The LandTrust for Central North Carolina, with support from the Open Space Institute and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, is pleased to announce the formal protection of the Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve through a conservation easement. This is a 104-acre, climate-resilient property located in Montgomery County on Smith Branch that has been managed for more than 20 years for longleaf pine ecosystem restoration and enhancement. A plethora of unique flora and fauna are found on the site, including a rare plant, Iris prismatica (blue flag iris), timber rattlesnake, yellow-fringed orchid, and fox squirrels.
The property used to be a subsistence farm, and had a few scattered older growth longleaf pines located on it. The current owner purchased the property and planted some of it in loblolly pine initially, but they did not survive the large snowstorm of 2000. That’s when he noticed the longleaf and began researching about them. He replanted the areas of loblolly with longleaf, and began a rigorous prescribed burning regime. Each block of land in the property gets burned every 2 years now.
“The LandTrust is very excited to work with this landowner in order to preserve this unique site,” states Executive Director Travis Morehead. “There are less than a dozen native Piedmont Longleaf Pine forests left in North Carolina, many of them on national forest land, and the opportunity to conserve a privately held longleaf forest is a special occurrence.” The LandTrust worked to protect another privately held longleaf forest, the Arnett Branch Longleaf Pine Forest, in partnership with the NC Zoo a few years ago.
The NC Natural Heritage Program now classifies the Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve as a natural heritage natural area. The natural communities of Piedmont Longleaf Pine Forest and Piedmont Boggy Streamhead are found on the property. Piedmont longleaf pine differ from the Sandhills and Coastal Plain longleaf in that they have a understory hosting a suite of native Piedmont grasses and forbs, including big blue stem, little blue stem, broom straw, and Indian grass, for example.
“Many of the plants found on the property are more classically thought of as coastal plain plants,” states Land Protection Director, Crystal Cockman. “This just goes to show that Montgomery County is a crossroads, where the Uwharrie Mountains meet the Sandhills, and thanks to the landowner’s dedication to prescribed burning, new unique plants show up almost every season.” Other special plants found here include Amorpha schwerini (Piedmont indigo bush), Turk’s cap lily, green-fringed orchid, and a coastal plain species of azalea.
The property was conserved thanks in large part to the Open Space Institute’s Southeast Resilient Landscapes Fund. As weather patterns change, strategic conservation of places like the Smith Branch Longleaf Preserve—which contain interconnected landscapes covering a diversity of geology, landforms and biologically intact habitats—is a primary strategy for helping plants and animals adapt.
“Many people don’t realize that the Piedmont region, in addition to holding habitat for sensitive plants and animals, is a linchpin landscape that will help protect North Carolina as the climate changes,” said Peter Howell, Executive Vice President of the Open Space Institute. “We congratulate the LandTrust for Central North Carolina for their perseverance in protecting this hallowed land.”
Additional funding from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund made conservation of this property possible. Thanks to the landowner for preserving this special place, and to supporters of The LandTrust for Central North Carolina for making this work possible. More information about this property’s protection and other LandTrust conservation projects is available on our website at www.landtrustcnc.org.