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Hot Springs, NC

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Plants and Animals on the Spring Creek Nature Trail

Natalie Marsh

A few days ago I posted about a fantastic hike that is just minutes from Hot Springs. Today I am posting a few things we saw a couple of days ago on our hike along the Spring Creek Nature Trail!

Remnants from a squirrel feast!

Remnants from a squirrel feast!

These shells from red oak acorns are the remnants left after a squirrel feast! The acorns have just begun to drop and the squirrels are heartily enjoying the bounty. They seem to like to munch in very scenic locations, like perched up on a log or, in this case, on a rock step that overlooks Spring Creek. They may have good taste in finding a lovely setting, but to taste one of these acorns will pucker your mouth up! We do, for fun, harvest acorns, grind them, and soak out the astringent tannins (called “leaching”) just as Native Americans did long ago. We then dry the very pleasant tasting flour and use in dessert recipes! Perhaps a squirrel will join us on the trail sometime and she can snack on her acorns, and we on ours!


Lobelia cardinalis loves the wet partial shade on the edges of Spring Creek. It is one of several Lobelias native to the area, but is the only one with a stunning red color. Another showy red specimen you may see fluttering about this flower? The ruby-throated hummingbird! It is the primary pollinator for this Lobelia.


Clockwise from top are Rhododendron, Galax, and Partridgeberry. These are all native evergreen plants that thrive in the acidic soils on this hike! Rhododendron is toxic for animals to eat, and the wood smoke is toxic if burned in a campfire. Its redeeming qualities are its large, gorgeous blooms in May, as well as it strong, curving “trunks” that are used to create decorative rustic porch and stair railings. Galax was historically used (and over-used) for greenery in Christmas wreaths. Partridgeberry vines along the forest floor and produces small red berries that ripen over summer. Though safe to eat, they taste like…nothing. Very disappointing! My daughter still eats a few each time we are hiking though, just to enjoy a wild edible! Each single berry is actually the product of two flowers that are merged at the base. You can look on the berry and see two little dots that are the remnants of the two flowers.