Catoctin Mountain Park

Catoctin Mountain Park

Plants

Over 750 species of vascular plants have been documented in Catoctin Mountain Park, including 60 species of trees. Although no Federally listed rare or endangered plants occur within the park, there are numerous State of Maryland listed threatened and endangered species. Many of the plants found in Catoctin are uncommon in the Middle-Atlantic States. Please remember that it is illegal to pick wildflowers or collect seeds from plants. Personal consumption of berries and mushrooms is permitted.

Mushrooms and Other Fungi

Fungi is the name of the kingdom of living organisms that includes mushrooms, molds and crusts. Lacking chlorophyll, fungi must obtain food by absorbing nutrients from surrounding soil or decayed wood in which they grow. While there are many different species of mushrooms and fungi in Catoctin Mountain Park, it is the common morel (Morchella species) that is the most well known. The morel is highly sought after both by animals and humans who considered this mushroom a “choice edible”. In the past, the common morel was abundant throughout the park, but this has since changed. Today morels are scarcely seen. Whether this is due to an environmental change, human harvesting, or a high deer population is not known. Visitors are permitted to collect mushrooms from the park for personal consumption only. It is highly recommended that while collecting mushrooms you transport them in a breathable, mesh bag (such as an onion bag) rather than a plastic or paper sack. This method allows mushroom spores to escape the bag and be distributed throughout the forest, ensuring that there will be morels for all in the future. Be sure to use caution when collecting mushrooms. Some mushrooms are extremely poisonous and eating them could result in death. Know how to properly identify mushrooms before you set out, or go with a mushroom expert.

Wildflowers

One of the earliest signs of spring in the Catoctin forest is the blooming of wildflowers. The wildflower season begins in early April, with different plants continuing to bloom throughout the summer. Location, altitude, and weather can affect bloom times.

Wildflowers that may be seen include spring beauties, cutleaf toothwort, wild geranium, bloodroot, wild ginger, rue anemone, wood anemone, yellow violet, yellow adders tongue, cardinal flower, hepatica, jack-in-the-pulpit, several species of orchid, mayapples, and more.

Several Maryland listed endangered, threatened, and “watch list” plant species reside in the park. One exceptionally beautiful species, the purple-fringed orchid is listed as threatened by the state. The purple-fringed orchid is rarely seen in the park and it appears that their population is declining, perhaps due to over browsing by deer and lack of suitable habitat.

Special measures have been taken to prevent the loss of this unique orchid. Wire cages are placed around individual plants to protect them from deer. The Resource Management staff at Catoctin also performs yearly surveys to monitor these rare, beautiful orchids and preserve their existence. Unfortunately other orchids haven’t been as successful, such as the lady slipper orchid that was commonly found at Catoctin, but has since disappeared.

Some excellent places to look for wildflowers include Brown’s Farm Trail, roadside pull-offs along Big Hunting Creek, and the Blue Blazes Still Trail. Wildflowers can also be seen alongside most trails in the park.

Please do not pick the wildflowers! Picking wildflowers not only denies others the opportunity to admire their beauty, but it also threatens the existence of the plant, and is illegal in all National Park units. It is also illegal to collect seeds from wildflowers.

Catoctin Mountain Park offers guided “Wildflower Walks” in April and May. Check with the Visitor Center for exact dates and location.

Trees and Shrubs

Trees

The Catoctin forest is classified as a Mid-latitude Deciduous forest. This type of forest is famous for its brilliant display of vivid foliage colors in the fall. In general, the forest is an oak-hickory-tulip poplar forest. However, in a given area this may differ depending on soil type, steepness of slope, nutrients available, and moisture. The eastern portion of the park has thin sandy-loam soils that are highly permeable and therefore well drained. Tree species such as chestnut oak, table mountain pine and pitch pine can be found on the drier ridge tops. On lower slopes and ravines, where soil is richer, white oak, tulip poplar, red maple, black birch, American beech, sour gum, and eastern hemlock can be found. The western portion of the park has deeper, richer, and moister soils. Most of the trees here are larger and the forest contains more species. Trees found here include sugar maple, basswood, hickories, hornbeam, white ash, beech, and tulip poplar. In the higher ridge areas chestnut oak trees dominate. Floodplain areas contain trees that do not grow in drier areas such as elm, yellow birch, and sycamore. Acorns, beechnuts, and hickory nuts are a tasty high-energy meal for many woodland animals. Squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and birds can often be seen foraging nuts from the forest floor. Animals, especially squirrels and chipmunks, also play an important role in tree regeneration by hiding or “caching” nuts in the soil to eat at a later date. Oftentimes these nuts are forgotten about and are able to germinate under the protective layer of soil.

Shrubs

The shrubs are generally found in the forest understory or along the forest edge. The most common shrubs include mountain laurel, spicebush, lowbush blueberry, and viburnum. Many animals feed off these shrubs and use them for cover. Multiflora rose and barberry are two shrubs that can be found in much of the park, however they are invasive species that were introduced here by man. Spiked with thorns, these shrubs are beginning to crowd out native plants and are therefore becoming a management priority.

Ferns

Ferns are vascular plants that reproduce in a very unique way. Reproduction is achieved using spores rather than seeds. Spores are usually produced on the underside of leaves in tiny of capsules called sporangia. If a fern spore lands on moist soil or another suitable moist place, it germinates. The spore sends out a short tube that divides and grows small, green, flat, heart-shaped gametophyte. This gametophye is the fern’s sexual stage and it lacks any true roots, stems, or leaves. Either male (sperm) or female (eggs) sex organs will develop on its underside. The sperm will then swim through a thin film of water to fertilize the egg. This fertilized egg will eventually form leaves and roots, becoming a new plant. This new plant is called the sporophyte and is the stage most commonly seen. Allies of ferns, which include horsetails and club mosses, reproduce in a similar manner. Over 33 different species of fern have been reported to exist in Catoctin Mountain Park. Types of ferns in the park include northern maidenhair fern, ebony spleenwort, maidenhair spleenwort, lady fern, northeastern lady fern, silvery athyrium, cutleaf grape fern, matricary grape fern, rattlesnake fern, walking fern, common bladder fern, hay-scented fern, crested shield fern, Goldie's fern, marginal shield fern, spinulose fern, sensitive fern, southern adders tounge, cinnamon fern, interrupted fern, royal fern, rock cap fern, christmas fern, bracken fern, broad beech fern, New York fern, blunt-lobed woodsia, and chain fern. Please remember that it is illegal to collect ferns in the park.