At the south end of the Fern Glade the visitor passes a stoutly globular buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), negotiates a picturesque foot bridge spanning a small creek studded with cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and steps onto the Mathews Nature Trail. This network of foot paths meanders along the creek through a typical southeastern lowland forest, largely consisting of black gum, red maple, sycamore, and sweet gum trees. The understory, however, while containing many ferns, vines, and other plants common to such a setting, also features a wealth of other species of shrubs and herbaceous plants found in a variety of environments throughout the Southeast.
Spring finds the trail awash with the soft, billowing lavender of wild sweet William (Phlox divaricata); the dainty, nodding, crownlike blossoms of eastern wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis); the fuzzy, bottlebrush inflorescences of foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia); and a host of other spring-flowering gems. The trillium collection greets visitors with an array of blooms from Eastern US natives of this diverse genus.
Summer sees the expansive, sun-catching beds at the south end of the trail light up with fiery scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), stately blue American bellflower (Campanula americana), and sunshine yellow black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta).
In fall the trail glows with the purples, golds, and warm red of sweet gum, red maple, black gum, and muscadine leaves.
Even in winter there is the bright wink of an occasional Hepatica and - always - the song and movement of birds. (A section of the Lewis Birding Trail extends within the Mathews Nature Trail.)
Holmes Trillium Garden
(located within the Mathews Nature Trail)
Easy to recognize, trilliums have three leaves, three sepals, and three petals; this is why they are also known as the "Trinity Flower." The Holmes Trillium Garden is an education and display garden with several major collections displaying thousands of trilliums and hundreds of select candidate trillium forms. This garden includes Memorial Trillium Collections, Select Area Collections and Native Area Collections. In addition, there are Propagation Denomstration Collections and Trillium Garden Nursery Collections.
The Holmes Trillium Garden is named in honor of Harold Holmes. He began volunteering in 2006 with the goal of creating a nationally-recognized trillium display. This garden is a shady sanctuary for over 30 species of trillium, containing almost every known species from the Tennessee Valley and surrounding regions. Today we can thank his perseverance for the wide array of trilliums in this area.
The Garden staff is assisted in maintaining the Mathews Nature Trail by members and friends of the Huntsville Wildflower Society. Contact volunteer coordinators Catherine Hall (256-880-6465) or Carol Miller (256-539-2384) for more information.