55-Hopson and MLK rezoning hearings at the planning commission tonight

Tonight (October 12th) at 5:30 the Planning Commission will hear two rezoning requests in the Northeast Creek basin, a large Industrial Light project proposed along the edge of the County around the intersection of Highway 55 and Hopson Road and apartments at the northeast corner of Fayetteville Road and Martin Luther King Jr Parkway.  I have been paying the most attention to the 55-Hopson proposal, but I did not realize its full significance until a few days ago, so this post is at the last minute.  Tonight is not the final hearing.  There are or have been some other rezoning requests along the Creek this year.  This will be an online meeting through Zoom; registration is at:

zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Az71ESRRSPumnJMjRXPEMg

More information about participating:

durhamnc.gov/4062/Participate-in-a-Virtual-Public-Hearing

The application, referenced below, is available in the agenda posted at: 

durhamnc.gov/AgendaCenter/Planning-Commission-15

See also Durham’s new supplemental Social PinPoint system:

durham.mysocialpinpoint.com/land-use/map#/sidebar/tab/about

I wrote about this and some other proposals earlier in the year at:

www.northeastcreek.org/wordpress/where-the-red-fire-pink-blows-and-other-campions-in-the-triangle/

After the Planning Commission there would be a hearing before the City Council.  Below are some comments.  

Hopson-55 rezoning 

The staff report incorrectly said this site is in the Neuse River basin, but I think this is being corrected to the Haw and ultimately Cape Fear basin.  Legal definitions must be being used at the bottom of page 4, because there are obviously plants, animals, communities, and ecosystems on the site, since it is a location on the living Earth (though after mass grading the site would like more like a tract on a lifeless celestial body).  It is very easy to not find any rare or protected species or historical relevance.   The report lists many items that might be good to have in the planning process, but then they are rendered useless by saying that they do not apply in the absence of a development plan.

There are references to extending Hopson Road west of 55 on page 32, etc.  The rezoning request only covers part of the area discussed at the community meeting, but obviously the applicant must intend to build in the entire area, looking at page 34, etc.   The clearcutting over the last 10 years from 55 to Grandale leads me to suspect that all of this land is being sold, so does the applicant have plans or know something the public doesn’t know?  It’s possible the logging was done so they could then say on page 53 that the communities discussed in the NC Natural Heritage Program reports no longer exist, and without committed elements there are no guarantees about where building would be done on the site.  The area north of the powerline was also clearcut, but they say it will not be built upon.  When was there a hearing on building a new connecting road from 55 to Grandale?  I also heard a rumor late last week that the DOT wants to enlarge Grandale.  I have since been informed that the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Comprehensive Transportation Plan calls for a “major thoroughfare” from the Hopson and 55 intersection to Grandale, but nothing is listed in the State Transportation Improvement Program from now to 2033.  The NC NHP repeatedly surveyed the public lands along Northeast Creek immediately bordering the proposed rezoning site and recommends that new utility easements not be built (Jordan Lake Inventory 1999) and that “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority” (Durham County Inventory 1995).  It seems like building a major new road would have a worse impact on the environment than new utillity easements and there is already a lot of roadkill on Grandale Road around the bridge over Northeast Creek as it is, especially in late spring/early summer.  When was or will the public given an opportunity to comment on road plans?  How much blasting would have to be done to extend Hopson, given that it currently ends at a steep slope, on one of the highest hills in the area?  Will the DOT then want to extend a road across one of the wildest parts of Northeast Creek and the Tobacco Trail to 751?  There is already a connecting route from 55 to Grandale, made harder to use when the intersection was moved north, and the area around the old claypit can be accessed from the existing road.

As I said before, the application includes very little information about what is actually planned.  At the community meeting (see page 41) they said the plan was for office-type biomedical buildings, but Industrial Light allows many applications, including recycling centers, warehouses, freight facilities, junkyards, wholesale, etc.  It is possible a junkyard would actually be more environmentally benign than office buildings, parking lots, and lawn.  Freight or recycling would probably increase roadkill and litter and have other impacts.  What would be done to limit harmful chemical releases?  Would the buildings be built where they would have maximum impact on the adjacent gamelands, and Parkwood and Audubon Park would also be impacted since they aren’t that far away? 

What about the impact on hunting?  If hunting is limited by building, there could be over-population of deer in Parkwood.  Wildlife such as turkeys, wood ducks, prothonotary warblers, beavers (a subject of concern east of Parkwood this year), and possibly otters live adjacent to this site, while further away I saw a breeding female chuck-will’s-widow or whippoorwill, and I thought such birds had been driving out of the Triangle, like bobwhites.  

Would IL zoning allow greenhouses, under research?  I live miles from TW Alexander Drive, but I am already impacted by the light pollution from large greenhouses there, along with the new blue-white streetlights installed this year.  It is less obvious, but I can probably see light pollution from the Southpoint Mall area as well.  Light pollution is very obvious when there are low clouds, such as last weekend, but it reflects off dust, etc, and muddies the sky even on clear nights, so the Milky Way, which should be easy to see is barely if at all visible.  Closer to the site buildings and parking lots would no doubt be lit all night and there would probably be light trespass from poorly shielded lights into the gameland.  If a large greenhouse were built close to Parkwood it would probably be very bright on nearby streets when it is cloudy, and during the winter, even though there is a forested buffer, as happens at the Stonesthrow Apartments, by Burdens Creek.

What about the scientific significance of the claypit?  I can’t remember the details now, but I think paleontologists at local universities have excavated significant fossils there.  I have found plant fossils elsewhere where the sedimentary bedrock has been exposed a few miles away.  The application says there are not any steep slopes or wetlands, but is this true of the entire area they want to build on, from 55 to near Grandale Road?  The aerial photos show water in the old claypit and there are marshes in places under the powerlines, while it seems likely that there would be steep slopes around the claypit and 55.   

There is a small cemetery southeast of the claypit by the road and it is likely that there are archaeological remains where ancient people could overlook the floodplain and watch for game.  There is an old road of some near 55, but I don’t know of any ruins there.    

Even though there is preserved land, development nearby could still cause local extinctions, for example if species are bothered by light, noise, or water pollution; needed the upland habitat on private land as well as the public bottomlands; if they need a larger area of forest than just what is preserved; or if they are harmed by non-native species such as cats, dogs, Norway rats, or English ivy that could come with increased human activity.  

Some but not all of the woods in this area were clearcut over the past 10 years, but young trees have since grown back and species such as deer and red-tailed hawks have probably benefitted, and bobwhites might also like such habitat. Unlike what the application says, when I would go by over 10 years ago it seemed like the claypit was surrounded by forest, though it was relatively young, and some remains.

Apparently tree planting is a significant way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as the City of Durham supposedly desires, but Durham probably has fewer trees now than it did in 1995, at least in this section (though the amount of forest is probably greater than when agriculture was more prominent in Durham).  Building a new road, instead of using what already exists, and relying on cars, would also contribute to climate change.

I’m not necessarily against building something and I actually find new construction interesting, but very little information is being offered, what would this project mean for nearby “vacant” land, and suddenly there is talk of a new connecting road and expanding Grandale. I am generally against making Grandale a major road and there is already too much roadkill and dangerous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists along Grandale and on Scott King Road, where an elementary school is planned. The speed limit is high, and people speed, coming on to the curved and narrow bridge over the Creek, at one time a one-lane wooden bridge on a long gravel road.  Increased traffic might potentially drive off the huge numbers of  turkey and black vultures that sometimes roost, though it might increase their food supply. The only benefit is that the risk of people being harassed by over-zealous neighborhood watch types and even deputies while doing legal activities might be reduced, as well as illegal dumping, though littering might increase. It might be good to have better parking by the bridge. On the other hand, given that people like or liked to joyride ATVs in the area, including on the site in question, and it borders parkland, maybe it would become Durham’s next Ellis Research Center (on the south side of Ellis Road east of 147), which has private metal signs saying “No Stopping, No Standing, No Parking” along a public road, which reflects badly on Durham and is a threat to the public.

518 Martin Luther King Jr Parkway

I am not very familiar with this site except passing by, but it is in the headwaters of Northeast Creek’s north branch and it would be good if woods were preserved, especially along the roads, the Tobacco Trail, and any streams; native plants used in landscaping; light pollution limited, etc. The woods might not be very old, but a rare pink ladyslipper orchid grew in young pinewoods where Woodcroft Parkway was extended across Fayetteville and some species prefer young or otherwise piney woods. There is already a lot of traffic at the intersection to consider and the ATT has crossings in the area. If there are steep slopes, people might throw their trash over the edge if it is made convenient and without consequences for them. It is good that the applicants say they will preserve some existing trees and include a park, though these probably aren’t binding commitments and it would be good to keep the trees along the roads. The maps show a hill on the site and it might have a good view if cleared, as did the ridge at 54 and Barbee Road, which is the watershed separating the Northeast Creek and Crooked Creek basins.  This area has also become much more densely built-up in recent years, but much of it is in the Third Fork and Crooked creek basins. 

Late summer soothsayers

In late July or early August last year I walked under a hackberry sapling in my backyard and thought, surely I won’t look up and see an arboreal rough green snake. Instead I was surprised to find a large green and brown mantis, and it was there almost every day through mid-September. The hackberry attracted a species of large, blueish-gray plant-sucking true bug, and the mantis ate those, and then cicadas, putting on weight. It stalked large dragonflies that perched on dead twigs but I never saw it catch one (it also stalked small katydids, but I’m not sure if it caught any). At night it rested, often upside down, its ‘beady’ green eyes turning black. Earlier that summer I saw a beautiful green nymph that might have been the same mantis. The adult was probably a female Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), but it could have been a narrow-winged or Japanese mantis (Tenodera augustipennis), or a praying or European mantis, which is actually only one kind (Mantis religiosa). Later I found an eggcase, resembling that of a Chinese mantis, on a low plant nearby and nymphs are around again this year. There were also Carolina mantises (Stagomantis carolina), a small, mottled gray species with bright orange markings. One spent a night just before Halloween on a red maple snag covered with morning glories vines. There are more than 2500 species, and over 11 in the USA (and introduced species might be harming native mantises). Mantises or mantids were classified with grasshoppers as orthopterans and then given their own order, Mantodea. Mantises are closest to cockroaches and termites, and they can all be grouped together as dicytopterans.

Also in the area there are much smaller but also predaceous mantisflies, which resemble a cross between a mantis and a wasp or fly, but they are neuropterans like lacewings and antlions.

Mantis comes from Greek for prophet, and mantises are charismatic creatures worldwide. Here they have been called soothsayers, rearhorses, devil-horses (god-horse in the Caribbean), praying locusts, and mulekillers, because their dark saliva was thought to be poisonous (and blinding). In the Southwest they were called campomoche and cortón, rezadora, or just mantis in Spanish. A Japanese name is kamakiri, which appears to combine sickle and “to cut,” but this is a guess about the etymology. Another name is tōrō. T. augustipennis is called Chōsen [Korea] kamakiri in Japanese while T. sinensis is ōkamakiri (presumably big mantis). Praying mantis is la mante religieuse or prie-Dieu in French and Gottesanbeterin in German. A dictionary from ancient Assyria calls them necromancer or soothsayer-grasshoppers. In ancient Egypt the bird-fly was thought to guide the dead and in ancient Greece mantids directed lost travellers. The Southern Africa trickster god !Kaggen could appear as a mantis inspiring an Afrikaans word for mantis, Hottentotsgot. Mantids were apparently more closely observed in East Asia than in Europe and inspired two Chinese martial arts. Mantises appear on ancient Greek coins and in modern monster movies. People today talk about being abducted by mantislike beings. The Carolina mantis is South Carolina’s state insect while Connecticut’s is the praying mantis. Mantises are also popular as insect pets.

This is an excerpt from my article in the July – August issue of Triangle Gardener magazine, available at many libraries, public gardens, and gardening-related stores in the Triangle and posted online at: www.trianglegardener.com

Some resources:

A key to the mantises of Florida, but useful elsewhere:

entnemdept.ufl.edu/choate/mantid_key2_03.pdf

Carolina mantises:

bugguide.net/node/view/4821

Praying mantises:

bugguide.net/node/view/22947

Chinese mantises:

bugguide.net/node/view/12409 

Narrow-winged mantises:

bugguide.net/node/view/22947

Asian jumping mantises (recently found in Virginia and north apparently):

bugguide.net/node/view/1738253

animaldiversity.org/site/accounts/information/Stagmomantis_carolina.html/ (Carolina mantis)

animaldiversity.org/accounts/Tenodera_aridifolia/ (Chinese mantis listed under an old classification or a closely related species)

“Praying mantids of the United Statesn, native and introduced,” a detailed article in the 1950 Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution:

www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/8787514#page/408/mode/1up

“Another Oriental mantis well established in the United States” in the 1933 Entomological News:

www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/20315#page/9/mode/1up

Japanese insect website with many photos:

www.insects.jp/konbunkama.htm

The remarkable “Bark Flowers”

In the early 90’s an educational website, I think associated with NOVA and on the Prodigy service, had a series of possibly tongue-in-cheek articles about the abilities of a hypothetical pet slime mold, so I wanted to find one of these strange creatures. Several years later first saw one, on an old stump in deep shade along Crooked Creek near what is now Southpoint Mall. More recently in late May one year I saw some on shredded wood or bark mulch in front of the Raleigh Convention Center, in a very built-up area of downtown Raleigh. This mulch, and possibly old pine logs, seem to be favored habitats. I usually see them around now, when it is warm but still moist. There was enough rain last summer that I found some later than usual and for the first time in my yard. All of these might have been bright yellow scrambled-egg slimes (Fuligo septica), once called bark flowers and unusual in extreme bioaccumulation of zinc, used in a pigment. The many-headed slime (Physarum polycephalum) is a stereotypical slime mold popular in research. I might have seen light red wolf’s-milk or wood-loving slimes (Lycogala epidendrum) on a pine log at Falls Lake State Recreation Area. I’m not sure if I saw a fungus or chocolate tube slime, also called pipecleaner or deep-brown slime (Stemonitis splendens) and others, on pine logs at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area. There are hundreds of species in North America but there might be around 50 in a given region, many described in the Audubon mushroom guide. Diversity is highest in temperate areas, and slimes can live in the treetops, snow, underwater, and even in deserts. They are no longer consider fungi and don’t seem particularly slimey. Despite their sometimes loud colors, slimes are usually inconspicuous organisms, but still have cultural connections to humans and other ecological connections. A plasmodial slime mold is basically a giant cell, without nerves or muscles, but since the 90’s their mental abilities have been uncovered and they get mentioned in surprising places, from geography to astronomy.

The rest of this article is in the May-June issue of Triangle Gardener magazine, distributed at Durham County libraries, which I think are reopening now, and at other locations, and it is available online at www.trianglegardener.com

Where the red fire pink blows and other campions in the Triangle

Fire pinks seem to be very rare wildflowers in and around the Northeast Creek basin and possibly throughout the Triangle. I have only come across these bright red flowers with five deeply notched “pink” type petals at two locations in southern Durham County, on the edge of RTP. Fire pinks were the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s 2015 Wildflower of the Year, and free seeds were offered at the time ( ncbg.unc.edu/plants/nc-wildflower-of-the-year/ ; this year’s plant is the American beautyberry), so some might grow near the visitor center, but I haven’t seen them there myself. The first time I came across one of these unusual flowers might have been in May or possibly June off of South Alston not far from the border with Wake County, between the basins of tributaries Burdens Creek and Kit Creek. It might have been on a Sunday morning in late May 2001, also memorable because Sheriff deputies had a roadblock up the road, though there wasn’t much traffic. I stepped off the road along a rocky brook I think of as azalea brook in a somewhat open forest of pines and deciduous trees with sort of ‘dry’ soil where abandoned farmland was reverting back to forest on a late spring/early summer morning. I was familiar with the area because my Dad used to unicycle on a curcuit through the area on Saturday mornings and I sometimes joined by bicycle. The brook flows over slabs of solid bedrock, and the unusual igneous rock intrusions in the area might be the reason fire pinks and other rare flowers have grown there. On a high bank above a sharp bend there was an unusual wildflower maybe 1 to 3 feet high, probably bent over, with sparse leaves and striking red flowers that were sticky on the outside. On another occasion, maybe in the summer, I saw a single small fire pink on the edge of lawn on So Hi Drive near the Creek (maybe this was actually the first one I saw). Several years ago many fire pinks grew in a ditch at the edge of the woods across “Solutions Drive,” former South Alston, from what is now the back gate of the Social Security Administration’s secretive printing facility at 3604 Louis Stephens Drive, but more recently I have only seen yellow Jerusalem artichokes there (native flowers, despite the name). Wildflowers of North Carolina (Second Edition) calls fire pinks “weak perennials” and individual plants don’t seem to live very long. I went back to see the first plant I mentioned one or a few years later and there was no sign of it. I haven’t seen a fire pink in many years; possibly I haven’t been in the right habitat in the right season, but I think they must really be rare or I would come across them more often. They seem to prefer well-drained possibly poor soil with at least part-sun, and being shaded out by trees might be one reason individuals don’t live very long. They might benefit from periodic burning so they can get more sunlight.

Fire pinks (it seems like they could be called firepinks, but at most guides just hyphenate the name), also called Indian pinks and red or scarlet catchflies, are in the pink, campion, or carnation family (the Caryophyllaceae), as is star chickweed, a somewhat common early spring woodland wildflower, and several other sometimes showy flowers that should be found in the Triangle, though I haven’t encountered them myself. Like carnations and other pinks, fire pinks have opposite (paired) leaves and the stems are swollen at these nodes. The leaves are rounded and without serrations and when not in flower the plant is a clump of basal leaves. Fire pinks and related flowers often have a swollen calyx (the green sepals around the base of a flower) to varying degrees. Pink refers to their deeply notched petals, sometimes so deeply notched that they appear to have many petals, as is the case with star chickweed, not to their sometimes pink or red colors. “Pink” probably relates to pinking, as in pinking shears, scissors that make a zigzag cut in cloth, similar to the petal shape of many pinks. Catchfly refers to the stickiness of many of these species, not always around the flowers.

Fire pink’s scientific name is Silene virginica; it is unclear whether the generic name Silene refers to the Greek mythological figure Silenus, chief of the woodland satyrs and foster father and teacher of Dionysus, the god of wine, or to saliva (sialon in Greek), because of the stickiness. Both interpretations could be correct. The eFloras website says these flowers were or are called seilenos in Greek, possibly because Silenus got drunk and foaming. All About Alabama Wildflowers, an informative book that covers propagating and growing many wildflowers, compares distinctive projections low on the petals to hooves, satyrs sometimes sometimes being described as hooved. Both the genus and this species were named by Carl Linnaeus.

There are several species of native and introduced Silene in North Carolina, as well as less closely related flowers. Silene that might be found in the Triangle include the starry campion, also called star silene or widow’s frill (S. stellata); bladder campion or maiden’s-tears (S. cucubalus); sleepy catchfly (S. antirrhina); wild pink (S. caroliniana; it can hybridize with the fire pink); and night-flowering catchfly or sticky cockle (S. noctiflora). None are bright red, but in the Midwest royal catchfly, also called wild pink (S. regia), is another bright red Silene, and there are related flowers in the West that have been called Indian or fire pinks. Non-native bladder campions are named for their very enlarged calyx, and have also been called bird’s-eggs, fairy-potatoes, and rattle-bags. Also in the Triangle there might be non-native corn-cockles (Agrostemma githago) and mullein pink or dusty-miller (Lychnis coronaria). Lychnis comes from the Greek for flame, lamp, or light, another fiery color reference. White campion, also called evening lychnis or white cockle (L. alba), can be found elsewhere in the Carolinas. Species of Lychnis and Silene are very similar and are sometimes classified in one genus. There could also be soapwort or bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis), both names related to how it produces a soapy lather in water (bouncing bets were washerwomen).

There are many related native and non-native chickweeds, in more than one genus, and while they are probably best known as household weeds star chickweed is a bright white wildflower blooming in older woodlands along Northeast Creek around now, and stands out as the forest floor is cast into shade later this month. Its scientific name is Stellaria pubera; the generic name refers to stars and the specific name might refer to its minute fuzziness or puberulence. It is also called giant or great chickweed, wood starwort (some other chickweeds are also called starworts), winterweed, and birdseed and has five petals, but they are so deeply notched that five seems to be ten. Introduced common chickweed or starwort, S. media, is eaten by chickens and other birds (and so it has been called “the hen’s inheritance,” according to A Sampler of Wayside Herbs), and there is grass-leaf chickweed, also called lesser or common stitchwort, S. graminea, another non-native, as well as native and non-native mouse-ear chickweeds in the genus Cerastium.

Related Dianthus, such as carnations (D. caryophyllus), sweet william (D. barbatus), and the (garden) pink (D. plumarius) are common ornamental relatives from the Old World with many cultural associations around the world, including with International Workers’ Day (May 1st, labor day in many countries), International Women’s Day (March 8th), Mother’s Day (May 9th this year), both weddings and funerals, and carnations are one of January’s birth flowers. Sweet william and pinks grow wild in parts of the Carolinas, and Deptford pinks or grass pinks (D. armeria), another European introduction, can be found in the Triangle, according to the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. D. superbus, native from Europe to Japan, is called nadeshiko in Japanese, and Yamato nadeshiko refers to Japan’s traditional feminine ideal (Yamato is one of the many old names for Japan) and the national women’s soccer team is nicknamed Nadeshiko Japan.

A fire pink flower has five petals (with distinctive projections around the flower’s green throat), five sepals, ten male stamens, three female styles, and the deep tubular throat of the flower is ribbed longitudinally. The flowers are arranged in a wide and loose cluster called a cyme, in which the center flowers open first, and a fire pink probably has blooms over several weeks, producing flowers and ripe seedheads at the same time. Each flower can yield several brown seeds, in a bell-shaped capsule with six teeth at the top. There doesn’t seem to be any special means to spread the seeds, yet they seemed to spread far along that stretch of South Alston in only a few years, though there might have been more plants than I knew about.

According to Wildflowers of North Carolina, fire pinks can bloom April – July. The Illinois Wildflowers website ( www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/firepink.htm ) hypothesizes that they are pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds and larger butterflies, which would make sense given their bright red color and tubular shape. It seems surprising that these relatively small flowers growing in dry soil would produce enough nectar to satisfy a hummingbird. The stickiness should deter ants and other insects from stealing the nectar without transferring pollen, as well as deterring pests. Bees can steal nectar by biting through the sides of flowers, such as morning glories and probably also coral honeysuckles, another red spring and summer flower, but fire pinks might be toughened against this. A Field Book of American Wild Flowers (first printed in 1902) says white starry campions attract clouded sulphurs, a medium-sized yellow butterfly, and moths. Some related campions, such as night-flowering catchfly and white campion, as well as soapwort, are stark white and fragrant, to attract moths, specifically including sphinx moths in the case of soapwort (according to A Naturalist’s Guide to Field Plants).

Fire pink flowers have both male and female parts (a perfect flower), but other Silene species have been used in the study of the genetic determination of sex in plants (and they have sex chromosomes similar to our own, though the phenotypic results can be much more complex than just producing male or female flowers) and they suffer from a sexually transmitted fungal disease that causes sterility. Some species of Silene also have exceptionally large or even the largest known mitochondrial genomes (these genes control a eukaryotic cell’s powerplants, the mitochondria, which might have originally been free-living prokaryotic cells).

I haven’t come across any information about herbivores of fire pinks. There are also seemingly few recorded cultural uses or associations with fire pinks. Fire pinks were apparently considered poisonous by some Indian groups, possibly because fire pinks were conflated with pink-root (Spigelia marilandica), also called Indian pink, a five-petalled red and cream-colored flower related to the early spring-blooming and poisonous (if eaten) yellow jessamine vine, South Carolina’s state flower. Pink-root and possibly fire pink were used to drive out intestinal worms. For some reason starry campion was once used to treat copperhead and rattlesnake bites, but this treatment has long been called useless. Old World campions, including bladder campion, were thought to have the power to stun scorpions and neutralize their stings, and maybe this idea was transferred to snakes. The leaves of both bladder campion and chickweeds can be eaten after boiling (some chickweeds are eaten raw). Reportedly people on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Minorca lived on bladder campion after locusts consumed their crops. Chickweed is or was even considered “a delicacy” in Europe, sold in markets and substituted for spinach (according to Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge Parkway). Several of these plants contain saponins, ranging from a poisonous level in soapwort to just adding a little bitterness in bladder campion. Saponins are surfactants and soapwort really can be used for cleaning, and has been called fuller’s herb for its use in the fulling (cleaning and thickening) of wool cloth.

The reason to think about fire pinks early this spring is because three rezoning requests will probably be coming up near where fire pinks have been found. First, a few years ago Durham County bought the large flat field bordered by NC 55, TW Alexander Drive, and two stubs of what was South Alston, “Solutions Drive” and “Experiment Drive.” Until about 13 years ago this was a large hill covered with a young pine forest; a house near the top had a commanding view up and down 55, with a few mimosas, sumacs, black locusts, or the like and winged elms over grass and herbs down to the highway, while blackberries bloomed along TW Alexander in April. The hill was blasted away day and night, reportedly trucked away as fill for NC’s first modern toll road and whatever was left was deposited in the abandoned claypit a short distance southwest across 55, on what was the continuation of South Alston into Wake County. I remember hearing it from miles away on balmy late spring or early summer evenings. When I went by the corner in late May it had already been mostly levelled, with a whitish or pale cliff at the south end. I think they were reported to the police several times for noise heard further west. Blasting the igneous and sedimentary innards of the hill might have rattled the County’s Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant, across 55 and dumping into Northeast Creek. There were plans for residential construction or a commercial strip mall at the corner, shown on some maps, but nothing was ever built. The site, about 40 acres, is addressed as 451 TW Alexander, 6001 NC 55, and 6026 Experiment Drive, probably where the farm’s driveway was (these parcels can be searched for through Durham’s Interactive Maps durhamnc.gov/1455/Interactive-Maps ). I thought management at the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant wanted the land for a sludge-drying facility, a valuable feature the plant currently lacks, but a community virtual meeting February 18th was about rezoning the site to Office and Industrial (from residential, commercial, and office zonings) for “a new Durham County Public Works Administration Building.” I was the only person who ‘attended’ the meeting. The presenters gave basically no information beyond what was in the brief Planning Department announcement about the meeting. I said what needed to be said, but I had a feeling that I had been insulted and there seemed to be little point to the meeting. Based on the very little that was said, I don’t have an objection to building an office building, but as I said then, it would be good if the landscaping fit with the unique features of the site, or if wildflowers were allowed to colonize the site naturally, and it seems likely that an office building wouldn’t take up all of the land. I haven’t seen any fire pinks at the site, but they could be there. Buttercups and probably Lespedeza or bush clover are abundant in the field and woodland spring ephemerals are currently blooming along a rock-lined stream I could call cane stream. The field used to be mown periodically, but even after that ended trees have been slow to return, and probably little real soil was left after the hill and its topsoil was carried away.

Business interests want to rezone a vast area of Triangle Brick Company land a short distance south of the above site, extending from the east side off 55, just south of the intersection of the new Hopson Road and 55, through the abandoned claypit off Greenlevel Church Road (formerly South Alston), as far west as the top of the ridge that can be seen from the Grandale Road bridge over Northeast Creek, a site that could be in all more than a mile across. Some of the land might not be in Durham County, but I think the proposal calls for building only in Durham. I’m suspicious about what such a project would mean for the land owned by the Wrenn family further west, along Grandale and Wake roads. Both of these vast areas were clearcut, the Triangle Brick Co.’s land around summer 2010 and the Wrenn land maybe in 2018 or before. The land immediately around Northeast Creek is owned by the Federal government and managed by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission as gameland and on the west side of 55 a large area is owned by Durham County. I think I was one of only two community members ‘attending’ the virtual meeting on January 26th, but the well-known lawyer Patrick Byker, the main presenter, must not have known I was there. I think the figure given was that this “assemblage” is in all 241 acres, and they want it all rezoned Light Industrial (some of it is currently Rural Residential) and annexed by the City of Durham, to build a business park with five to six short office or industrial buildings (similar to those built recently at the corner of Hopson and 54, I think it was said by the same company), with construction in stages, starting in the spring of 2022. These low-lying gamelands are NC Natural Heritage Program inventory sites, and this discouraged residential construction on Scott King Road near the Tobacco Trail about ten years ago (but a DPS elementary school will soon be built at the “Scott Mill” site). The bottomlands periodically inundated by Jordan Lake for flood control are protected as public lands, but species living on the protected land could be lost if they also need the surrounding rural uplands to live or if they require a larger habitat than just what is preserved on the government lands. A stark example is provided by two very large woodpeckers. Pileated woodpeckers don’t seem to like built up areas, but I often hear their calls along Northeast Creek and elsewhere in the Triangle and occasionally see one, while ivory-billed woodpeckers, which are much larger but similar in appearance, are now more like rumors or apparitions than living birds and might be completely extinct. The related Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker, a subspecies or a separate species, might also be extinct, as might the related imperial woodpecker of Mexico, apparently the largest woodpecker in the world if it still exists. I saw something like a breeding chuck-will’s-widow or whippoorwill in a scrap of woods at the school site on Scott King Road, rural birds that I thought had been driven out of the region (the bird, I assume a hen, was obviously trying to lead me away from a nest or chicks hidden nearby). The NHP inventory reports note nesting black-and-white warblers and probably nesting sharp-shinned hawks and the presence of ribbon snakes as rare animal species in the area, as well as Douglass’ bittercress and other state or regionally rare or unusual plants, and there were otters and mink along the Creek, but the area hasn’t been surveyed since 1999. The most recent Durham report recommends that “Preservation of upland buffers along the edges of the bottomlands should be given a high priority. These slopes provide denning areas for terrestrial species, as well as refuges during periods of high water” while the 1999 Jordan Lake Inventory recommends that “No more utility corridors should be allowed in the area” along Northeast Creek between 55 and 751, and a project south of the Creek there would probably require new Durham water and sewer connections and lift stations to get over the hills, and maybe new electrical infrastructure as well. I think there was discussion of building a utility easement through here for 751 South at one point and earlier there was discussion of a road extension.

Lastly, during this economic crisis there is a rezoning proposal at the intersection of Northeast Creek Parkway and So Hi Drive (2102 So Hi Drive, on the south, RTP side of the intersection), near the Triangle Curling Club building and extending towards the intersection of Northeast Creek Parkway and East Cornwallis Road. Northeast Creek flows through this large, long undisturbed wooded site and the site also includes a small amount of land on the north side of the Parkway. It is owned by Parmer Woodlands 3 LLC, with an address in Carlsbad, California. Similarly named LLCs with the same address own much of the north end of RTP and March 23rd there was a Board of Adjustment hearing over rear parking lot landscaping at a very large project already being built a short distance beyond the Creek, but hidden by the forest (it has the addresses 2152 and 2362 So Hi Drive and 224 Northeast Creek Parkway, but doesn’t seem to connect, at least for now). I must have been the only person ‘attending’ the community meeting, which was also the evening of February 18th. They want the site rezoned as Science Research Park, from Rural Residential, to build two office buildings, but it was not entirely clear if the proposal is to build along the road, so Northeast Creek wouldn’t be crossed. I have seen many locally rare plants nearby, including horsetails, liverwort (the non-flowering plant), toothworts, Hepatica (a pale blue early spring flower sometimes called liverleaf or liverwort), star chickweed, at least one large Catawba Rhododendron (it is unclear if someone planted it long ago or if it really is the last of its kind along Northeast Creek, and a few years ago it was narrowly missed by a logging road), serviceberries (probably done blooming by now; their fruit is apparently a favorite food of chuck-will’s-widows), spicebushes, Penstemons, and umbrellatrees, deciduous magnolias with huge leaves that usually bloom by the start of May. Umbrellatrees seem to be much more common in Wake County than west, and perhaps fire pinks are also more common in the Neuse River basin. There are numerous beaver ponds, some visible from Northeast Creek Parkway near Cornwallis. These two ends of RTP where fire pinks grow (or grew) are also some of the few places where there are pinxterflowers, deciduous native azaleas a bit more common than fire pinks, with elegant honeysuckle-like nearly white to light pink or purple, fragrant flowers in late April, another sight to see before the Silene’s fiery red as summer’s heat begins.

Tributary C of Northeast Creek: Where does your water go?

Creek Week is coming March 13 through 20. During that week Durham is focusing attention on how individual citizens and property owners can with modest efforts deliver significant benefits to the quality of water moving downstream, especially to Jordan Lake.

A fun activity during Creek Week is to find the path that water from your roof, sidewalk, driveway, and patio or deck takes as it goes to Northeast Creek, down Northeast Creek and into Jordan Lake, and down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington.

To do that, we must perceive streams and their tributary flows of runoff (the water) in the foreground and land in the background. Focusing on the flash flood zones at full flood (the flood zones identified on the maps) shows the land as necks extending into the fully flooded lake headwaters. After all, one of the primary purposes of Lake Jordan was mitigation of the flash flooding that often occurred in the Haw River and New Hope Creek basins.

The coloring of the flood zones represent the following:

  • Solid blue: 1% annual chance flood hazard
  • Blue with red diagonal stripes: Regulatory floodway
  • Gold: 0.2% annual chance flood hazard
  • Black with gray diagonal stripes: Future conditions 1% annual chance flood hazard.

A previous post showed that Parkwood comprises parts of three sub-basins:

  • The main stream of Northeast Creek on the east;
  • Tributary C feeding Parkwood Lake in the center;
  • Tributary D draining the western part of the McCormick high land and streams from Hunters Woods joining and running down Wineberry to the west.

This post presents maps to help find the path that the water takes from the roof of a particular house to Tributary C of Northeast Creek, which feeds the Parkwood Lake.  Future posts will look at Tributary D and the main stream of Northeast Creek.

Skim through the maps to the part of Tributary C that you want to examine and then click on the map to enlarge.  To enlarge further use the + keys in your viewer or Ctrl-+ on the keyboard.  There will be some street references in the text following each map.

Yellow lines mark the sub-basins of Tributary C.  Blue lines are the creeks in the area in the map title.  Dotted blue lines are intermittent creeks inferred from the topography or known significant stormwater pipes.  The impervious surfaces of roofs are orange, and the impervious surfaces of parking lots, driveways, and other concrete structures are gray.

Looking from the mouth of Tributary C and Northeast Creek, the sequence of maps examines each upstream branch and the main stream of Tributary C back to its source near NC 54.

A map of the mouth of tributary C at Northeast Creek with flood zones marked
Mouth of Tributary C at Northeast Creek

The mouth of Tributary C is a wetland flood plain that cycles between swamp forest in drier times and then snags (dead trees that are habitat for wildlife) and freshwater marsh in wetter times.  You can see this same sort of landscape on the north side of NC 54 by Woodcroft Shopping Center.

Runoff from the roofs and drives flows through the yards or down the streets to the cul-de-sacs and down slopes into the bottomlands.

A map of Tributary C south of the Parkwood Lake dam
Tributary C South of the Parkwood Lake Dam

The main stream south of Parkwood Lake comes down the spillways from the lake through woods, under Sedwick Road, and into the bottomlands. An intermittent stream drains the runoff from the houses on Dedmon Court, Donnelly Court, Newhall Road, and Sedwick Road.  An intermittent stream on the west side of the bottomlands drains the runoff from two houses on Sedwick Road and one on Grandale Road.

A map of the west side headwaters of Tributary C at Parkwood Lake
Tributary C as Parkwood Lake and the West Side Headwaters

The runoff from the houses on the west side of Parkwood Lake primarily flows down the streets, across Pelham Road and into the lake. The runoff from the houses on lake flows directly into the lake.

The runoff from the east side of Grandale Road just north of Sedwick Road is directed into the ditch on the north side of Sedwick Road and is a part of this section of Tributary C.

A map of the development east of Parkwood Lake that drains into the lake.
Tributary C – East Side of Parkwood Lake

The east side of Parkwood Lake drains the west side of Revere Road and Larkspur Circle in addition to the houses along Newhall Road and the lakefront houses. There seem to be two more-or-less permanent streams draining from either corner of Larkspur Circle.  There is significant Parkwood common land in the center of this block that aids in soaking up rainfall from Larkspur Circle and Revere Road.  Another stream drains Temple Lane and Buttonwood Court.

A map of the west fork of Tributary C and the development that is in its headwaters
Tributary C West Fork Headwaters

The west fork headwaters drain part of The Ridges of Parkwood, part of Parkwood Village, and some of the houses on Wenonah Way,  Runoff from the west fork headwaters flow directly into the Parkwood Lake forebay (former lotus pond).

A map of the headwaters of the two middle forks of Tributary C and the development in it
Tributary C – Middle Forks Headwaters

The headwaters of the two middle forks of Tributary C drain the southeast side of the McCormick Road highland.  The southernmost of the two middle forks drains most of Parkwood Village.

A map of the flood zones and development of the section of the main stream of Tributary C north of the forebay. that is, the former lotus pond of Parkwood Lak
Tributary C – Main Stream to Lake Forebay (former Lotus Pond)

This section of Tributary C shows the main stream in the area of the trail from the Parkwood ballfield to the Parkwood Lake forebay (former lotus pond).  The lower section is a significant bottomland that has a variety of interesting native plants such as magnolia, red maple, and native honeysuckle with hearts-a-bustin’, pussytoes, wild oregano, and lyre-leaf sage in the uplands.

A map of the drainage of Tributary C from east of Revere Road. Major sections of the drainage move through stormwater pipes that go under the parking lot of the former shopping center (now the Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman mosque) and empty into Tributary C through a single outfall
Tributary C – Drainage from East of Revere Road

The area of Tributary C east of Revere Road mostly drains through stormwater pipes the run under the parking lot of Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman mosque (former Parkwood Shopping Center).  The stormwater pipes converge and empty through a single pipe outlet to Tributary C opposite Parkwood Village’s road to its swimming pool (the Pool in the Woods).  This area drains from the hill on Brentwood Road near Bradley Circle and an area north of Brentwood Road almost to Travis Circle.  It also drains the slope behind Parkwood United Methodist Church and the apartments up to the parcel that was set aside in the original design for a water tower and conveyed in that designation to the Parkwood Association.  (In 1961, there were no city water and sewer services this far out.  The Parkwood subdivision had a private utility that provided water from wells and owned and operated the package sewage plants.)

This elaborate stormwater system is the legacy of the philosophy of controlling stormwater that was prevalent at the beginning of the 1960s — pipe it away.  The site preparation for “Parkwood Center”, the commercial and institutional core of the community froze some of the original stream system into the landscape while concentrating the flow under parking lots into a single stream.  The object was to dump the excess water as fast as possible into Tributary C.  After almost sixty years we can see that that strategy leads to stream scour and transportation of soil down the creek system.  And creates erosional undercutting of the stream bank opposite the single stormwater pipe outlet.

A map of the headwaters of the main stream of Tributary C showing flood zones, development, and a retention pond for a town home complex
Tributary C – Headwaters of Main Stream

The headwaters of Tributary C lie completely south of NC 54 because NC 54 was built on a ridge between two tributaries of Northeast Creek and because subsequent engineering of the highway has sharpened the separations of the drainage.  The headwaters now are developed as the Meadows at Southpoint, a town home community that uses regulation-permitted retention ponds instead of open space to manage run-off from its newly constructed houses, driveways, sidewalks, roads, and other impervious surfaces.

During construction, the Parkwood community experienced the fact that  regulations are based on normal patterns of rainfall for construction of retention ponds.  When there was a pattern of heavy rainfall, the retention ponds released sediments, particularly colloidial clay, into Tributary C; that turned the Parkwood Lake brown.

Residents in the Auburndale Drive-Lamarck Court area were among the first to notice the sediments because they monitor their nearby creeks.

In principle, with the completion of construction, the permanent retention ponds will prevent a recurrence. Continued citizen monitoring of their local creeks is the principal way of catching these situations early enough.  And this is true for all of the streams draining into Northeast Creek.

That is why Northeast Creek Streamwatch is encouraging Upstream Neighbors/Downstream Neighbors, a volunteer program of monitoring neighborhood streams and conservation on your own property to harvest rainwater, conserve topsoil, and absorb water during abnormal rainfall.

Having attention on the portion of water flow from your house to the nearest creek is a critical part of what gets sent downstream.

Tributary D of Northeast Creek: Where does your water go?

Creek Week is coming March 13 through 20. During that week Durham is focusing attention on how individual citizens and property owners can with modest efforts deliver significant benefits to the quality of water moving downstream, especially to Jordan Lake.

A fun activity during Creek Week is to find the path that water from your roof, sidewalk, driveway, and patio or deck takes as it goes to Northeast Creek, down Northeast Creek and into Jordan Lake, and down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington.

To do that, we must perceive streams and their tributary flows of runoff (the water) in the foreground and land in the background. Focusing on the flash flood zones at full flood (the flood zones identified on the maps) shows the land as necks extending into the fully flooded lake headwaters. After all, one of the primary purposes of Lake Jordan was mitigation of the flash flooding that often occurred in the Haw River and New Hope Creek basins.

The coloring of the flood zones represent the following:

  • Solid blue: 1% annual chance flood hazard
  • Blue with red diagonal stripes: Regulatory floodway
  • Gold: 0.2% annual chance flood hazard
  • Black with gray diagonal stripes: Future conditions 1% annual chance flood hazard.

A previous post showed that Parkwood comprises parts of three sub-basins:

  • The main stream of Northeast Creek on the east;
  • Tributary C feeding Parkwood Lake in the center;
  • Tributary D draining the western part of the McCormick high land and streams from Hunters Woods joining and running down Wineberry to the west.

This post presents maps to help find the path that the water takes from the roof of a particular house to Tributary D of Northeast Creek, which feeds the Parkwood Lake.  Future posts will look at the main stream of Northeast Creek.

Here is an overview of Tributary D:

A map showing an overview of the Tributary D sub-basin of Northeast Creek.
Overview of the Tributary D sub-basin

On this map, the red line is the boundary with the Crooked Creek basin.  The yellow lines mark the sub-basin of the west fork of Tributary D and the dividing ridge along Grandale that separates Tributary D from Tributary C.

Skim through the maps to the part of Tributary D that you want to examine and then click on the map to enlarge.  The sections with streams with blue solid or dotted lines are the section of Tributary D that for which the map is a guide, To enlarge further use the + keys in your viewer or Ctrl-+ on the keyboard.  There will be some street references in the text following each map.

Yellow lines mark the sub-basins of Tributary D.  Blue lines are the creeks in the area in the map title.  Dotted blue lines are intermittent creeks inferred from the topography or known significant stormwater pipes.  The impervious surfaces of roofs are orange within the City of Durham, and the impervious surfaces of parking lots, driveways, and other concrete structures are gray, also within the City of Durham.  Outside the City of Durham in Durham County, with the image enlarged enough you can generally understand where roofs, driveways and sidewalks are.

Looking from the mouth of Tributary D and Northeast Creek, the sequence of maps examines each upstream branch and the main stream of Tributary D back to its source near the pond in Hunters Woods.

A map of the floodway and development around the mouth of Tributary D at Northeast Creek
Tributary D – Mouth at Northeast Creek

Almost all of the section floodway of Tributary D in this map of the map is in US Army Corps of Engineers land surrounding the headwaters of Lake Jordan.  This property does extend north of Scott King Road.

The drainage channels shown on this map are primarily intermittent streams that flow down the swales on either side of Scott King Road and intermittent streams flowing down slopes into Tributary D.

This is an area in which we have cleaned out tires from Corps of Engineers property in past clean-ups.

The floodway and development around the Tributary D main stream north of Scott King Road
Tributary D Main Stream – North of Scott King Road

This section of Tributary D is between Lyons Farm on the west and Lake Park on the East.  Most of the drainage is from runoff down the slopes, from stormwater pipes not shown on this map, or from the intermittent streams at various points on the stream bank.

A map of the floodway and development on the west bank of Tributary D north of Scott King Road
Tributary D – Drainage from West Bank North of Scott King Road

Fairfield, Grandale, and Lyons Farm are the neighborhoods between Tributary D on the east and a fork of Tributary D on the west that crosses Scott King Road just west of Goldflower Drive and joins the Tributary D wetland in Corps land.

A map showing the east bank of Tributary D to the watershed ridge with Tributary C north of Scott King Road
East Bank of Tributary D North of Scott King Road

Lake Park is the neighborhood on the east bank of Tributary C north of Scott King Road.  Drainage is from intermittent streams or stormwater pipes not shown on this map.

A map of the floodway and development around the main stream of Tributary D north of Stonehouse Court
Tributary D – Main Stream North of Stonehouse Court

Fairfield, Grandale, and Grandale Place are the neighborhoods where the main stream of Tributary D meets some of its own tributaries.

A map of the drainage and development on the west bank of Tributary D below the bridge for Lyons Farm Drive
The west bank of Tributary D below the bridge for Lyons Farm Drive.

Fairfield and Grandale are the neighborhoods on this section of Tributary D.  A tributary stream crosses under Rosemont Parkway just south of the circle on Montibillo Parkway.  The yellow line marks the watershed ridge separating the main stream of Tributary D from this tributary.

A map of the drainage and development of the east bank of Tributary D north of Sedwick West
Tributary D Drainage – East Bank North of Sedwick West

Grandale is the neighborhood in this view, and the neighborhood building at the entrance from Grandale Drive is the one with the L-shaped parking lot.  The yellow line along Grandale marks the watershed ridge with Tributary C.  The other yellow lines outline the sub-basin of the tributary from Grandover Drive that joins the main stream of Tributary D in this view.  Other drainage is from intermittent stream (dotted blue lines) or stormwater pipes not visible on this map.

A map of the development on the west side of Tributary D downstream from the Lakehurst neighborhood lake
Tributary D Downstream from Lakehurst Lake

Fairfield and Lakehurst are the neighborhoods in this view.  The lake in the Lakehurst neighborhood dams the tributary that flows into Tributary D and that acts somewhat like a retention pond moderating wet and dry weather patterns.  Elsewhere, intermittent streams and stormwater pipes not visible on this map drain the runoff from development into the tributary streams.

A map of the development on the east bank of Tributary D north of Grandover Drive
Tributary D – Drainage North of Grandover Drive

Grandale Place, Settlers Mill, and the Ridges at Parkwood are the neighborhoods in this view.  The drainage flows through stormwater pipes not visible on the map and down intermittent streams (marked with blue dots).

A map of the development and drainage of the Tributary D main stream north of Goldenview Drive
Tributary D Main Stream – North of Goldenview Drive

Grandale Place, Settlers Mill, Grandale Forest, and Lakehurst are the neighborhoods in this view.  The yellow line at the top is the watershed ridge separating the fork that drains north of Stinhurst Drive from the main stream.  The other yellow line shows the sub-basin of the tributary intermittent streams that drain Grandale Place; this might be supplemented with stormwater pipes not shown on this map.

A map of the development and drainage of the tributary of Tributary D that crosses Stinhurst Drive
Tributary D – Tributary That Crosses Stinhurst Drive

Lakehurst Pointe and Lakehurst are the neighborhoods in this view. The red line shows the watershed ridge between the Northeast Creek basin and the Crooked Creek basin. Two tributaries of Tributary D join the main stream beyond the cul-de-sac at the end of Wineberry Drive.  One of these originates above the lake in Lakehurst Pointe; the other originates between the cul-de-sacs of Landreth Court and Middlebury Court in Lakehurst Pointe.

A map of the development and drainage of the main stream of Tributary D north of the intersection of Grandale Drive and Wineberry Drive
Tributary D Main Stream North of the Intersection of Grandale Drive and Wineberry Drive

Grandale Forest and Parkwood are the neighborhoods in this view. The intersection of Grandale Drive and Wineberry Drive are the point at which a tributary from the southwestern section of McCormick Road, an intermittent creek from the Ridges, and the intermittent creeks that flow down the swales on either side of Grandale Drive merge before crossing through two 4-foot pipes under Grandale Drive and flowing behind the houses on Wineberry Drive.  Over 20 years, the section of creek along Wineberry Drive has scoured almost four feet of depth in the streambed, and water still overflows into yards in heavy rains.

A map of the development and drainage of the east bank of Tributary D north of Candytuft Lane in the Ridges of Parkwood
Tributary D – Drainage North of Candytuft Lane

The Ridges of Parkwood, Parkwood, and Hunters Woods are the neighborhoods in this view.  The yellow line marks the watershed ridge between Tributary D and Tributary C.  Two tributary streams drain this area–one south of Huntsman Drive and one north of Candytuft Lane.  An intermittent stream drains the west side of the McCormick highlands and flows down McCormick Road.  Another intermittent stream flows down Limerick Lane.

A map of the development and drainage of the tributary of Tributary D that originates upstream of the lake in Lakehurst Pointe.
Tributary D – Source of the Tributary Stream from Lakehurst Pointe Lake

Lakehurst Pointe and Grandin Trace are the neighborhoods in this view.  The red line is the boundary between Tributary D and the Crooked Creek basin.  The source is in what is soon to be the northwest corner of Grandin Trace and flows into a pond that releases a stream that flows openly and then through stormpipes into the lake in Lakehurst Pointe.

A map of the development and drainage on the main stream of Tributary D north of Huntsman Drive
Tributary D – Main Stream North of Huntsman Drive

Hunters Woods is the neighborhood in this view.  The yellow lines on the east are two sub-basins of tributaries of Tributary C that drain the Meadows at Southpoint.  The red line is the watershed ridge between Crooked Creek and Northeast Creek. The yellow line along Barbee Road is the drainage off of Barbee Road that road construction has shifted from the Northeast Creek basin to the Crooked Creek basin. A local high point (elevation over 380 feet) was the site of a NC Forest Service fire tower until shortly before Hunters Wood was developed. This high point allow a ranger to see many square miles of woodlands cultivated on the uplands and bottomlands of Northeast Creek and Crooked Creek.

A map of the development and drainage of the eastern headwaters of Tributary D north of McCormick Road
Tributary D – Drainage North of McCormick Road

Parkwood and Hunters Woods are the neighborhoods in this view.  The yellow line marks the watershed ridge between Tributary D and Tributary C.  The orange in Tributary C is the 0.2 percent chance flood zone in the headwaters of the Meadows at Southpoint retention pond. The orange in Tributary D is the Hunters Woods lake and the overflow path if the dam is topped; this is also a 0.2 percent chance flood zone.

All of the maps  in this series are works in progress that need investigation by residents of the neighborhoods reporting what they see on the ground.  There are many points that are not clear from aerial views about how the drainage flows.  One issue in particular is how the retention pond from Grandin Trace flows into the lake in Lakehurst Pointe.  As we get corrections we can edit the maps to apply them and eventually have maps to provide an atlas of the Tributary D basin.

Send corrections to colleen@northeastcreek.org.

Main Stream of Northeast Creek: Where Does Your Water Go?

Creek Week is coming March 13 through 20.  During that week Durham is focusing attention on how individual citizens and property owners can with modest efforts deliver significant benefits to the quality of water moving downstream, especially to Jordan Lake.

A fun activity during Creek Week is to find the path that water from your roof, sidewalk, driveway, and patio or deck takes as it goes to Northeast Creek, down Northeast Creek and into Jordan Lake, and down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington.

To do that, we must perceive streams and their tributary flows of runoff (the water) in the foreground and land in the background. Focusing on the flash flood zones at full flood (the flood zones identified on the maps) shows the land as necks extending into the fully flooded lake headwaters. After all, one of the primary purposes of Lake Jordan was mitigation of the flash flooding that often occurred in the Haw River and New Hope Creek basins.

The coloring of the flood zones represent the following:

  • Solid blue: 1% annual chance flood hazard
  • Blue with red diagonal stripes: Regulatory floodway
  • Gold: 0.2% annual chance flood hazard
  • Black with gray diagonal stripes: Future conditions 1% annual chance flood hazard.

A second fun activity is to explore the wetlands on US Army Corps of Engineer land set aside for the headwaters of Jordan Lake.  The wetlands in these areas comprise:

  • periodic flood plains that flood with every rain and become dry land with every dry spell;
  • freshwater marshes;
  • periodic swamp forests;
  • persistent swamp forests that give way to snags (dead trees that host animals like woodpeckers) then become pools of blow-downs (blown-over dead trees);
  • tightly meandering stretches of stream;
  • braided streams;
  • oxbow ponds.

These organize themselves to best handle the flow of water through the wetlands in wet and dry periods.

On the maps, wetland features are marked with dotted blue and or‍ange lines.

A previous post showed that Parkwood comprises parts of three sub-basins:

  • The main stream of Northeast Creek on the east;
  • Tributary C feeding Parkwood Lake in the center;
  • Tributary D draining the western part of the McCormick high land and streams from Hunters Woods joining and running down Wineberry to the west.

This post presents maps to help find the path that the water takes from the roof of a particular house to the main stream of Northeast Creek and the features of the Northeast Creek wetlands that it passes through.  Future posts will look at what you can do on your own property to help preserve effective functioning of Northeast Creek.

The following map is an overview of the Northeast Creek main stream from Carpenter-Fletcher Road downstream to the American Tobacco Trail bridge over Northeast Creek on the trail a half mile south of the Scott King Road trailhead.

The red line is the watershed ridge on the west between the Northeast Creek basin and the Crooked Creek basin.

An overview map of the tributaries of the main stream of Northeast Creek in the greater Parkwood area
Main Stream – Overview

From left to right the sub-basins of Northeast Creek are:

  1. A fork that arises in the Southhampton neighborhood and the edge of C. M. Herndon Park on Scott King Road;
  2. Tributary D;
  3. Tributary C;
  4. A tributary that runs from the Legacy at Meridian;
  5. A tributary that runs out of the Auburn neighborhood;
  6. A tributary that crosses Woodcroft Parkway east of Barbee Road;
  7. A tributary that flows into Meridian Park;
  8. The North Prong of Northeast Creek, the major tributary that flows down the west side of NC 55 and through Meridian Park;
  9. The main stream (Northeast Prong) of Northeast Creek;
  10. Buck Branch, which flow out of the old EPA campus area;
  11. The north fork, main stream, and south fork of Burdens Creek, which drains the central section of Research Triangle Park;
  12. Long Branch of Kit’s (Kitt’s) Creek;
  13. Another branch of Kit’s Creek, which drains the southern section of Research Triangle Park.
  14. Main stream of Northeast Creek.

This series of maps will show the western side (Parkwood side) of the main stream, that wide, blue and blue-and-red floodway that:

  • starts at the top right of the map,
  • flows south,
  • then west again in passing the Red Roof Inn on NC 55 north of I-40 and connecting with the North Prong in the southeast corner of Meridian Park,
  • then south again at the Doubletree Inn;
  • then it crosses under I-40 and flows through a wetland between Parkwood and NC 55;
  • Burdens Creek joins it from the east and Research Triangle Park;
  • then turns west flowing south of Audubon Park and Parkwood,  through Corps of Engineers unforested land and a Duke Energy high-voltage line easement;
  • then it crosses under Grandale Road passing through forested Corps of Engineers land (NC Gameland);
  • it crosses into Chatham County;
  • Kit’s Creek joins it from the southeast and the southern part of Research Triangle Park;
  • it flows  under the bridge for the American Tobacco Trail, a bicycle and pedestrian trail.

There are two stream gages placed by the US Geological Service on this section of Northeast Creek, one at Carpenter-Fletcher Road and the other at the bridge on Grandale Road. To provide a view of what this section of the main stream does, here is the February 2019 stream gage data for the Carpenter-Fletcher Road gage.  Notice that the level during moderate periods is around 0.5 feet (6 inches), but rain quickly causes the level to rise to 2, the 2.5, then 4.5 feet.  Remember these numbers when we come to the data from Grandale Bridge.

A graph of the depth of the North Prong of Northeast Creek at Carpenter-Fletcher Road during the rainy month of February 2019
Stream Depth North Prong of Northeast Creek at Carpenter-Fletcher Road – February 2019

That stream gage is just upstream (north) on the North Prong (out of view off the top of this map).

A map of the development around the junction of the North Prong of Northeast Creek with the Main Stream in the Meridian Park office park
Junction of the North Prong of Northeast Creek with the Main Stream

The North Prong drains the Northeast Creek watershed south of Riddle Road and southwest of the intersection of Riddle Road and Alston Avenue.  When it enters Meridian Park it flows into a wetland between NC 55 and Meridian Parkway (top right on the map).

The development and drainage into the main stream of Northeast Creek north of the NC 54 bridge
Main Stream of Northeast Creek North of the NC 54 Bridge

I-40 appears at the top right of this map.  The dotted blue line on I-40 is roughly where the culvert for Northeast Creek goes under I-40 and spills into the flood plain to the south.  At the left end of NC 54 on the map is Christus Victor Lutheran Church; at the right end is Chik-Fil-A.  The bridge is where the wetlands on the north side of NC 54 spill through to the south side of NC 54.  This area regularly has high water during rainy spells.

Almost all of this wetland area except for the various stream channels is a wide intermittent flooded area during rainy spells.  Drier weather allows for plant succession until water collects so frequently in those areas that it drowns out vegetation or gets replaced with water plants.

A map of the development and drainage into the main stream of Northeast Creek north of Euclid Drive.
Main Stream North of Euclid Drive

The drainage of the sub-basin north of NC 54 gets directed parallel and south of I-40 and flows into the wetlands south of I-40 and north of NC 54 (in the previous map).  The sub-basin on the top right has a stream that flows from the intersection of Blanchard Road and NC 54 southeast into the engineered pond behind the commercial buildings on NC 54.  The third sub-basin flows out of the pond at the Revere Road end of Euclid Drive, between the houses on Lattimore Lane and Euclid Road, under Euclid Drive at the bottom of the hill, and down a restored stream that replaced a culvert and into the main stream of Northeast Creek in the wetlands.

A map of the development around and drainage into the main stream of Northeast Creek north of Emerald Circle
Main Stream North of Emerald Circle

The sub-basin at the top shows the drainage into the creek that flows from the pond at the Revere Road end of Euclid Drive and the creek that crosses Euclid Drive along the road to the former package sewer plant location (when Parkwood contracted its own private water and sewer service).  The sub-basin at the bottom left is the area on Brentwood Road that flows into Tributary C.   The remaining sub-basin is the intermittent stream that drains Emerald Circle.

A map of the wetlands on the main stream of Northeast Creek behind the Food Lion store
Main Stream – Behind Food Lion

The complex pattern of blue lines (stream channels) on this map shows the effects of a strongly meandering and braiding Northeast Creek and the engineered attempts to reduce flooding of the parking lots of the properties backing up on the wetlands.  All of the water from the parking lots built on what used to be farmland adjacent to bottom land instead of somewhat soaking into pasture or woodlands, now all flows into the wetlands. Commercial property owners nationwide are only now beginning to investigate how to better manage stormwater on commercial properties.  Local governments have mandated certain best management practices for stormwater management over the last ten to twenty years.  The most obvious of these to most customers are the retention ponds on the edge of commercial developments.

The blue and orange dotted lines encircle areas of open water in the areas behind the commercial properties on NC 54 and the Food Lion shopping center on NC 55.

A map of the development and drainage of the main stream of Northeast Creek north of Parkwood Elementary School
Main Stream – North of Parkwood Elementary School

The sub-basins to the left of the map drain into Tributary C (Parkwood Lake).  Parkwood Elementary School has engineered stormwater management of its site.  The houses on Radcliff Circle drain down the vegetated ground cover of the buried sewer outfall to the main sewer line that goes to Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant on NC 55.

A map of the main stream wetlands behind the NC 55 commercial area and north of Greenwood Commons
Main Stream – North of Greenwood Common

As the intensity of commercial development on the eastern edge of the wetlands diminishes and as the force of flooding during rainstorms is absorbed by the size of the bottomlands, there are fewer engineered channels and the channels go from braided to parallel meanders.  The blue lines show stream channels; the blue and orange dotted lines show the perimeter of the more permanent swampy and marshy areas toward the eastern edge.

At the bottom of the map behind Greenwood Commons, the eastern side is a cattail marsh with a few snags. This marsh has been flooded by a natural dam of crushed branches and cattail stems that elevates the water impounded slightly above the western branch, which has a series of meanders.  The two branches join shortly before the main stream passes under the bridge on Sedwick Road.

A map of the development around and drainage into the Main Stream east of Revere Road and north of Sedwick Road.
Main Stream East of Revere Road and North of Sedwick Road

The primary drainage between the heights at the Parkwood Elementary School building and the short ridge on which Frenchman’s Creek Drive is built is the grassed sewer line easement (solid blue line) that runs from Radcliff Circle back to the main sewer outfall easement in the wetlands; both of these easement are somewhat wet from unevaporated stormwater except in very dry periods because of the intermittent streams (dotted blue lines) and groundwater flows that allow what rainwater that does soak in to be delayed in adding to the stream flow.

Water runs off the impervious surfaces, such as roofs (orange), driveways (gray), and streets (white).  The runoff that comes through the dark green forested area that have a lot of leaf litter moves much slower.  The water that does percolate through into groundwater move slower still.

The simple rules for managing rainwater on your own property are:

  • Slow it down.
  • Spread it out.
  • Soak it in.

This area shows how the undisturbed common land buffer on the steeper upland slopes between the individual house property and the wetlands carries out those functions.

A map of the wetlands and stream channels of the main stream of Northeast Creek on either side of the Sedwick Road bridge.
Main Stream at Sedwick Road Bridge

The blue lines show:

  • To the west, the meandering stream channels of the west branch of the main stream of Northeast Creek running just east of the sewer line easement that runs to the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • Coming in from the southwest, the tributary stream that has formed from the accumulated groundwater and runoff flowing from the heights of Parkwood Elementary School, Radcliff Circle, and Frenchman’s Creek Drive.
  • From the  marsh behind Greenwood Commons, the stream channel that has flowed nearest the commercial properties on NC 55.
  • The joining of the two meandering channels into the single Northeast Creek main stream
  • A tributary paralleling Sedwick Road and draining that part of Frenchman’s Creek Drive
  • The single channel of the main stream of Northeast Creek flowing under the Sedwick Road bridge.
  • Burdens Creek and its wetlands joining Northeast Creek from the east.
  • A north-flowing creek to the east of Solitude Way.
  • An oxbow lake just southeast of the junction of Burdens Creek and Northeast Creek.

The blue and orange dotted line encircles an area that became a intermittent pond after the property was logged.  The property is going through succession of vegetation and now is beginning to have small trees and forest sub-story beginning to grow.  Several years ago there was a cattail marsh in this wet spot.

You can also see some of the unmarked meanders, tributaries, and oxbow lakes as darker areas near the streams.

A map of the development near and drainage into the main stream of Northeast Creek at Audubon Park
Main Stream at Audubon Park

Audubon Park was developed with intensive site preparation and most likely stormwater pipes and structures to conduct runoff quickly into the wetlands to the east and south.  What appears on this map is a stream inside Piperwood Circle and Solitude Way.  There are also indications from the topography that intermittent streams might form with the slope of the ground and run off at the edges of the wetlands; after almost 20 years, there might be gullying at the edge of the wetlands (near where the blue dotted lines meet the color coding of the flood zones).  Homeowners in Audubon Park have the best view of how the water runs because so much of the drainage is enclosed interior to a bunch of houses and not visible by the public.

A map of the wetlands at the junction of Burdens Creek with the main stream of Northeast Creek
Main Stream – Junction with Burdens Creek

The wetlands east of Audubon Park show the meanders and oxbow lakes of intermittent flooding of bottomland forest in the area where Burdens Creek, coming in from the northeast, meets the main stream of Northeast Creek, meandering in from the north and making a eastward turn.  The Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant  is at the lower right.

The processed wastewater coming out of the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant tests cleaner than the water in Northeast Creek at the outlet point.  Also, the volume of wastewater flowing through the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant cause a baseline oscillation of roughly 6 inches (0.5 feet) in the USGS stream gage at the bridge on Grandale Road of a typical dry-period stream height of 3.5 feet. (Notice this on the stream gage report at the end of this post.)

A map of the wetlands of the main stream of Northeast Creek south and east of Audubon Park
Main Stream – Bend to the West

The main stream turns to the west around the southeast corner of Audubon Park.  On the map, the development at top right is the back edge of the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant.  The blue lines are the meanders and loops of the main stream of Northeast Creek and the tributary streams that drain other parts of the wetland.

The area on the left marked with a blue and orange dotted line locates a former swamp forest, now characterized by snags and fallen trees killed by the persistent deeper water.

The two lines across the bottom are the high-voltage power line running from a substation on NC 55 to a substation on Scott King Road by the American Tobacco Trail.

This section is where Corps of Engineers ownership of the headwaters of Jordan Lake begins on Northeast Creek.

A map of the main stream of Northeast Creek south of Audubon Park
Main Stream South of Audubon Park

This view is slightly to the west of the previous view; the area of snags and fallen trees noted at the left of the previous view is in the center of this view.  To the left of this view is another swamp forest in decline.

A map of the development around and drainage into the main stream of Northeast Creek south of Sedwick Road
Main Stream – South of Sedwick

The yellow line is the headwaters ridge between the main stream of Northeast Creek and Tributary C of Northeast Creek.

The solid blue lines are the more permanent streams, and the dotted blue lines are the intermittent streams that drain the streets off Newhall Extension in Parkwood.

At the end of Shamrock Road is a triangular-shaped upland buffer of common land that faces out on a large freshwater marsh interrupted by some of the areas of flooded snags and fallen trees. Notice that the buffers between the newer developments and the wetlands are much narrower.

A map of the wetlands on the main stream of Northeast Creek south of Parkwood
Main Stream South of Parkwood

This is the same as the previous view but without the color coding for flood hazard areas.  The yellow line is the watershed ridge between the sub-basin of the main stream and the sub-basin of Tributary C of Northeast Creek.  The areas enclosed in blue and orange dotted lines are areas that are more permanently wet, such as snag areas, freshwater marshes, and open ponds. There is an area in the water at the end of Pendleton Court that is light green; this appears to be algae bloom.  Beyond it is a dark area of open water, and then the speckled area of the freshwater marsh.  Toward the bottom left is a dark open water area, enclosed with a blue and orange dashed line, in which fallen trees are clearly visible.  Within the marsh are thin, short slashed lines that are the shadows of standing trees. The open water through the marsh shows meanders that might show areas of faster flow.

On the bottom right is a 40-foot hill that forms a bluff at the southern edge of Northeast Creek.

All of the ricocheting of water in this wetland slows it down and allows it to spread across the low areas and soak in as best it can in the Triassic and floodplain soils.

A map of the wetlands around the main stream of Northeast Creek at Grandale Road bridge
Main Stream at Grandale Road Bridge

The Grandale Road bridge is just south of where the high-voltage power lines cross Grandale Road.

The yellow lines mark the headwater ridges that separate the sub-basins of, from east to west: the main stream, Tributary C, and Tributary D of Northeast Creek.

The features of the wetland north of the power lines are those we have discussed above.  This view shows more of the wetlands to the west and south.

The 40-foot hill turns out to be a 60-foot ridge that edges the floodplain on the south.  Almost all of the bottom land in this view is Corps of Engineers property marked as NC Gamelands.

The USGS gage station is on the bridge.  The following is the report from the month of February 2019.

A graph of the stream depth of the main stream of Northeast Creek at the Grandale Road bridge during February 2019
USGS Stream Gage on the Main Stream of Northeast Creek at the Grandale Road Bridge

Notice the daily cycle for the first eleven days of February.  That is the record of the daily release of the TWWP, just that between roughly 5.0 inches and 4.5 inches.  Increased streamflow begins around February 12 and rises through multiple peaks to almost 10 feet before decreasing toward the end of the month, with one rainfall around February 28.

Compare this pattern with the pattern upstream from the stream gage at Carpenter-Fletcher Road.

A map of the wetlands at the junction of the main stream and Tributary D of Northeast Creek
Main Stream Junction with Tributary D

The yellow lines separate Tributary C on the east, Tributary D on the west, and a short minor tributary of the main stream in the middle.  The meanders and islands are the pattern that the main stream takes through this section in which it is receiving the flow from Tributary D, the long, more-or-less straight, stream on the left.

The diagonal line is a natural gas pipeline easement.

A map of the main stream junction of Northeast Creek with its tributary Kit's Creek
Main Stream Junction with Kit’s Creek

The green line at the bottom right is the Rails-to-Trails American Tobacco Trail (ATT) that runs from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to the village of New Hill in Wake County.  The gap is just to allow the bridge over the Northeast Creek to be visible.

Kit’s Creek (Kitt’s Creek is also correct) flows from the southeast and joins the main stream of Northeast Creek right before the ATT bridge. This junction is in Chatham County.

The area to the north of Northeast Creek is bottom land hardwood forest that includes some magnificent beech trees and shagbark hickories.

This entire floodplain down to the rookery at the mouth by the NC 751 bridge is owned by the Corps of Engineers and administered by the NC Wildlife Commission as gameland.

Another fun activity is to see where your water goes when it leaves the Parkwood area.  A great way to explore this part of Northeast Creek is to hike or bike on the ATT; an alternative is to park at the parking lot by the NC 751 bridge, put in your kayak in the bay to the east and paddle upstream as far as you can (generally short of Panther Creek because of beaverdams and blowdowns).

Which Sub-basin of Northeast Creek Are You In? (For Parkwood Area Residents)

Creek Week is coming March 13 through 20. During that week Durham is focusing attention on how individual citizens and property owners can with modest efforts deliver significant benefits to the quality of water moving downstream, especially to Jordan Lake.

A fun activity during Creek Week is to find the path that water from your roof, sidewalk, driveway, and patio or deck takes as it goes to Northeast Creek, down Northeast Creek and into Jordan Lake, and down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington.

A map showing the main stem of Parkwood Creek, the watershed for Tributary C, and the watershed for Tributary D
Sub-basins of Northeast Creek in the Parkwood area

To do that, we must perceive streams and their tributary flows of runoff in the foreground and land in the background. Focusing on the flash flood zones at full flood (the flood zones identified on the Sub-basin map) shows the land as necks extending into the fully flooded lake headwaters. After all, one of the primary purposes of Lake Jordan was mitigation of the flash flooding that often occurred in the Haw River and New Hope Creek basins.

We see that Parkwood comprises parts of three sub-basins:

  • The main stream of Northeast Creek on the east;
  • Tributary C feeding Parkwood Lake in the center;
  • Tributary D draining the western part of the McCormick high land and streams from Hunters Woods joining and running down Wineberry to the west.

To find out which sub-basin you are in, find where your house is on the map.

For reference, look for these landmarks:

  • Parkwood Elementary School
  • Parkwood Fire Station
  • Gas House Shell Station
  • South Durham (SoDu) Farmers Market at Greenwood Commons.

Click on the image of the map. Use Ctrl-+ to enlarge the map. Now look for the landmarks.

Now trace the path the water takes from your house to the main stream, Tributary C, or Tributary D.

Are any streams by your property?

Which sub-basin do they flow into?

Where does the runoff from your house enter a stream?

Does it flow through a stormwater drain or stormwater pipe? Where does the water drain into a stream?

Does it flow down intermittent creeks that only have water when it rains?

A fun activity is to put on your rain gear when it rains and follow the water where it flows until you locate the storm drain and stream into which the runoff flows.

A tree full of stars

The largest tree beyond my door, and one of the largest trees in the immediate neighborhood, is a sweetgum. It probably isn’t that old and there are larger trees around, but it is still about 2′ in diameter and roughly 90 to 100′ tall, with furrowed light gray bark dappled with patches of a white crustose lichen on its trunk and pale green lichen on its branches (not as luxuriantly lichen covered as nearby oaks). Young sweetgums growing in a field have a conical, Christmas tree shape, and sweetgums actually have several ties to Christmas (this article was originally written for December). A sweetgum’s canopy usually becomes rounded with age, as is the case with this tree, and lower limbs growing into utility lines have been cut occasionally, so most of its great boughs are high in the air. It is a very exuberant tree. Many years ago it was surrounded by a grove of small sweetgums, at least some suckers from large exposed roots, and more still sprout. Some of the limbs of the big sweetgum develop vertical shoots that look just like large saplings several feet tall, later bending outward. Sweetgums probably aren’t meant to have a spreading form, and this tree has long had open space on most sides. Large sweetgums often have limbs that angle upward a short distance, with limbs closer to vertical branching off from the ends, and I might have seen how this form comes about. One calm summer evening a few years ago I was standing by a window when there was a whooshing sound and a huge, leafy limb fell, almost on our residential powerline. The top has been snapped off by lightning or wind at least once. Recently large pieces of a partially dead limb have fallen and there might be more dead branches than usual after the prolonged drought last summer and fall. At one time there was a very large squirrel nest made of leafy twigs in the principal fork high in the canopy, and hawk pairs have seemed to consider nesting in late winter. Birds often perch at the very top and during the winter some pry seeds out of the prickly ‘gumballs.’ Virginia creeper climbs up the wide trunk. Sweetgums might seem commonplace, but they have ecological and historical depths now largely forgotten.

Sweetgums are probably very familiar. In many places they are one of the first and most abundant woody pioneers to sprout in abandoned fields, joining other early successional trees like loblolly pines, cedars, winged elms, and ashes. Sweetgums bear large star-shaped leaves with five (sometimes seven or three) sharp, triangular points with slightly serrated edges, on very long petioles (leaf stems), and are often clustered on short side twigs. Along the west wall of UNC’s Coker Arboretum there is an unusual specimen whose leaves have five rounded points, an example of the Rotundiloba or roundleaf cultivar, apparently discovered in North Carolina in the 30’s and sterile. This tree is the state’s largest roundleaf sweetgum (90′ tall), according to the NC Forest Service, and there are others in the Arboretum. When bruised a sweetgum’s relatively thick leaves give off a characteristic, resinous fragrance reminiscent of pines. The leaves alternate along relatively thick twigs, green to bronze when young, spotted with pale lenticels, pores that allow the woody tissues to breathe, and sometimes corky growths. These warty growths can grow into “wings,” like those along the more delicate twigs of winged elms, which also grow in open areas and young woods, but sweetgums usually have smaller wings, if any, and have more robust twigs and buds than elms. Sweetgum twigs are supposed to have star-shaped pith in cross section, but I haven’t seen this so far. The furrowed but relatively soft pale gray bark, up to an inch or more thick, is one reason for the rare common name alligatorwood. The big sweetgum has light gray bark, very light gray on the south side (I wondered if the color was due to lichen, but it looks like bare bark), while a smaller sweetgum nearby has darker grayish bark.

The big, glossy greenish to bronze-colored terminal buds and smaller lateral buds, covered in a few large hair-fringed scales, glint in the wane winter sun, and it is a sign of spring when they begin to swell outside my window. It feels like no sooner do these big buds open, leaving pale yellowish bud scales littering the ground, then the spent male flowers also drop. Each monoecious tree produces flowers of both sexes, the yellowish green clusters of male flowers form spheres on stalks about 1 ½” tall, held upright at the twig tips as the shiny, vaguely spidery new leaves begin to unfold, while the female flower clusters hang as spiky green balls, much smaller than the mature fruit, each flower producing up to two seeds. The two styles of each flower become long spikes or beaks on the gumballs.

The dark brown mature ‘spiny’ gumballs can be seen dangling high in the air against the bracing skies of winter. They could be confused with the light brown balls of windborne seeds hanging on American sycamores, but sycamores have unmistakable pale bark, brown and flaking low on the trunk, becoming dappled green and then stark white at the treetops. In early winter I hear bits of pale grit falling on the leaf litter, and I think this come from the sweetgum, but their seeds are actually dark and resemble tiny miniature ash keys. Gumballs carpet the ground and a neighboring driveway by late winter, and help develop calluses when walked on bare foot the rest of the year, though they eventually wear down to merely rough balls.

In the fall sweetgums are valued for color, with leaves turning light yellow, red, and purple, sometimes nearly black.

As pioneers, sweetgums dislike shade and put on height quickly to keep their place in the sun. They can grow up to 150′ tall and 5′ across or more. The NC Forest Service lists two champion American sweetgums, a 134′ tall tree at Merchants Millpond State Park and a tree 138′ tall, but with the same circumference, in Wilson County. There are two national champion sweetgums, in Virginia and Texas. Two large sweetgums near the corner of Lawson and Lincoln streets at NCCU might be the largest I have seen by some inches, and pretty large sweetgums are common in the bottomlands along Northeast Creek. Reportedly a sweetgum can live for 400 years.

Sweetgum has been known as liquidamber, bilsted, red gum, star gum, and American storax. Its scientific name is Liquidambar styraciflua, coined by Linnaeus in 1753; the generic name meaning “liquid amber” while the specific name means “flowing with styrax (storax).” Earlier, in 1686, English naturalist John Ray had termed it Styrax liquida. Depending on the system, sweetgums are in their own family or are classified with witch hazels, uncommon woodland shrubs that bloom in winter on steep hillsides above Northeast Creek and elsewhere in the Triangle.

Sweetgums of some kind have been around for at least 99 million years and once grew across the Northern Hemisphere, but today there are only three other species: L. orientalis in Turkey and two species in East Asia, L. formosana and L. acalycina. American sweetgums range from southwest Connecticut through much of Eastern North America, south to Nicaragua. According to the Tropicos floral database, sweetgums are known as tzo-te in Chiapas and Guatemala, quiramba in Guatemala, and liquidambar in Belize, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

The Spanish recognized sweetgum by its fragrance when they first encountered it in the New World. The Old World’s storax or styrax, a fragrant resin, was used in incense, perfumes, medicines, added to wine, and applied to hair but the source was mysterious in Europe, beyond vendors in places like Constantinople. Linnaeus gave the name Styrax to a genus of small trees, some found here, thinking that one of them was the source, but today classical storax (or rosemalles) is thought to come from Turkish sweetgums, originally harvested by Turkey’s Yuruks, a nomadic Turkic group. This traditional industry is reportedly endangered. Apparently the Turkish sweetgum was scientifically described only in the mid-19th century. In his first hand account of the 16th century conquest of Mexico conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo describes the feasts presented to Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin. Included were “three tubes much painted and gilded, which held liquidambar [apparently called xochiocotzoquahuitl in native Nahuatl, referring to the pinelike fragrance] mixed with certain herbs which they call tobaco.” After eating the emperor would inhale a little smoke and sleep, a reported effect of storax. The Spanish might have first encountered American storax used in incense a few years earlier further down the coast of Central America. Several years after the war in Mexico, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca encountered sweetgums growing near Appalachicola in Florida during the Narváez expedition.

American storax, also called copalm balm, was described as a heal all by 16th century Spanish herbalist Francisco Hernández de Toledo, who spent several years researching in Mexico and Central America. John Banister is credited with introducing sweetgums to Europe in 1681. In 1839 styrene was first distilled from storax, and about a century later styrofoam was made from polystyrene. Storax was used to treat illnesses such as dysentery during the Civil War. An American storax industry developed during WWI, but was subsequently abandoned in favor of cheaper storax from abroad, only to be reactivated around WWII when the supply from the Japanese-held Taiwan was cut off. Apparently the expertise was only retained in Clarke County in southwest Alabama, making it the center of the wartime industry. A sweetgum there produces only ½ to one pound per year, and the amount is supposed to depend on the amount of foliage and increases going south.

In recent times storax has been used in salves, adhesives, fragrance, perfuming powders, perfume fixative, soap, and tobacco flavoring. It has been smoked for sleep, chewed for sore throat, colds, diarrhea, ringworm, catarrah, and applied to sores, wounds, piles, etc. It was used to clear mucous, and as an anti-septic and anti-inflammatory. Sweetgum leaf essential oil is chemically similar to Australian tea tree oil. The inner bark was boiled with milk to alleviate diarrhea. The resin has long been a chewing gum and teeth cleaner. Storax (not necessarily American) is supposed to be a component of commercially available compound tincture of benzoin.

Sweetgumballs are or were painted and hung on Christmas trees. They could probably also be used in crafting and if nothing else cats chase them. Chinese sweetgum balls, apparently called lu lu tong in Mandarin and softer than our gumballs, are used herbally.

Sweetgums are a prominent source of lumber, with heavy and strong but not very flexible wood. After about 60 years trees develop reddish heartwood below the white sapwood. Sometimes the sapwood was sold as sap gum and the heartwood as red gum. Unesteemed “gum wood” was often called satin walnut or hazelwood and could even be passed off as exotic Circassian walnut, rosewood, and mahogany. The wood polishes and stains well and the heartwood can display interesting figures. Sweetgum has been used in furniture, indoor trim, veneer, flooring, crates, cigar boxes, toys. barrels, boats, chopsticks, woodenware, plywood, railroad ties, and for pulp.

Many bird species, squirrels, and chipmunks feed on sweetgum seeds, while beavers eat the bark. Larvae of a sweetgum bark beetle bore in living and dead wood. Many moths eat the leaves as caterpillars, including several common geometers (inchworms), luna moths, promothea or spicebush silkmoths, hickory horned devils (the impressive caterpillars of regal walnut moths), imperial moths, sweetgum leafrollers, and the large Paectes. The big, ethereal light green to yellowish, long tailed luna moth, once known as the pale empress of the night, is relatively common and its caterpillars can feed on several tree species, but their abundance seems to vary greatly across the Triangle. They seem to be abundant around Falls Lake; a few years ago I would often notice the large black barrellike droppings of caterpillars under sweetgums and look up to see the thick green accordion-shaped caterpillars with yellow markings hidden high overhead. Luna moths might also be common around NCSU. On the other hand I’ve seen few around Jordan Lake or in Chapel Hill and Durham, though sweetgums are common there too (but tuliptrees might be the more common deciduous pioneer in Chapel Hill).

The not-so-familiar black walnut

Black walnuts are familiar yet very unusual and valuable trees, and quite rare growing wild around here. At Jordan Lake State Recreation Area’s Seaforth access there are several exceptionally large trees of various kinds, including a black walnut. It’s spreading boughs are shaggy with resurrection ferns, verdant green after rain, contrasting with the yellowish-green of the walnut leaves, and appear dead at other times. The walnut is partially hollow and has dead branches, so it seems precarious and I wonder if the raised water table and/or heavy summer foot traffic is harming it. There are several much younger walnuts nearby. Near UNC’s Friday Center there is a black walnut about 2′ across, with a plaque saying it sprouted circa 1880. Large walnuts line paths at Durham’s West Point on the Eno. There are a few walnuts in the Northeast Creek basin. A tall tree more than a foot across grows at the base of a moist northwest facing slope near tributary Burdens Creek. It is a mystery how it got there. A few miles away there are spindly but nut-producing walnuts growing wild by a road in Chatham County connected only to Durham and Wake.

Their large nuts, classified botanically as drupes, fall around October, later than acorns and hickory nuts. An unusual feature is their smooth, relatively soft, fragrant, yellowish-green changing to black, staining husks, resembling a lemon more than a nut such as a pecan. Last fall there were unusually few walnuts under the Burdens Creek tree, whether because of the drought or because production varies yearly. On the other hand smallish nuts covered the ground under the Chapel Hill tree last October, and squirrels were gathered when I visited.

Black walnuts have dark, regularly furrowed bark and are tall and narrow in forests but short and very broad without competition. Giants can grow to 150′ tall and 6′ across, but walnut wood is valuable, so valuable that trickery and poaching occurs, and many were cut. They have large pinnately compound leaves up to 2′ long and 6” wide, with 9 to 23 long-pointed and serrated leaflets in pairs, smaller at the ends of the leaf, and usually there isn’t a leaflet at the tip. The leaflets have very short stems (petiolules) and the compound leaves alternate along the twigs. There is some hairiness on the underside of the leaflets and the leaf stem, called a rachis. Broken leaves and husks have a distinctive smell, lemony to me. Their leaves turn yellow early, contrasting with the dark trunks.

Several trees have similar leaves. White walnuts or butternuts, native in the Smokies, and introduced here, have oblong nuts, fewer leaflets (but usually with a terminal leaflet), and while both walnuts have chambered pith inside their twigs, it is darker brown in butternuts. Both species have grayish buds and the leaves fall to reveal three-lobed leaf scars, but there is a hairy spot only in butternuts and their buds are elongated. Hickories, such as bitternuts and pecans, are in the walnut family, but typically have fewer leaflets per leaf, a terminal leaflet, buds covered in scales, pith without chambers, and their nuts are usually dehiscent, opening along sutures. Locusts and Ailanthus also have pinnate compound leaves but are often small trees with multiple trunks growing in open areas. Ailanthus have very large leaves and leaf scars, a distinctive smell, and are most common in built-up areas while black locusts are thorny and produce fragrant white pealike flowers in late April.

Black walnuts seem to like well-drained soil and usually grow far from waterways. They grow fast, but are long-lived and don’t like shade, and they have a way to preserve their sunlight.

Black walnuts produce wind-pollinated catkins before leafing, each tree having both sexes. The dangling male catkins are 3 – 5” long. The female flowers are in clusters of 2-5 near the twig tips. The male and female flowers open at different times, but self-pollination is possible. A sapling can produce nuts after only five years, but few until age 10 – 15. The huge nuts are covered in a smooth husk, surrounding a seed with very thick, irregular wooden walls. ‘Everyone’ eats the nuts, yet I often find many left under wild trees and it takes a lot of effort to get inside. Apparently walnuts need a long cold period to sprout, and squirrels can steal planted nuts.

Black walnuts are known botanically as Juglans nigra, the generic name being an abbreviation for Latin Jovis glans, the acorn or nut of Jupiter (it was said people once lived on acorns while the gods ate walnuts). The word walnut originally referred to Persian walnuts, and is supposed to be a combination of the Anglo-Saxon for Welsh or Celtic, signifying foreign, and nut, wealh hnutu, as opposed to hazelnuts. Walnuts are honored in many place names, such as Cary’s Walnut Creek.

An unusual feature of black walnuts is their allelopathy. The walnut near Burdens Creek grows in a mature deciduous forest, but is in a sunnier glade. Around now toothworts and other early wildflowers bloom around it, joined by pink redbuds, an understory tree in the pea family, and in summer other peas cover the ground. Legumes often carpet the ground under walnuts in summer. Black walnuts produce hydrojuglone, which oxidizes into juglone and washes into the soil, to poison competitors, though ash, legumes, etc. seem immune. Some soil bacteria seem to be able to live on juglone.

Despite poisoning other plants, walnuts are edible to many animals. Squirrels, white footed-mice, and chipmunks disperse the nuts. In winter rabbits and deer nibble saplings. On the other hand walnut is harmful to horses and fish. Many insects feed on walnuts, including a curculio weevil, woodboring beetles, the walnut lace bug, stinkbugs, and aphids. Walnut fruitflies are supposed to develop in the husks, but I haven’t seen any. Many lepidopterans consume walnut, including one small butterfly, the banded hairstreak. Moths include gigantic hickory horned devils (caterpillars of the royal or regal walnut moth), related imperial moths, luna moths, walnut caterpillars and other Datanas, monkey slugs, walnut sphinx moths, curved-tooth geometers (a relatively large dark brown moth common at lights around April or May), American dagger moths and relatives, salt marsh caterpillars, fall webworms, walnut shoot moths, and several more.

Walnuts have a lot of versatility for humanity. Nuts are gathered from the ground and the nutmeat can be eaten raw, ground into flour, or boiled for oil used for cooking, fuel, and as polish (butternuts are more famous for oil). The trees can be taped like sugar maples. The husks produce a dye used to color cloth and even hair, and as ink. Walnut is supposed to repeal bedbugs and other insects, and I have wondered if the husks could be used to treat wood. Pulverized nuts are used in abrasives, filters, tires, composted, etc. The beautiful smooth wood was also used in furniture, paneling, veneer, cabinets, carriages, sewing machines, appliances, musical instruments, and for both cradles and caskets. During wars it went for gunstocks and airplane propellers. Walnut resists decay, so it was used for rail fences and railroad ties.

The leaves and husks have been known to cause dermatitis, but there are many herbal uses. The bark was used for toothaches; husks were used for ringworm, external inflammation, and to cause sleep; leaves were used for insect repellant and reportedly for sunscreen; and various parts were used to treat gastrointestinal problems. Juglone could be useful as a sedative and cancer inhibitor.

Thousand canker disease is an emerging threat for walnuts, though still far from here. Unlike other new catastrophic forest maladies like emerald ash borer and laurel wilt, thousand canker disease is native to North America, but was apparently unknown in the East until it reached Knoxville around 2010, so black walnuts still lack resistance. Thousand canker disease is caused by a recently discovered fungus spread by the walnut twig beetle, native in the Southwest and Mexico. In fall 2012 the disease was found in Haywood County, bordering Tennessee, but it is not known to have spread elsewhere in North Carolina since. The disease is present in several Western states, but only four Eastern states. Butternuts are susceptible and also face a canker noticed in 1967, probably from Asia. So walnut is another wood to be careful about moving over distances.

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