Plant life in east and middle Tennessee is among the most diverse to be found anywhere on earth, with more different species growing here than in all of western Europe. The dominant forest of the plateau is hickory-oak, while the gorges hold lush stands of tulip poplar and hemlock. Numerous other species can be found: maple, white pine, sassafras, magnolia, paw paw and an abundance of shrubs and wildflowers.
On our most recent visit to the park we also saw several white-tailed deer, wild turkey, squirrels, hawks, vultures, and numerous songbirds. Sightings of black bear have been reported in or near the park, but they are uncommon.
The cool deep gorges of Fall Creek Falls State Park form a micro-climate which provides a home to many plants which are more reminiscent of southern Ontario than of the southern United States. Many rare and uncommon species can be found in these sheltered coves, perhaps left behind from the last ice age.
One of my favorite wildflowers, and one that is abundant here, is the pink lady's slipper. This beautiful member of the orchid family is found in scattered areas of mixed hardwood forests from the high peaks of the southern Appalachians, northward to Nova Scotia, and westward to Minnesota.
The famous Civil War era artist, Gilbert Gaul, at one time owned a large tract of land of land that is now included in Fall Creek Falls State Park. Gaul was about 26-years-old when he came to the Fall Creek area, after inheriting the land from an uncle. He built a studio and during his stay in Tennessee did many of his paintings, including his well known work, "The Picket." Gaul used a local bootlegger as the model for the old man standing watch with his gun.
In the Fall Creek village you will find an exhibition room which displays some of Gilber Gaul's paintings. This is a free display offered by the state park.
The Cumberland Plateau is, and has always been, one of the least populated areas in Tennessee. In pioneer times the rugged and rocky plateau was seen by most settlers as a barrier between the rich farmlands of the Tennessee River Valley and the flatter and more fertile lands to the west. Only a few hardy pioneers, mostly of Scotch-Irish stock, settled here, and they left have left only a few marks on the land.
Some of these you will see behind the nature center along Cane Creek. Here we found large symetrical holes bored into the rock. Wooden piles once stood in these holes, anchored in place by iron spikes, to support mills along the waterway. The Bickford Mill, stood above Cane Creek Cascades, where a log dam diverted water through the mill's high-speed turbine to grind corn. In 1929 a flood washed the mill off it's foundation and over the falls. In this photo my son, Jeromy, and his wife, Erin, are wading where the old mill once stood.
Fall Creek Falls boasts an outstanding nature center with many attractive, interesting and interpretative displays. Named for former Tennessee First Lady Betty Dunn, the center depicts and interprets the natural and cultural history of the area. It is located just in front of the the Cane Creek Cascades and there are several self-guided nature trails which begin here.
There is a small theatre in the nature center and several videos are available to be played upon request. We especially enjoyed the 18-minute orientation film which shows the history and natural highlights of the park.
I just had to share this photo of one of my favorite trees. The Umbrella Magnolia is often a big tree, growing up to 40 feet tall, with large leaves and very large flowers, a foot or more across. The tree gets its name from the large spreading leaves borne on branches that resemble the ribs of an umbrella.
The Umbrella Magnolia grows from Georgia north to Pennsylvania and west to Arkansas and Oklahoma, although it is found infrequently within most of this range. However, it is abundant in the moist hardwood forests along the lower slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains.
The flowers of the Umbrella Magnolia are usually too high to see easily, and many people miss them. I was fortunate to get this photo of a tree in bloom near the Cane Creek Cascade.