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Reed Bingham State Park Upland Loop Trail

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Reed Bingham State Park

Upland Loop Trail

The first marker is on the northwest side of the Upland Loop, just past the trail shelter. From the stone gate, take the first left onto the Upland Loop. Turn right at the junction with the Little River Trail. Continue straight on the Upland Loop past the junction with the Turkey Oak Trail to the right.
This trail has GREEN markers.

[1] Introduction

This 0.9 mile-long trail contrasts two natural communities. This first half of the marked trail follows the edge of a river swamp, the dense forest to your left. The second half crosses an upland pine woodland, a more open forest regrowing on old farm fields.

Common Birds

Warblers: Pine, Parula

Songbirds: Towhee, Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Vireos, Thrushes, Thrasher

Soaring Birds: Turkey Vulture, Red-Shouldered Hawk

[2] Forest Structure

The river swamp has several levels. A high canopy layer forms the “roof”, composed of oaks and other hardwoods. There is a midstory of small trees, a shrub layer and a ground layer. With so many layers, little light reaches the forest floor unless there is a in the gap.

 The tall trees arching over the trail are Laurel Oaks (Quercus laurifolia). The long-elliptic leaves are 1 to 5 ½ inches long. A few leaves on each tree are diamond-shaped.

Another tall tree is the water oak (Quercus nigra), with leaves that are wider toward the tip. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandi-flora)) has large elliptic leaves with dark glossy green topsides and rusty undersides.

[3] Deerberry

A common midstory shrub is deerberry, (Vaccinium staminium). It has oval leaves 1 - 3 inches long on zig-zag twigs. The white bell-shaped flowers produce a purplish-black berry in mid to late summer.

[4] American Olive

The spindly tree 20 feet behind this marker is American olive (Osman-thus americanus). It has dark green, opposite pointed leaves. Tiny white flowers in the spring produce olive-like fruits.

[5] Hydrology

The Little River floodplain is the flat area at the bottom of the slope. You might see standing water during high river flow. Deposited sediments create a flat bottomland. In addition to river flooding, seepage from the uplands nourishes the vegetation. Rain percolates through the sandy upland soil and seeps out along the small scarp. Notice the sharp-pointed Saw Palmettos (Serenoa repens) are only growing mid-slope, indicating wetter soil conditions.

[6] Horse-sugar

These tall shrubs are horse-sugar

(Symplocos tinctoria). Its alternate, simple leaves have a few small teeth. Its common name comes from its sweet-tasting leaves that are eagerly eaten by livestock, deer, and other browsing animals. It has round yellow flowers in the spring.

[7] Light Opening

This fallen giant has created a gap in the canopy, so that sunlight reaches the forest floor. The light opening allows wildflowers and grasses to grow in the ground layer. Young trees and shrubs are sprouting, competing with each other for the available light. Vines hitch a ride, growing in the crowns of the young trees as they strain towards the light. Eventually a few winning trees will fill in the canopy, and the light opening will disappear. At any time a storm can create another canopy gap, starting the process of succession all over again. Meanwhile, the decomposing log provides nutrients to the soil.

[8] Grape and Greenbriar Vines

The vine with the shreddy bark is muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia). It has round leaves with coarse teeth. There are many small grape vines in the ground layer, seeking trees to climb.
 To the right of the Grape is another vine, coral greenbriar (Smilax walteri). It has oval green leaves, slightly wider toward the base. There are sharp thorns along the stems. Vines use trees for support as they scramble up to light in the canopy.

[9] Black Gum

The black gum tree has oval leaves 4-5 inches long, tapering to a sharp tip. The leaves turn a brilliant red in the fall. Dark blue oval fruits mature in the fall, and are eaten by birds and other wildlife.

[10] Swamp Bay

A swamp bay (Persea palustris) sapling is growing just beyond this marker. It is a common tree in the river swamp. Its elliptical evergreen leaves are 2-8 inches long, with light hairs on the undersides. The leaves are faintly aromatic.

[11] Transition

The trail past this point leaves the floodplain. From this small bluff you can see typical features of a river swamp. There is a tall canopy of oaks and pines, numerous mid-story trees, thick vines and luxurious shrubs. As the trail ascends to the upland pine woodland, notice the transition to a more open canopy, sandy soil and drier conditions. There are few hardwoods and midstory trees.

Just before the junction, the trail passes through a thick stand of river cane (Arundinaria gigantea), a native grass somewhat resembling bamboo.

Keep right at the trail junction.

[12] Succession and Fire

This open woodland used to be a farm field. Pines are the first sizeable trees to regrow in disturbed areas, so are called pioneer species. Most of these pines are Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), with clusters of three needles 10-15 inches long. The reddish-brown bark is fire resistant.
This upland pine woodland is maintained by frequent, low intensity fires. Natural fires were started by lightning, and mostly occurred between May and July, the peak thunderstorm season. Today, fires set by managers (called prescribed fires) reduce the threat of large destructive wildfires. This area was burned several years ago. Fire releases nutrients into the soil, and the understory quickly recovers.

[13] Wire Grass

Wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) is a perennial grass forming graceful tufts or clumps 1½ to 3 feet tall. Its flowers have 3 distinctive awns or bristles about ½ inch long. Its thin leaves support low-intensity fire that eliminates competing grass and shrubs. Wiregrass will only flower after its habitat has been burned.
 There is an old gopher tortoise burrow about 30 feet beyond this marker. The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphe-mus) is the only tortoise found east of the Mississippi River. Each burrow, which might be 15 feet long, has a single opening and the width of the burrow is approximately equal to the length of the tortoise. Therefore, the tortoise is able to turn around at any point within the burrow. Gophers require well-drained sandy soils, abundant low-growing food plants, an open tree canopy and a sparse shrub canopy. They may share their burrows with other animals such as snakes, spiders, frogs, mice and lizards. The gopher tortoise is Georgia’s state reptile.

[14] Turkey Oak

The tall tree is a turkey oak (Quercus laevis). Its thick, veined leaves are about five inches long, and deeply divided into three or five lobes. The Turkey Oak can tolerate dry conditions on the sandy uplands.

[15] Gopher Apple

The gopher apple (Licania michauxii) is a common ground plant in the pine woodland, which tends to grow in colonies. Look for a small plant about 6 inches high with elongated glossy leaves about 4 inches long (appearing similar to an oak sapling). As its name suggests, its egg-shaped fruits are relished by gopher tortoises when they ripen in the fall.

[16] Yellow Jessamine

Yellow jessamine (Gelsemium semper-virens) is a common vine scrambling up trees and shrubs. Its fragrant yellow blossoms are a delight in early spring. The paired evergreen leaves are 1 to 3 inches long, and pointed at the tips.

[17] Rusty Lyonia and Pinxter Azalea

 The rusty lyonia (Lyonia ferruginea) is a common woodland shrub. It has alternate, leathery evergreen leaves that are pointed at the tip. The young leaves have rusty-colored scales.
The shrubs behind the rusty lyonia are pinxter azalea (Rhododendron canescens). It has clusters of light green elliptic leaves with a tiny tooth at the end. Its showy, fragrant pink flowers appear at the branch tips in early spring. The native azalea is the state wildflower of Georgia.

[18] Gallberry

A very common woodland shrub is gallberry (Ilex glabra), which is a type of holly. It has light green elliptical leaves with two small teeth near the tip. In the fall it has black round berries. Pioneers used them to dye homespun cloth.

[19] Summary

While walking along this section of the Upland Loop Trail you have traversed two quite different natural communities. The first half of the marked trail skirted a river swamp, with tall canopy trees, and dense midstory, vines and shrubs. Wetter conditions result in more luxuriant vegetation. The last half of the trail crossed an upland pine woodland that was more open, hotter and drier. Longleaf pine and wiregrass form a successional community from when this area was a farm field. Without fire, the pines would be replaced by a dense hardwood forest, similar to the one just ahead of you on the trail.

Continue straight to follow the rest of the Upland Loop back to the parking lot. OR Turn right at the trail junction to follow the Turkey Oak trail back to the parking lot.

Please recycle this leaflet in the box near the stone gates.

Developed by naturalist Carol Schneier 4/07

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