cove forest

In the mountains of the South, cove refers to a remote valley hidden away between high mountains, or in the natural amphitheater of a mountainside. As opposed to a mere hollow or valley, a cove is most often found on the north slope, so sunlight only reaches the floor in the middle of the day. Because the soil and leaves and other detritus drift down the sides of the cove over the centuries, and because water flows down those sloped sides, the topsoil on the floor is especially deep and rich. As a result, trees in a cove forest grow bigger, taller, older. Giant tulip poplars, white oaks, yellow buckeye thrive in the deep humus. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in western North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest contains outstanding examples of virgin cove forests. Cove forests in the Great Smokies are known to have some of the greatest botanical variety of any places in North America. Because of the valleys’ isolation after the last ice age, many ancient species are trapped and protected in the coves: mosses, ferns, flowers such as the Oconee bell. The forests preserved in the coves shelter rare lichens, liverworts, fungi, and include basswood, sugar maple, sweet buckeye, yellow birch, beech, bitternut hickory, white ash, cucumber trees. Because of the constant shade, understories are haunted by flies, spiders, and mosquitoes in the summer.

Robert Morgan