Blue Ridge Parkway Grassy Balds

Unlike Heath Balds which are dominated by shrubs (mostly of the Rhododendron family), Grassy Balds are devoid of woody plants and consist of various grass and sedge species. Located on high mountain summits, Grassy Balds are unique to the Southern Appalachians. Because of their uniqueness, along with limited acreage, Grassy Balds are considered Globally Rare by The Nature Conservancy. Several rare plant species, including Gray's Lily (Lilium grayi), can be found in Grassy balds. There are numerous theories on the origins of Grassy Balds, a subject which remains controversial and which will probably never be resolved. Equally contentious among scientists is what mechanism(s) maintained these balds, preventing them from converting into forests. Grassy Balds that are not managed will quickly be overtaken by blackberry and other woody species. It has been suggested that native large mammals, such as bison and elk, were responsible for maintaining these balds; later early settlers grazed the same sites with domesticated livestock. It has also been suggested that fire can play a critical role in the maintenance of Grassy Balds. The Craggy Mountains are one of the most significant natural resource sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The single largest occurrence of Grassy Bald habitat occurs at Craggy Flats. Currently, this site is facing rapid encroachment by blackberry, hawthorn, and blueberry. It is estimated that less than 2% of the original bald remains free of woody shrubs. Rare species known to occur primarily in Grassy Balds are present suggesting that this bald is by all accounts natural and not man-made. Historic photos will aid in determining the original size of the Grassy Bald and with proper management this bald will keep the bald from succeeding to forest vegetation.

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