Mt Cheaha AL 2011
Cheaha Mountain is along the southernmost ridge of the Appalachians (about 20 miles south of Interstate 20, south of Oxford, AL, and east of Talladega, AL) and the highest point in Alabama (2,400 feet). As such, it is home of one of the southernmost population of the Cumberland Azalea (There are a few locations even farther south). The mountain is in Cheaha Mountain State Park, located between the Tallapoosa River and Coosa River. There are a restaurant and lodge within the state park and an observation deck on top of the mountain. There are many trails, including a handicap-accessible boardwalk to Bald Rock. One will also find dogwood, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and other native azalea species (R. arborescens and R. periclymenoides) along the trails and in the rocky woods.
Mt Cheaha is one of our favorite field trip locations. The number of R. cumberlandense on the mountain is quite large, literally in the thousands. Their color ranges from red to almost yellow. We have found a few natural hybrids that are quite spectacular, possibly influenced by nearby arborescens or periclymenoides. The terrain is very rocky and both Vaccinium and Galax form thick ground covers. Several researchers have reported that cumberlandense does not produce viable seed as well as does calendulaceum, yet we found many seedlings on the mountain. The best time to go is usually around Memorial Day. In 2011 we were there on May 18.