Flora of the Lula Lake Core Preserve

Food, Flowers, and Foliage of the Falls
Contributed by Taylor Perkins, Brooke Hadden

With nearly 700 documented plant species and subspecies, Lula Lake Land Trust (LLLT) provides important habitat for a variety of rare plants, plants of conservation concern, and plants of aesthetic, medicinal, and culinary value. A late summer walk from the main parking area, down the gravel connector road, and to the base of Lula Falls will provide a sample of the plant diversity that the LLLT has to offer.

Before you begin your hike, take a moment to look at the small stand of trees roughly 50 feet uphill from the kiosk. Growing in the understory is a knee-high grass with woody stems. This species, known as hill cane (Arundinaria appalachiana), is one of the Southeast’s native species of bamboo. Like the Asian species of bamboo commonly planted as ornamentals, hill cane grows as a perennial. These plants are slow growing and are thought to live for centuries.
From the parking lot, hike down the gravel road toward Lula Lake. Shortly after leaving the parking lot, you’ll see a planting of young trees in a forest opening on your right. This area is part of a collaboration between LLLT and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to help restore the American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) to forests of the eastern United States. Since the early 1900s, American chestnut populations have been in decline due to introduction of the chestnut blight fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), which originated in eastern Asia and was transported to North America via the nursery trade. The trees in this planting are hybrid chestnuts that are being assessed for resistance to chestnut blight. Despite their susceptibility to chestnut blight, naturally-occurring American chestnuts can still be found within LLLT. Once grand trees, sometimes towering over 100 feet tall, wild American chestnuts now mainly occur as seedling or sapling size plants. These small trees are typically infected by chestnut blight fungus before they can produce flowers and seed. In our area, they usually grow in sandy or rocky, well-drained soils on mountain slopes. Historically, the American chestnut served as a staple food source for both wildlife and people of the Appalachian Mountains.

Once you’ve reached the concrete bridge over Rock Creek, look to your left. A small vine with roughly pentagonal leaves is growing over the small trees next to the hillside. This is muscadine (Muscadinia rotundifolia), a member of the grape family. Like its close relatives, the true grapes (Vitis species), muscadine fruits are edible, and they’re used in jellies, desserts, and wines.

As you approach the intersection with the Bluff Trail on your right, eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) become more frequent. This assemblage of species is indicative of very acidic soil conditions. Acidic forest soils pose challenges to plant growth due to low nutrient availability and/or high levels of mineral elements like aluminum. Therefore, acidic forests will often have a lower number of total species than nearby forests with more neutral soil pH, but acidic forests will harbor many species that have evolved special adaptations allowing them to thrive in these challenging conditions.

As you descend towards the creek on the Lula Falls Trail, the soil here holds more water and organic matter and receives less sunlight than the upper slopes of the gorge. Plants here are adapted to the limited light and abundant moisture with large, broad leaves that provide ample opportunity for capturing sunlight. The umbrella magnolia(Magnolia tripetala) boasts this quality. Its large leaves arranged together at the end of each branch resemble an umbrella and give a jungle-like ambiance to the understory, while higher magnolia leaves help form the canopy. You’ll also see witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)This name may bring to mind various topical products that treat ailments of the skin. Once a folk remedy, witch hazel is now celebrated among the beauty industry. Astringent qualities of distilled leaves and bark have been used for hundreds of years by Native Americans and early European settlers to relieve inflammation. You may catch this small understory tree or shrub adorned with its unique golden filamentous flowers in mid to late fall. 

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) grows in the understory here. To the untrained eye, you may at first confuse this perennial wildflower with poison ivy, as its foliage also grows in suspicious clusters of three. Upon further examination, you’ll notice that the glossy leaves are more rotund, without serrations, and it has no woody stems, unlike the woody vines of poison ivy. If caught in the right moment, you’ll see the tubular flowering structures (similar to a calla lily). The inflorescence can be almost entirely green, but often sports stylish vertical purple pin stripes. If you lift up the petal flap covering the opening of the tube, you may see “Jack” (the erect spike) preaching from the “pulpit” (the leaf-like tube). Later in the summer, a cluster of green–and later blazing red–berries replace the flowers.

Indian cucumber-root (Medeola virginiana) is a small nodding lily with one to three tiers of whorled leaves. The top tier of leaves conceals the delicate yellow flowers in spring, which hang gracefully under the canopy of the top tier, as if hiding from the rain.  In late summer and early fall, you may see the green or dark bluish-purple berry illuminated by a concentric splash of purple or crimson on the leaves. However, the edible parts of this plant are the rhizomes that lay below the surface of the ground. These plants were historically harvested by Cherokee Indians for the refreshing, crispy root that is reminiscent of jicama or cucumber.  

Once you reach the banks of Rock Creek, you’re greeted with a new assemblage of plant species. Plants you’ll find here include: buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima), sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), joe-pye-weed (Eutrochium purpureum), river birch (Betula nigra), sweet birch (Betula lenta), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), and sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua).

In this article we’ve covered only a fraction of the hundreds of plant species that call Lula Lake home. If you venture towards the higher elevations in the LLLT Core Preserve, you’ll find entirely different plant assemblages with unique adaptations to higher and drier conditions.

Hill Cane
Experimental Chestnut Planting
Catawba Rhododendron            
Umbrella Magnolia
Whiskey, Wits & Woods: A Lula Lake Pop-Up Bar Experience
We are proud to announce Whiskey, Wits & Woods. This “pop-up” bar experience will be held on Friday, September 2, at Five Wits Brewing Company with a cultivated menu featuring three Chattanooga Whiskey cocktails inspired by the essence of Lula Lake. 100% of proceeds from these drinks will support LLLT’s conservation efforts.
Open to the public and walkups, this “pop-up” bar experience will not only feature crafted cocktails but also an inside look at LLLT's initiatives. Each drink will tell a story from the first sip to the last, and patrons will discover more about trail building, the history of LLLT’s famous waterfall, and hemlock tree preservation with the dedicated Lula Lake team present to share stories with you over a drink. This special menu is made possible by the generous support of Chattanooga Whiskey. “Supporting the greater Chattanooga community is an on-going priority for Chattanooga Whiskey,” said Tim Piersant, CEO & Founder of Chattanooga Whiskey.

You can RSVP now or show up at the event to help support Lula Lake! Can't attend? Buy our trails a drink now with a $10 donation on the event registration page.

Whiskey, Wits & Woods is spearheaded by Lula Lake’s Conservation Ambassadors to raise awareness for LLLT’s efforts. Through a special raffle at the bar and an online auction leading up to the event, LLLT’s ambassadors are hoping to raise funds for the hard work the organization is doing for conservation. “It has been an honor leading this program and planning this unique whiskey event with such a talented and dedicated group of individuals,” said Matthew Hubbard, LLLT Director of Development. “The 2022 Conservation Ambassadors will be present at Whiskey, Wits & Woods to share the wealth of knowledge they’ve learned during classes and hiking adventures. We hope you will come out and help us raise a glass for conservation!” 
Fritsl Butler Padgett, 2022 Ambassador, added, “The Conservation Ambassador program at Lula Lake has pulled together such a cool cross section of young professionals that I don’t think I would have crossed paths with otherwise. I’m grateful Chattanooga, as well as LLLT, has their energy and talents as resources, and I’m also grateful that Lula Lake has the wisdom to provide this kind of experience as our generation starts to mature into supporting LLLT and organizations like it!”
Whiskey, Wits & Woods will be held on Friday, September 2nd, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM ET at Five Wits Brewing Company located at 1501 Long Street, Chattanooga, TN 37408. “At its core, craft beer is about community. And at Five Wits, we believe one of the many things that makes our Chattanooga community so great is access to the natural beauty and outdoors that surround us here. Lula Lake Land Trust has done wonders to protect one of the most scenic and delightful areas in Chattanooga, providing trails, outdoor education, and hosting events to engage the community, from trail runs and bike races to polar plunges and beer festivals,” said Elliot Kehoe, Brewery Partner for Five Wits Brewing Company. “We wanted to use what we do well - which in our case is brewing delicious beers - to give back to an organization that already gives so much to this city and its outdoors. We hope you will join Five Wits and Chattanooga Whiskey to help us raise funds for Lula Lake and continue to preserve and protect Chattanooga's natural beauty!"
More details, including online auction, are available online at Whiskey, Wits & Woods is proudly presented by Chattanooga Whiskey and Five Wits Brewing Company.

Hike Bike Brew returns for part 2 with Brewtoberfest on October 22! Come join us at Lula Lake for the premier beer festival where brews meet the outdoors. Each Drinker Ticket includes beer, Stanley souvenir stein, tasty bites, axe throwing, access to beer path trail, live music from Jaguar Shark, & the wonderful feeling you get from supporting Lula Lake's conservation efforts.
Get Tickets Here
The Lula Laker:Trail Blazer Race is unlike any you've ever trekked! This race is designed for trail runners with both 10K and Half Marathon courses that utilize Lula Lake's famous trail systems. The race course will be well marked and each registration includes a special race hoodie, beer & food ticket, and afterparty with live music from Jaguar Shark. 100% of proceeds go directly back into Lula Lake's trail work efforts and conservation mission.
Register Here
Visit Lula Lake on our Open Gate Days!
Spend your day in nature during our Open Gate Day!  With 8+ miles of trails, bluff views, and a 120-foot waterfall... there's always an adventure to be had! Make your reservation today by clicking upcoming dates below. Spaces are limited to maintain the tranquility of nature. We also have private guided hikes available. Click here to find out more! 
Saturday, August 6
Sunday,  August 7
Saturday, August 27
Sunday, August 28

Click here for more dates.
  • Save a tree today! Every $10 donated here will help Lula Lake treat our Hemlock forests from Woolly Adelgid infestation.
  • Looking to make a reservation or wondering if we're open? ​​Our Visit Page has details on planning your next adventure.​
  • Interested in our conservation efforts? Click here for more details.
  • Have you visited our daily trails? Click here special trails open daily.
  • Want to volunteer at Lula Lake? Email us at to inquire about opportunities.
  • Did you know? YOU are our most critical person. You play an important role in guaranteeing the future of conservation and our preserved lands. Donations can be made online by clicking here or by mail at PO Box 395, Lookout Mountain, TN 37350.
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