Although the Cumberland River Valley began to be settled in the later part of the 18th century, most of the region remained unaltered and unexplored during the late 1700s. With continual expansion and settlement around the turn of the century, land use began to change. Land was cleared for homes, farms and roads. Hardwood trees were harvested for lumber and firewood for families, ironwork foundries and other industries.
Descriptions of early vegetation are generally restricted to a few travel accounts or collecting forays made by botanical enthusiasts. The French botanist, Andre Michaux, descended the Mississippi River in 1794 to the mouth of the Ohio and followed the Cumberland River before returning east. His travel accounts include vegetation descriptions of species identified and collected darning his journey (Brendel, 1978; Williams, 1928). Likewise, Augustin Gattinger based his TENNESSEE FLORA (1887)and FLORA OF TENNESSEE (1901) on collections made darning his 38 years of residency in Tennessee. The latest park study, VASCULAR FLORA OF FORT DONELSON MILITARY PARK, STEWART COUNTY, TENNESSEE, was conducted by Dr. Edward W. Chester, Department of Biology, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN. This study of land within Fort Donelson shows that the known vascular flora consist of 645 species representing 356 genera and 104 families. About 23 percent of the flora is not indigenous and several of these introduced species are threats to the native vegetation.
Please remember many of the plants we see today are descendants of those that were here before and during settlement, and these gene pools will persist if we don't destroy them with our thoughtlessness.
For more on the unique vegetation to be found at Fort Donelson National Battlefield, please visit http://biology.usgs.gov/npsveg/fodo/index.html