In 1892, John Kunkel Small came upon an unknown plant growing in a shale barren on West Virginia’s Kate’s Mountain. With clover-like leaves and white, round flower heads, the plant came to be known as Kate’s Mountain clover, not only because it was discovered here, but also for many years remained the only place it was found.
Fifteen years prior to Small’s explorations, Gustav Guttenberg reported discovering the white-haired clematis. In 1903, Kenneth M. Mackenzie found the tiny mountain pimpernel.
For many years, each of these plants was believed to exist only on Kate’s Mountain. It is now known that they are endemic to shale barrens in several Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. Yet, they grow in such small numbers that they are certainly not common plants and, in fact, Kate’s Mountain Clover is listed as rare, threatened, or endangered in every state in which it is found.
Southwest of White Sulphur Springs, much of Kate’s Mountain is within Greenbrier State Forest, which has a campground, cabins, picnic areas, and a swimming pool. Almost all of the development is located in a narrow valley, leaving the rest of the 5,130 acres with a good feeling of isolation. All of the park’s pathways are well-marked and signed at intersections, but most of them are not for those who are out of shape. The steep ascents and descents cover more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Yet, there are compelling reasons to hike here. Botanists list fifteen species of plants that are confined to shale barrens, and fourteen of them grow upon Kate’s Mountain. Deer, opossum, raccoon, chipmunk, black bear, squirrel, woodpeckers, turkey, grouse, quail, and close to 250 other species of birds have been seen here. In addition, there is a spectacular view that more than makes up for the huffing and puffing.
If you feel you may miss or have trouble identifying the various species of Kate’s Mountain’s plants, consider visiting when volunteers and state forest personnel conduct the annual Show-Me Wildflower Hike on April 29-30, 2011.
More information may be obtained at www.greenbriersf.com. 50 Hikes in West Virginia (www.habitualhiker.com) provides details of an 8.9-mile circuit hike taking in the best of the state forest’s highlights.