A trip up Natchez Trace

This weekend, I took a trip up the northern half of the Natchez Trace from Tupelo to Nashville. I stopped numerous times along the way to see what was growing in the local forest. Here are a few of the trees I saw.

Black Walnut - there was an abundance of walnut trees especially in the riparian zones near streams. The largest tree I saw was a crown tree about 2.5 feet diameter and easily 100 feet tall. It was growing about 50 feet from Sweetwater Branch near milepost 363. Generally, black walnut produced a good crop this year as seen from nuts on the ground.

Bitternut (Carya Cordiformis) was abundant, especially from Bear Creek Mound at milepost 308 and going north. Identification is easy with this species as it has suture wings similar to pecan and the flavor of the nutmeat is mouth-puckering bitter. If you have not tasted a bitternut, it is very similar to the bitter inner shell material from a pecan. Bitternut trees were common near streams and very uncommon on slopes and hillsides. I found the trees at Bear Creek Mound by going down the slope behind the mound to the creek and wandering up and down the creek bank. I only tasted one nut to sample the repulsive flavor. Nut size and shape was close to round and about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch diameter with most on the small side of that range.

Mockernut (Carya Tomentosa) was abundant in several forest types but as typical with the species was found most abundantly on hillsides and slopes away from streams. Typical forest companions include white oaks, some black oaks, a few chestnut oaks, maples, and pignut hickory. I picked up one of the best flavored mockernuts I’ve ever eaten about 100 feet up the trail to Freedom Hills overlook near milepost 317. If I could just get that flavor in a pecan!

Pignut Hickory (Carya Glabra) I found several examples of pignut hickory along the trace. The mature nuts look like a small green pear with a distinct “stalk” of husk tissue attached to the true stem. These nuts do not have a clearly pointed tip as is typical of bitternut and mockernut. Diameter of the nuts seems to average about 5/8" to 3/4". There were 5 leaflets on all growing rachises of the trees I saw. Leaves were uniformly dark green. The best and most accessible example I saw of this tree is right in front of the parking area for the walking path up to Freedom Hills overlook near milepost 317.

Persimmon - I saw several persimmon trees one of which was very interesting with good flavored fruit about 2 inches diameter. It was located at the edge of the tree line just west of the restrooms at Colbert Ferry near milepost 327. I collected several seed and may attempt to retrieve scionwood this winter. The only negative is that seed are large as is typical of wild persimmons when they have relatively large fruit.

Bald Cypress - I saw only one stand of Bald Cypress which was along the bank of Bear Creek near milepost 308. Bald Cypress is valued as a timber tree in this region. I collected a few mature burrs from one of the better looking trees.

Sourwood - (Oxydendrum arboreum) Numerous sourwood trees were visible along the trace but never in large numbers. Sourwood is usually one of the earliest trees to show distinctive red/orange autumn leaf colors. The trees I saw were barely tinged red so will be a few more weeks to reach maximum color.

Maple - Acer Saccharum was predominant along the Tennessee portion of the trace. Autumn leaves typically turn shades of yellow/orange with an occasional tree turning red/orange. I did not see any maples with well developed color. Cold weather is needed for leaf color to improve. I saw several stands of sugar maple along the sweetwater branch trail near milepost 363.

Oaks - Numerous species of oaks grow along the trace. I am not knowledgeable about oaks beyond being able to place them in broad categories of Red Oak, Black Oak, White Oak, Water Oak, and Chestnut Oak. I saw several exceptionally attractive white oak trees along the trace, especially from the Alabama/Tennessee line going north. Red oaks and Black oaks were common in some areas and I saw an occasional chestnut oak. Water oaks are less common but recognizable, especially when along a tree line.

If anyone is interested in a trip on the trace, I suggest waiting 2 or 3 more weeks for leaves to color up better.