Holly Shelter Hike

Holly Shelter Game Land, Pender County, NC


Mark and I took a morning hike along the fresh-tidal Cape Fear River, between Topsail and Wilmington.  The river occurs within the 87,000-acre Holly Shelter Game Land, which is a remote, massive swamp and longleaf pine – wiregrass community that contains the endangered cockaded woodpecker and pygmy rattlesnake.  I have previously been in this forest type in Georgia, near the Florida line.


The river is lined with water and laurel oak, black and sweetgum and bald cypress.  It is black tannic acid in color, with about a 3-foot tidal range.  Today is the only time that Mark and I wore long parts all week during vacation, and yes the site has ticks and poison ivy.

Nuphar sagittifolia

The river has patches of lance-leaved spatterdock (Nuphar lutea spp. sagittifolia), which only occurs in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Clematis crispa

We saw an obligate (OBL) evening primrose species at peak bloom, as a common plant in the bald cypress swamps, but the find of the day was Swamp Leatherflower (Clematis crispa), in flower (in the photo above).


Swamp leatherflower leaves look like Maryland’s marsh clematis species, and even the seed heads are similar, but have an entirely different and unusual flower.


Mark and I took a cutting from one of the several vines (now pressed) and later read that all parts of the plant can cause a dermatitis rash.  The plant is uncommon in North Carolina and an S3 watchlist species in Maryland.  This is a plant that I have never seen before.

Polygala lutea

The ditches in Topsail have frequent aggregates of the native Orange Milkwort (Polygala lutea).  I first recorded this plant years back when doing wetland delineation work on the lower eastern shore of Maryland, and which has a distinct, bright orange color.


A five-lined skink scampers across the trail, stopping for the photo-op.

Spanish Moss

It was great to see all of the Spanish Moss growing from the laurel oak.  Nice morning walk.