McLean Savanna is home to seven rare plant species, including three that are classified as federally endangered. Protecting those plants and the rare ecosystem they inhabit is a top priority for The Nature Conservancy. Last week the Conservancy purchased conservation easements on 381 acres of the Savanna, which adjoins a 540-acre tract protected in 2008. The newly protected property runs along Catskin and Players creeks which eventually feed into the Northeast Cape Fear River. The easements restrict all activity harmful to water quality along the creeks and future development and mining activities elsewhere at the site.
“These savannas really are a rare type of habitat,” explains Hervey McIver, Onslow Bight Program Director. “Plants like golden sedge, which is federally endangered, are limited to a narrow range of moisture, soil chemistry and fire conditions. These conditions are pretty limited to this area of North Carolina.”
Savannas are flat expanses with a shallow water table below ground and are kept open by frequent natural or prescribed fires. Where limestone or marl is found a few feet below the surface, additional nutrients are added to the soil, which influences what can grow there. The Conservancy began its protection work in the area in 1982 with its purchase of Neck Savanna in Pender County.
Unlike many of the landscapes where the Conservancy works – in the mountains or along the coast – most North Carolinians are unfamiliar with the Onslow Bight savannas. They are located in remote areas. They aren’t easily accessible. Golden sedge is one of the rarest of the many species of plants that inhabit the savannas of the Onslow Bight, a southeastern North Carolina landscape that extends from the lower Northeast Cape Fear River to the Pamlico River. The word “bight” means a curve or bend in the shoreline.
Two other federally endangered plants, Cooley’s meadowrue and rough leaf loosestrife, are found at McLean Savanna. It is also home to carnivorous plants including venus fly traps, pitcher plants and sundews. “These savannas are in bloom from March to November,” says McIver. “It is just one beautiful plant after another, changing with the seasons. I hate to think what development or mining would have done to this landscape.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.