Nestled within the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia, Hidden Valley Recreation Area is successfully managed to be a universal setting for people looking to get outdoors.  Whether you’re looking to hunt, fish, hike, camp, or even ride your horse, Hidden Valley will provide.  Much of the area is covered with mixed hardwood forest, with a few open areas due to logging activities in the early 1900’s.  Along with logging, previous disturbances such as wildfires have paved the way for a great amount of diversity within the area.  Below is a map of the area to get you started exploring all the cool things you can see.  While taking a stroll through Hidden Valley, be sure to note the differences between the mature forests, riparian edges, and open meadows!

                                                         (Hidden Valley, hikingupward.com)

As mentioned before, Hidden Valley boasts great diversity in both flora and fauna.  I’ll go over some of my personal favorite trees, shrubs, and flowering plants you can find below, but don’t forget to keep your eye out for White-tailed Deer, Black Bear, and maybe even a Bigfoot!

Bur Oak

Quercus macrocarpa is a species of tree within the oak family.  Bur oak, as it is commonly called, can be identified by its large, entire, simple leaves with varying degrees of lobes.  The characteristic of the leaves is small at the base towards the petiole and grows wider as it nears the tip.  Sadly enough, I couldn’t find an acorn of this tree, but its a great identifying factor.  The “cap” of the acorn is much larger than any other acorn, growing down almost down to the bottom of the acorn.  One fun fact about this tree is that it is the most cold-resistant oak.  This allows some trees to reach ages of almost 1000 years!

Sassafras

Hmmmmm….what’s that smell?! If you’ve just scratched the leaf or bark of this tree, then you’re probably smelling Sassafras albidum.  Commonly known as Sassafras, this distinct tree species is easy to identify with leaves or without.  If the leaves are sprouted, then you should know pretty much immediately.  Most of the leaves have the distinct three-lobed shape, but some will have a modification.  This can be seen with the furthest bottom-left leaf in the photo above.  If you ever find yourself without bug-repellent in the woods, look for this tree as it is known to be an effective mosquito repellent!

Autumn olive

Elaeagnus umbellata is a beautiful, yet invasive species.  The first photo on the left illustrates the growth structure of this shrub species.  Mostly vertical with an almost spiral look to it.  The second photo highlights the key identifying factor…a metallic sheen! The undersides of each leaf have a shiny, silver appearance that is actually somewhat reflective in the sun!

Common greenbrier

Known as Common greenbrier, Smilax rotundifolia is a woody vine that can be identified by the large heart-shaped leaves.  The actual vine itself has thorns as well.  You can find Smilax creeping up along trees and across the ground.

Common blackberry

Imagine it…you’re hiking through the forest, you’ve eaten the last of your granola and dried fruit, your water is running low….then bam! You find it! Rubus allegheniensis, also known as Common blackberry, is not only just a pretty flowering plant, but produces a juicy, delicious fruit!  Usually palmately compound, the leaves are serrated with a 5-petal white flower.  The woody branches have thorns throughout.

Dame’s Violet

Hesperis matronalis is a beautiful purple wildflower.  With petals of 4, alternate leaves, and a hairy stem, this wildflower can be found on forest edges and in open prairies and meadows.

 

So, I’ve gone through my favorite plants, but a green friend to always keep an eye for it is Toxicodendron radicans or commonly known as Poison Ivy.

As the saying goes, leaves of three, leave it be.  Poison Ivy is trifoliate, with each leaf having three leaflets and each one being serrate.

 

Botanical Survey

Thanks to the hard work of botanists, we can go through a site and know the Coeffiecient of Conservation (CoC) for each species we find.  Well, what is a Coeffiecient of Conservation you ask? It is a number between 1 and 10 that represents the degree to which a species is associated with high-quality communities similar enough to those which exists pre-settlement era.  To give you an idea of this, I’ve highlighted two species with a high CoC value and two species with a low CoC value.  Go out to your own local park and see if you can’t find these species as well!

American Beech

With a CoC value of 7, American Beech trees are an indicator of a high-quality plant community that has had minimal disturbance.

What looks like multiple elephant legs jutting out of the ground is probably just American Beech trees!  Fagus grandifolia is easily distinguished by it’s “tight” gray bark, often giving it the appearance of an elephant leg.  These poor trees are also susceptible to the plight of young lovers, who carve their initials surrounded by hearts on these trees.  (Please don’t do this, it decreases the tree’s defenses to disease!)  The leaves of American Beech are serrated and entire, often described as a “paper tissue” feel.  The buds of this tree are also easy to identify, as they are long and cigar-shaped.  A fun fact about these trees, apparently some people enjoy a beech leaf salad!  The leaves are edible and are supposedly tasty mixed with cabbage.  I’ll let you try it out first…let me know!

Sycamore

If you’ve been following my updates for awhile, this tree will seem familiar! Sycamore trees also have a CoC value of 7, which means that they also indicate areas of minimal disturbance

If you want the stone cold facts on this tree, feel free to refer back to my Trees page, but if you’re pointer finger is feeling tired, I’ll go over some again!  Platanus occidentalis tends to grow near riparian areas, meaning near water.  The leaves are simple, and the shape resembles a swollen maple leaf.  The bark is brown and scratchy at the base, which turns to a smooth white bark as you look towards the top.  One cool fact about sycamore trees is that the base of the petiole actually is “detachable”.  The petiole grows around the branch which forms a sort of cap.  This can be popped off and put back on!

Black Cherry

Burnt potato chips! That’s what I always think of when I see mature bark.  Prunus serotina has a CoC value of 3, which means they indicate an area that has significant disturbance.

Black Cherry trees have simple, alternate, serrated leaves.  As mentioned above, the bark resembles burnt potato chips, which hopefully you can see too from the photo.  One cool fact about Black Cherry is that if cut, can produce hydrogen cyanide, which can severely intoxicate livestock!

Black Raspberry

Rubus occidentalis is a small shrub species that can be identified by the dark red/purple branches with a milky white glaucous.  This thorny shrub has a CoC value of 1, which means it is associated with highly disturbed areas.

Black Raspberry tends to have long branches that grow upwards and gently curve back down to form sweeping arcs.  The leaves are pinnately compound, composed of 5 leaflets.  Given the name, you would probably expect to find big, juicy raspberries growing from these bushes, but that’s not the case.  The fruit is edible, but are actually smaller aggregate drupes.  Interestingly enough, these fruits are being studied as a form of cancer treatment!