In autumn, the forest slopes and ridgetops of Poor Mountain are brightened by the brilliant yellow foliage of piratebush. Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve protects the world's largest population of this globally rare shrub, which is restricted to only a handful of sites in the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The mountain is named for its impoverished soils weathered from metamorphosed sandstone bedrock. The ridgetop, 3,000 feet in elevation, is predominantly a xeric Table Mountain pine and oak woodland. Piratebush is a dominant understory shrub in this community along with huckleberry and blueberry. Piratebush is also found with mountain laurel in the hemlock ravines and mesic pine forests of the lower elevations.
Public access facilities include a small parking area and over 4 miles of hiking trails. Trails include a relatively easy 1.0 mile loop through the piratebush population, and a steep and strenuous 4 mile loop that takes several hours to complete.