The wetlands link; Charleston Natural History Society restores isolated wetland in Dorchester County

Joe Cockrell sorts various native seeds, with different species to be planted at appropriate sites requiring proper levels of soil wetness.

ST. GEORGE — Rattlesnake master is one of those weedy plants with a spiked head. It looks as fierce as its name, like something you’d just as soon get out of the way.

Visiting McAlhany

The Charleston Natural History Society opens the McAlhany Nature Preserve to visits, particularly education group tours, when the society is able.

For more information, contact 607-1070 or joe.cockrell@comcast.net.

The natural history society supports itself partly on fundraisers. One is being held today:

WHAT: Oyster Roast, live music.

WHEN: 2-5 p.m.

WHERE: Bowens Island Restaurant, Folly Beach.

COST: $30.

But the name comes from a folk tradition that the plant can treat rattlesnake bites. And there’s a lesson in that about isolated freshwater wetlands, where the plant grows.

McAlhany preserve

318-acre woodland tract outside Grover owned by Charleston Natural History Society, an Audubon chapter.

Includes 1½ mile of Edisto River frontage with a limestone outcropping, cypress bottoms and an oxbow lake.

Donated in the late 1980s by Cleo and the late Marvin McAlhany, who owned McAlhany General Store in Reevesville.

VISITING

The Charleston Natural History Society opens the McAlhany Nature Preserve to visits, particularly education group tours, when the society is able.

For more information, contact 607-1070 or joe.cockrell@comcast.net.

The society supports itself partly on fundraisers. One is being held today:

WHAT: Oyster Roast, live music

WHEN: 2-5 p.m.

WHERE: Bowens Island Restaurant, Folly Beach

COST: $30

The Charleston Natural History Society is restoring an isolated wetland in the McAlhany Nature Preserve in far rural Dorchester County outside Grover.

The preserve is a little known treasure — a woodland haven along the Edisto River with an oxbow lake that once was a remote fish camp for its previous owners.

With its cypress bottoms and planted longleaf forest, the preserve has become such a valuable teaching tool for the society that it’s almost too much that the property also turned out to include to a high ground isolated wetland.

More than 300,000 of the wetlands can be found across coastal counties. For generations, nobody really thought much of them. They were swampy little snake-ridden mud patches that flooded seasonally, but weren’t connected to nearby streams.

And they were in the way. The McAlhaney wetland, like a lot of the others, was ditched and drained years ago so it could be farmed.

But the wetlands are habitat for rare plant species and plants that are food for wildlife such as deer and shelter for threatened native species such as salamanders. They are one of those vital links that create the overall environs known as the Lowcountry.

That’s the lesson the society wants to teach with the McAlhaney tract. Its members have filled the ditch and planted native species like rattlesnake master, cinnamon ferns, rarer beauties like bug-eating pitcher plants and an overstory of pond cypress.

The idea is to enhance the preserve, to provide habitat for animals such as the Carolina gopher frog, the spotted turtle and the wood stork.

The society will use the wetlands to showcase for visitors the little-appreciated elements of the place we live.

“People often don’t recognize the value. They’re still learning about this,” said society member Joe Cockrell.

The work also is a learn-as-you-go experiment for the society. There is, as president Paul Nolan points out, no manual for this.

But the society does have Cockrell, who does wetland restoration for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He’s overseeing the whole thing.

He wants to establish a “wet meadow” type of wetlands like you find in a Carolina Bay.

For now, the plants have begun to establish themselves. The pond cypress, Nolan said, “is going like gangbusters.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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