Natural History

AS IF Center is located in the Southern Appalachian region, which is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the temperate zones of our planet. The center has access to High Cove community’s 100 acres of mixed upland cove hardwood forest, several springs and first order streams, and some meadow and old field habitat. High Cove maintains controls for light pollution to ensure dark skies, making it an ideal study location for fireflies and other nocturnal phenomena. An International Dark-Sky Park and observatory is three miles south of the center.

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Terrestrial sites:
Most of the site is mesic and comprises mixed upland cove hardwood forest. Primary tree species are yellow poplar, white oak, American beech, white ash, sugar maple, red maple, cucumber magnolia, sweet birch, and scattered white pine. Understory species include yellow buckeye, black cherry, sourwood, black gum, pagoda dogwood, sassafras, spicebush, smooth hydrangea, witch hazel, mountain winterberry, deciduous azalea, beaked hazelnut, mountain laurel, rosebay rhododendron, muscadine, dutchman’s pipe, ferns, woodland grasses, and a diverse herbaceous layer.  Along the more xeric ridges, the forest transitions to mixed upland hardwood forest with pockets of white pine, scarlet oak, chestnut oak, sourwood, hickory, and black gum. Several remnant mica mines expose abundant mica deposits throughout the forest. A few acres of meadow habitat and old field sites are also available for study.

Aquatic sites and watershed information:
The forest includes first- and second-order streams, with three springs on site. A small pond on the site is located in a meadow habitat. The community maintains numerous catchment ponds along roadsides, providing excellent habitat for several species of frogs. Our creek flows into the North Toe River, which is joined by the South Toe River. The North Toe then joins the Cane River to form the Nolichucky River. The Nolichucky flows into the French Broad, which then flows into the Tennessee, which flows into the Ohio, which is a tributary of the Mississippi.

We are located in the Nolichucky River watershed.

Nearby sites
The center is centrally located for access to public lands. We are a half hour from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, one hour from Mount Mitchell National Park, Roan Mountain State Park (TN), Grandfather Mountain, and Linville Gorge Wilderness area, and two hours from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A rare olivine outcrop is just south of AS IF Center on State Highway 80. Exposed veins of marble can be accessed in the nearby town of Bandana, there are several abandoned quartz mines and feldspar mines in the area, and the Grandfather Mountain Window and Linville Falls Fault offer opportunities to study unusual geological phenomena.


Mitchell County / Yancey County resources:

The Southern Appalachians region is one of the most botanically diverse areas of the planet’s temperate zones. This guide to wildflowers of Mitchell and Yancey Counties can help you identify many of the herbaceous plants you find. The guide is under construction so doesn’t resolve to species yet. If you would like to help improve it, contact me.


Because of the rich flora, we also have a rich insect fauna. This guide to moths of NC can help you identify moths you see in the area. It’s not a dichotomous key – you can leave some questions blank if you don’t know the answer, and you can give multiple answers if you’re not sure. We are also building this checklist to moths of AS IF Center that may help you identify local species. 


Fireflies are abundant at AS IF Center. In May and June you can find us on the front porch pretty much every night watching the firefly show. This JE Lloyd paper on fireflies has a thorough description of the different signals of each species. Check out this great Science Friday episode about fireflies and this citizen science firefly watch run by the Boston Museum of Science.


The area has an interesting herpetological fauna, especially with regard to salamanders which are more diverse in the Southern Apps than anywhere else in the world. This page on the amphibians and reptiles of NC and this Appalachian guide to salamanders are good places to start learning about them. For frog ID, this  Frogs and toads of Georgia page has audio files so you can identify frogs by their call.


The geological map of North Carolina above was produced by the NC Geological Survey in 1985. For more information and other maps, visit the NCGS map page.


The  Spruce Pine mining district has unusual geological exposures and abundant mineral deposits. Every electronic device in the world uses silicon chips that were grown in crucibles made from Spruce Pine quartz. The area also has abundant feldspar and mica deposits as well as semi-precious stones such as garnets, rubies, and emeralds. Just a few miles from AS IF Center is a large exposure of olivine, an uncommon mineral produced in the earth’s mantle. The nearby town of Bandana has a large vein of marble, and the Grandfather Mountain window and Linville Falls fault are excellent places to study geological history.

To learn more about the natural history of the area,  visit the AS IF Center site on iNaturalist.