The Wildflowers of Blister Swamp: A Conservation Success Story

On an early morning in July 2010, I stood on the old farmhouse porch at Blister Swamp, watching the sky begin to lighten in the east behind a distant red spruce forest. Crows were the first to announce the new day, while a group of does and yearlings walked across the misty swamp, skirting the wire fence that encloses some 50 acres of globally rare plants.

By 7:15, the deer had reached the spruce forest edge and were feeding quietly, the older does looking up frequently, ever on the lookout for trouble. Then, as if to add their endorsement to the beauty and serenity of the landscape, four bald eagles appeared silently above. I also counted three different species of hawks flying by in less than an hour’s time.

When the mist finally burned off the swamp, I walked from the farmhouse to the swamp’s entrance gate and beheld a very satisfying sight. Countless thousands of Jacob’s ladder blossoms, blue and bell-like, covered acre after acre, bending ever so slightly in the breeze. Goldthread, a rare plant in West Virginia, was as abundant as anywhere I had seen it, even in its typical habitat in the far north. In addition, purple avens were seemingly everywhere, while alder-leaf buckthorn was knee-deep and forming vast, continuous mats of shrubby vegetation. Finally, and importantly, hundreds of native balsam fir seedlings, planted in the early 2000s, had grown to between three and six feet tall.

Not much more than a decade ago, Jacob’s ladder, goldthread, and many other rare plants were barely surviving at the Pocahontas County wetlands known as Blister Swamp. In an article in the August 2003 issue of Wonderful West Virginia, I described the history of the property, which for nearly a century had been used for cattle grazing. As I noted in that article, Franklin, West Virginia, native and Civil War veteran John McClure purchased the property in 1867, cleared its native balsam fir woodland in 1905, and by 1915, the year of his death, was known as the “Cattle King of West Virginia.”

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