Donivan Slough is not your average rest stop. It is a plant and tree lover’s bonanza
The trees and plants that can be found in Donivan Slough are truly remarkable and almost entirely foreign. It can be a haven for birdwatchers during different times of the year, but it is always a treat for people who take pleasure in the company of trees and plants. The park managers on the Natchez Trace Parkway provide travelers with a variety of interesting options. The unusual collection that can be found here would pique the interest of a horticulturist or dendrologist just as much as it would a hobbyist’s.
Willow tree with a black bark
While traveling along the Natchez Trace Parkway, one of our favorite things to do is to pull over for a few minutes at various scenic overlooks along the route. I noticed Donivan Slough while we were in the northern part of Mississippi. I was only vaguely familiar with the meaning of the old name Slough, but I knew it had something to do with water. Slough is pronounced, “slue.” In point of fact, there are notable differences between each and every one of the sloughs. They are different depending on the weather in their particular region. To put it another way, even if you’ve been to one slough, it doesn’t mean you’ve seen them all. Sloughs are depressions that are filled with marshy vegetation and are surrounded by dry land that drains into the depression.
When you get out of your car to go to the slough, you are greeted by a picturesque farm field. This is the first thing you see when you head in that direction. This is a well-kept field that is used for private agricultural cultivation. I have no idea what will be harvested, but the soil was in excellent condition and ready to go.
You can easily reach the slough as well as the trees, flowers, and plants that are located around it by using the well-constructed stairs that lead down the gentle slope.
Shortly after reaching the bottom of the steps, you will come to the primary attraction, which is a bridge that extends over the bog. People don’t visit sloughs to look at the water because it’s particularly appealing, but that’s not why they go there in the first place. (The rhyme occurred by complete coincidence.) The slough begins to form far inside the field’s perimeter and continues to expand in that direction until it passes beneath the Natchez Trace. Even though the water is not the most appealing feature of the slough, there must always be some water there in order for it to be considered a slough.
During the wet season, there is a risk that this slough will flood its banks. If there is only a slight amount of rainfall during the hot summer months, the slough may completely dry out, and the muddy bottom may become so dry that it develops cracks. The bottom of the slough is depicted in a pictorial legend as being cracked and dried out, but when we went there, the slough was completely full of water.
A word of caution or sound advice is offered here. Poison ivy can be found in abundance along the edges of the hiking trail, and some of the smaller bushes even have some of the plants clinging to them. There is no risk to you unless you intentionally handle one of the plants… Therefore, keep to the trail, and avoid touching any plants that you aren’t already familiar with.
Those who are enthusiastic about forests and plant life will be the ones who show the most enthusiasm for Donivan Slough. This area is home to a number of plants that hold a special place in my heart. The Buttonbush is a type of shrub that can be found growing all along the Trace. It serves as a source of nectar for bees and, during other times of the year, as a food source for birds that are migrating.
Knees of the Bald Cypress
The Park Service built a trail through this natural lowland that is inviting to trees that are tolerant of water such as water oak, tulip poplar, and sycamore. The conditions here are ideal for the growth of bald cypress. A pleasant walk of twenty minutes is all it takes to take in the sights of Donivan Slough. This slough, which was named after an early settler, is typically wet throughout the entire year.
This slough has an exceptional capacity for producing large trees. This phenomenon is thought to have been caused by pervasive dampness. There is a profusion of spring flowers, and the density of the vegetation is comparable to that of certain tropical rainforests. There are some small plants like False Solomon’s Seal, Trout Lily, and Red Trillium that can be found growing here.
During periods of particularly hot weather, the dense vegetation of the trees and the moisture that they help the surrounding air retain both contribute to a microclimate that is noticeably cooler and more agreeable.
The River Birch is found here and extends its range far into the southern United States.
Whether it is a tree or a shrub in Cape Hatteras, the Black Willow can always be found in close proximity to water. Marshy areas, such as Donivan Slough, are where the Black Willow Tree is able to grow to its fullest potential. It is simple to recognize because the branches typically fork close to the base.
Because it can thrive in lowlands and swamps even with its roots completely submerged in water, the Water Tupelo tree does particularly well in this area. In addition, the American Beech tree can be discovered here. Because early settlers found them easy to cut down and used the wood for a wide variety of purposes, this species of tree is now considered to be semi-rare.
Several Steps Leading Down to Donivan Slough from the Parking Area
In places like this, the Bald Cypress is probably the most beautiful tree that can be found. It has a broad but shallow root base, and it can only be found growing in wet environments. The trunks of these trees have a swollen appearance, which gives them a wider stance in the wet environment that they cherish. This gives the trees an advantage in competition with other plants. The roots of Bald Cypress trees have protrusions called “Knees” that look like kneecaps. Many folk artists favor working with these interesting-looking roots, which range in length from a few inches to five or six feet and are a favorite medium for working with. They create bizarre figures and designs, which are then carved into the knees of cypress trees.
The amount of water in Donivan Slough can shift by up to one meter at any given time. If the water level is lower or higher than it was when we visited or if the seasons are different than they were when we visited, you might see things that we didn’t see when we visited.
The amount of water that enters the slough on a regular basis will determine the shape and size of the slough on a moment-to-moment basis. There are a variety of plants and trees that can withstand the sun, those that can withstand the shade, and those that can withstand both sun and water. If a plant that cannot survive in shade starts to grow in this area, it will most likely perish because the trees in this area block the sunlight from reaching the ground below them.
On the Parkway, you’ll find more varieties of oak trees than any other kind along the way. Bottomlands, swamps, and areas adjacent to streams are ideal environments for the growth of the Swamp Chestnut Oak that can be found in this area.
Although I haven’t seen one yet, I’ve heard that the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker likes to hang out in this area. This bird (known as a woodpecker) makes holes in the branches of trees, and then it returns at a later time to sip the sap that has accumulated in the holes that it has made.
The Christmas Fern maintains its green coloration throughout the winter months and can be found growing on the banks and in the low areas of the slough. People can’t help but carve their initials into the bark of trees whenever they get the chance. Although it is not officially recognized as an art form, the number of people who participate in it may be higher than in all other art forms combined.
You should never pass up an opportunity to drive along the Natchez Trace Parkway. During its length of 444 miles, it transitions from a setting that is close to the coast to one that is located in the mountains of Tennessee. This encompasses three very distinct cultural and climatic regions all across the globe.
During this vacation, we had a great time on the road. I believe that you will as well.