and other arthropods are not a serious problem, except in the summer months when deer flies (Chrysops spp.) can be rather numerous and quite annoying. (Wear a broad-brimmed hat and loose-fitting long sleeves.) Mosquitoes and "no-see-ums" (Ceratopogonid midges) are usually a minor problem in warm weather. Ticks are very rare, so a foray into dense vegetation is not a significant hazard. "Chiggers" or "red bugs" (larvae of Trombiculid mites) appear to be almost absent.

The most notable feature of the region is the heavy forest cover. Most of the vegetation is second-growth hardwood forest that regenerated naturally after major logging operations in the early 1900s. Common tree species here include:

Picea rubens (red spruce) is a major species in some high-elevation areas and in the Glades themselves. Swampy areas are commonly occupied by the tall shrubs Salix spp. (willow) and Alnus incana ssp. rugosa (speckled alder; also called A. rugosa). Open fields are frequently covered by chest-high stands of Solidago spp. (goldenrod) and surrounded by thorny Crataegus spp. (hawthorne). Impenetrable stands of Rhododendron maximum (great laurel) sometimes occur in swampy areas and on lower slopes.

Several broad types of vegetation occur within the valley enclosing Cranberry Glades. To a large degree, the plant life here is typical of the central and northern Appalachian highlands, but in some ways the area is unique. Cranberry Glades includes some of the largest and best preserved mountain wetland habitats in West Virginia, and it supports a large number of plant and animal species that are normally not found this far south.

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