Plant Species in Oaky Woods

by Ed McDowell

Georgia Aster, a protected plant, is common in Oaky Woods.
The area known as the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area (formerly owned by Weyerhaeuser Company) and located in south Houston County on the west side of the Ocmulgee River comprises about 20,000+ acres of pristine woodlands and prairies. The diverse physiographic areas within Oaky Woods contain not only remnant blackland prairies but upland forests, creek bottomland, and bog/swamp areas near the Ocmulgee River. Within these areas many diverse plant populations thrive, especially in or near the six major prairies, along with eight rare species, one candidate for federal listing, and one federally endangered species.

Significant Plants

1) The federally endangered Fringed Campion (Silene polypetala) is present as a small population on one site and one adjacent site. This represents the southernmost site for this plant in the Ocmulgee watershed and is of genetic significance as these populations differ from those in the Flint River and Apalachicola River ravines.

2) The bottomland along Big Grocery Creek contain disjunct Appalachian flora such as American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Trillium decumbens and evidence of American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) old trunks.

Oaky Woods WMA has a vast variety of wild flowers, including these prairie cone flowers that grow in the rare black prairie areas.
3) Several rare plants, including 6 state records, have been discovered in the blackland prairie habitat. Three-flowered Hawthorn (Crataegus triflora), thrives in sensitive transition zones between prairie grasslands and forested areas. Other rarities include the Dakota Vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida), Umbrella Sedge (Cyperus acuminatus), Heartleaf Noseburn (Tragia cordata), Limestone Bedstraw (Galium virgatum), Drummond's Skullcap (Scutellaria drummondii), Orange Shrub Lichen (Teloschistes exilis), Georgia Aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum), and a state record, tiny mustard of blackland prairies known as Wedgeleaf Whitlow-grass (Draba cuneifolia).

4) Several hardwood forests contain outstanding examples of herbaceous "high pH" (calcareous soils) plants, such as the Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor), Yellow Climbing Milkvine (Matelea flavidula), Chapman's Wild Parsnip (Thaspium chapmanii), Underwood's Trillium (Trillium underwoodii), Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia), Early Meadowrue (Thalictrum dioicum), Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata), Cut-leaf Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata), and Lanceleaf Trillium (trillium lancifolium).

5) The hardwood forests contain an unusually rich mix of the Oak (Quercus) genus to include the following species: Black (velutina), Blackjack (marilandica), Cherrybark (pagoda), Chinquapin (muehlenbergii), Durand (sinuata), Laurel (laurafolia), Northern Red (rubra), Post (stellata), Southern Red (falcata), Water (nigra), White (alba), and Willow (phellos). Bottomlands along Big Grocery Creek upstream from Perimeter Road bridge contain state champion size Durand Oaks (Quercus sinuata). The presence of Durand Oaks makes Oaky Woods unique in Georgia. This presence defines a significant coastal plain hardwood forest ecosystem not recognized until recently for the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Soils, geology, and the large remaining intact block of hardwoods, serving as a seed source, contribute to the ecological importance of these forests. Further fragmentation would be detrimental.