Image for the Asking: Why Come It’s Not a Holler Hardwood Forest?

Image for the Asking: Why Come It’s Not a Holler Hardwood Forest?

Story and image by Don McGowan

The dictionary of Appalachian English, courtesy of Wikipedia, assures us that a “cove” is a “valley between two ridges.” It goes on to explain that a “holler” is a “valley between two hills.” Now since ridges and hills can be, and on occasion have been, mistaken for each other, that places me in a bit of a predicament, especially when it comes to identifying forest types in these beautiful, old mountains I call Home.

For example, there are mid- and low-elevation deciduous forest communities known as “cove hardwood forests” that are found in abundance between, say, 2000 and 4000 feet throughout the Smokies. “Deciduous” here refers to those tree species that lose their leaves in autumn. Approximately 80 percent of the trees in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are deciduous, and as many as 60 species of such trees can be found in the sheltered valleys that over the millennia have accumulated floors of deep and rich soil. The nature of the soils that characterizes individual coves helps to determine the particular deciduous species that will grow best there.

In general, there are eight tree species that dominate cove hardwood forests, including the imperiled eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), which is not deciduous, but rather, evergreen. The quickly recognized tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) and yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) are two of the additional seven. Among the understory inhabitants of cove hardwood forests is the perennial favorite flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

The drive from park headquarters to Alum Cave Trailhead along US 441 provides a showcase of cove hardwood forest examples. But this brings me back to my original dilemma: Given the often overlapping identities between a cove and a holler, why come we don’t call them “holler hardwood forests” instead?

“Light is the great priestess of landscape. Deftly it searches out unnoticed places, corners of fields, the shadow-veils of certain bushes, the angled certainty of stones; it can slink low behind a stone wall turning the spaces between the stones into windows of gold. . . . Unable to penetrate the earth, light knows how to tease suggestions of depth from surface. Where radiance falls, depths gather to the surface as to a window. The persuasions of light bring us frequent mirrors that afford us a glimpse into the mystery that dwells in us. Sometimes in the radiance, forgotten treasure glimmers through ‘earthen vessels.’”
~John O’Donohue, Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace

Don McGowan owns and operates EarthSong Photography. For five years he was the staff photographer for Friends of the Smokies. He offers workshops and photography instruction in beautiful locations around the country, including the Smokies.

Related Posts
  1. Why The Tunnel? Why The Tunnel? Those of you who have walked to the far eastern edge of Newfound Gap parking area have probably noticed the old roadbed that traces the former route of Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) into North Carolina. Several miles of the old road were rerouted in t
  2. Why are the American Mountain-ash Berries So Spectacular this year? Why are the American Mountain-ash Berries So Spectacular this year? Anyone who has been in the vicinity of Clingmans Dome recently can tell you that the bright red American mountain-ash berries are out of this world right now. There are so many clumps of berries that the trees’ branches can barely support them.
  3. Presidents' Day is Monday, February 20 Presidents' Day is Monday, February 20 It was a warm day in early September, just two years after GSMNP was officially established (not officially dedicated), and Newfound Gap Road was closed. Oh, you could get as far as Conner’s Store, across the road from the soon-to-be Smokemont
  4. Where People Loved and Cared Where People Loved and Cared Life in the Great Smoky Mountains of Southern Appalachia was never easy. Before the establishment of the park, many families lived a hard scrabble existence, working close to the land to make a life. In times of plenty and in times of want the specte