The Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee is a very unique and diverse physiographic province. This region hosts several endemic species and other interesting plants that are often not common in other places. In fact, there are plant species found here that are found nowhere else in the entire world! Rock outcrops are very common throughout the Cumberland Plateau because of shallow soils, making it an excellent place to witness primary succession first hand. On the rock outcrops lichens are the first species to establish because they are a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a algae and/or cyanobacteria. This gives lichens to ability to live and produce food for survival in very harsh environments. Over time the lichens die and produce organic matter which promotes establishment of mosses. The mosses go through the same cycle of establishment and death which produces even more organic matter. Once enough organic matter is built up, small-seeded plants such as blazing star (Liatris spp.) and pineweed (Hypericum gentianoides) begins to establish (as seen in the top-left picture). This cycle of life and death over hundreds of years creates soil. What an amazing and perfect example of creation!


This chronology of photos shows a novel approach to managing early successional plant communities. It's natural to assume that planting is necessary to achieve the plant community you want for target wildlife species. Common examples including planting native grasses and forbs for quail and wildflowers for pollinators is common. Here is one example of many we have seen in 3 states (AL, KY, and TN) where planting was not necessary to achieve a high-quality early successional plant community (including on retired row-crop fields). Using herbicides and naturally-occurring seed in the seedbank, we transitioned this old hay field into a high-quality plant community that provided food and cover for many wildlife species. This can be accomplished in almost any field where tall fescue and/or other nonnative pasture grasses have been planted and managed for decades. Across 18 different locations this method was nearly 4.5 times cheaper than planting native grasses and produced very similar habitat for deer, quail, turkey, pollinators, and songbirds.