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Botanical Wonders Abound in West Virginia’s ‘Cranberry Glades’

By Barry Glick, Sunshine Farm and Gardens

Tags: ecotourism, traveling, botany, carnivorous plants, Barry Glick, West Virginia,


To completely understand The Cranberry Glades of West Virginia, you’ll have to go back about 12,000 years to the end of the last Ice Age, and envision yourself as a prehistoric caveperson.

Things are starting to warm up a bit and the ice is retreating. The times they are a changing.

Now, most folks hear the word “glade” and think of a wet area. Not so! A glade is a bright opening in a dense forest. A “bog” is a wet area and we’ll be chatting about both further down the page — I just wanted to get the nomenclature out of the way.

OK, back to the Ice Age:

It seems that when the ice came down from what we, nowadays, call Canada, it brought with it much of the vegetation that is native to those northern climes. When the ice retreated, it magically left those plants behind to thrive. There are many species of plants, trees and shrubs that are at their southernmost limit in “The Glades.”

Plants of the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area

The Cranberry Glades are situated within the Monongahela National Forest, which comprises almost 1 million acres of land, making it the third largest national forest east of the Rocky Mountains. Within The Glades are many natural areas and attractions such as the “Cranberry Glades Botanical Area.” This 750-acre preserve is home to many unusual plants, and this is where you’ll find “the bogs.”

Bogs, acidic wetlands typically found in Canada and the northern U.S., are home to several species of Carnivorous plants, like Drosera rotundifolia, aka the “Sundew Plant” and Sarracenia purpurea, the “Pitcher Plant”.  You can stroll along the half-mile boardwalk as you gaze at these happy little plants gobbling up insects as you walk by.

There are many, many species of native orchids in the preserve, and this was the first place that I experienced the sweet vanilla fragrance of Spiranthes cernua f. odorata, the “Nodding Ladies Tresses.  You’ll also find Aplectrum hymale, the “Adam and Eve” or “Putty Root” orchid, so named because Native Americans crushed the mucilaginous tubers and used the exudates to mend pottery.

Goodyera pubescens, the “Rattlesnake Orchid,” is easy to identify by its strikingly metallic, striped foliage, and who could miss the beautiful Trillium undulatum, aptly named the “Painted Trillium” another acid-loving bog plant.

It’s also hard to miss the large stands of Veratrum viride, aka “False Hellebore,” a 6-foot-tall member of the Lily family with very sexy, robust, pleated foliage that just loves having its feet in muck.

Alongside the Veratrum, lives a close relative of Arisaema triphyllum, “Jack in The Pulpit.” I’m speaking about Symplocarpus foetidus, a plant with a rather unpleasant fragrance should you bruise the foliage — hence the moniker “Skunk Cabbage.” If you get there early enough in late winter/early spring, before the snow retreats, you just may see the “Skunk Cabbage” melting the snow, as a thermal reaction within the plant generates heat during sex.

How to Get to the Cranberry Glades

No matter what the season, there’s always something to arouse the nature lover in you, although early to mid-spring is the most exhilarating time to experience this botanical paradise.

Cranberry Nature Center. From Lewisburg, W.V., it’s just a short, 33-mile jaunt up 219 North to Mill Point, where you make a left on 39 West and in 6 miles, you’re at the Cranberry Nature Center. The center is open from mid-April to mid-October and is staffed by my friend, Diana Stull. Diana’s been there for many years and is super knowledgeable on every aspect of the area and always eager to inform and assist.

Highland Scenic Highway. By the way, just across from the nature center, you’ll see a sign for WV Route 150, a 22-mile, meandering stretch of road known as the “Highland Scenic Highway”. This adventurous route will bring you back to US 219 just north of Marlinton.

Along the way, you’ll climb up to over 4,500 feet and catch some awesome views of The Glades. I’ve seen some breathtaking stands of Lilium superbum, our native ‘Turks Cap’ Lily along the highway, and there are plenty of areas to pull off the road and do some botanizing.

Hills Creek Falls. If you continue your journey west on Route 39, you’ll come to another of The Glades natural areas, Hills Creek Falls. The Falls are a series of 3 waterfalls, the Upper, Middle and Lower. The Lower Falls just happens to be the second highest waterfall in WV at 63 feet and the other two are nothing to sneeze at, the middle falls being 45 feet and the upper, 25 feet.

The Cranberry Shindig. Oh yeah, Diana asked me to remind my readers about the Center’s most popular event, the Cranberry Shindig, held each year the last Sunday in September. It’s a long-standing event, in its 29th year, and is a 1-day celebration of Appalachian heritage.

They feature traditional music and dancing, artisans demonstrating their craft, and an arts and craft show, all on the lawn of the nature center. In addition, they’re planning on adding a summer concert series on the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center stage with local Mountain Music Trail musicians in 2016, one Saturday a month in June, July and August.

There is way too much to share about The Glades in a 1,000-word article, I haven’t even mentioned the wildlife, so I suggest that you go experience the forest for yourself.

I guess by now, you’re wondering why they call the Cranberry Glades, the Cranberry Glades? I’ll answer that question with another question: Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?

Barry Glick founded Sunshine Farm and Gardens in 1972 on 60 acres in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. His plant collection now numbers more than 10,000 taxa, many unknown to cultivation. Several of these plants have been introduced to gardening in recent years. Barry exchanges seeds and plants with people at arboretums, botanic gardens, nurseries and private gardens in virtually every country in the world. Peruse Barry’s speakers series here and read the rave reviews here. If you have any questions, would like to chat about any plants that Barry offers, send an email to his personal email address. Read all of Barry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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