Mid-October is the perfect time to check out a unique flower at Union County's Cane Creek Park. The federally-protected plant species known as Schweinitz's sunflowers grows in a five-acre preserve known as the Andre Michaux Prairie Restoration Site at Cane Creek Park.
You may not have realized the uniqueness of the flower just walking or driving by, but according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the only place you can see Schweinitz's sunflowers is in the central Piedmont region of North and South Carolina.
Visitors to Cane Creek Park can see the flowers by walking, biking or riding horses on the trails leading to the preserve. Schweinitz's sunflowers are perennials that bloom in September and October. It is illegal to pick Schweinitz's sunflowers because it is on the federal endangered species list. Visitors who wish to see Schweinitz's sunflowers are asked to stay on marked trails.
The preserve at Cane Creek Park was established in 2005 and the flowers were moved there from various nearby locations. Union County has an agreement with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to maintain the preserve. The preserve allows for the NCDOT to compensate for impacts to the endangered plant species by relocating Schweinitz's sunflowers for preservation when found in areas impacted by road or other development projects. NCDOT has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in accordance with the Endangered Species Act to develop the preserve. The Catawba Lands Conservancy also plays a role in protecting the preserve by monitoring the area for any unlawful development.
Cane Creek Park is a regional park in southern Union County, approximately 12 miles southwest of Monroe. Cane Creek Park is 1,050 acres in size with a plethora of amenities and is operated by Union County's Parks and Recreation Department. The Andre Michaux Prairie Restoration Site is located along the western boundary of the park, just south of the dam on the campground side of the park.