Rare, endemic wildflower in McDowell County, North Carolina — 2019-03-22

For years, I’ve been aware of a rare variety of Shortia galacifolia or Oconee Bells which grows in a single county (endemic to McDowell County) in North Carolina. This variety is known as Shortia galacifolia var. brevistyla or Northern Oconee Bells. Its preferred habitat is moist slopes, creek banks, and rock outcrops in humid escarpment gorges with high rainfall, and generally in deep shade under Rhododendron maximum or Rosebay Rhododendron at elevations of between 1150-1800 feet (350-500 meters). It is found only on tributaries of the Catawba River. It is disjunct from the less rare, Shortia galacifolia var. galacifolia by about 65 miles (100 km). Not a lot has been written about it, and there are very few photographs, so when the opportunity to see and photograph it presented itself, I did not hesitate to take that opportunity.

In early March, Lesley Starke, plant ecologist with the North Carolina Plant Conservation Program and manager of the small preserve in which these plants reside, set up an invitation workday for pulling invasive Hedera helix or English Ivy from around some of the patches of Northern Oconee Bells.

The preserve was dedicated in April, 2016, and is home to the largest population of this rare species variety. Thanks to donations raised by The Friends of Plant Conservation, a 501(c)(3) group headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, this site was purchased and is now protected. There are only a handful of other sites for this variety — all within 5 miles (8 km) of this preserve. The other sites have small populations from 100 to 1000 plants, whereas this large site has upwards of 15,000 plants. This species has a Global Ranking of G3T2, which means that the species is “vulnerable” or at moderate risk or extinction, while the variety is “imperiled” or at high risk of extinction due to very restricted range or very few populations. In addition, it has a state rank of S2 or “endangered, exploited, and endemic”.

Here is a close-up image of this beautiful wildflower:

Northern Oconee BellsNorthern Oconee Bells

Read More»

Two days of botanizing with friends in the upstate of South Carolina — 2019-03-16, 17

Spring (the calendar date) is about a week away, but in the upstate of South Carolina, it has already arrived. We were expecting some friends from Georgia (Alan Cressler and Bruce Roberts) and from Virginia (Nate Miller) to arrive on Sunday for a visit to a few wildflower sites, so on Saturday, Walter Ezell and I visited a couple of the locations to make sure the timing was right.

The first place we visited was Peach Orchard Branch, an out-of-the way rich cove area loaded with Spring ephemerals. The target plant for this visit was Pachysandra procumbens or Allegheny Spurge. This site is the primary one in South Carolina for this species, providing lots of beautiful evergreen foliage and (hopefully) some of those strange-looking inflorescences. It’s about a 1-mile (1.6-km) hike into the cove from the parking area, and although there were numerous muddy areas on the old logging road, we had no problem getting to the “sweet spot”. I’ve featured this wonderful native ground cover in previous blogs, so this is probably nothing new to you. Here is an image of the plant in full bloom:

Allegheny SpurgeAllegheny Spurge

Read More»

Just Trout Lilies… — 2018-02-25

The Dimpled Trout Lily is one of the first wildflower species in our area to bloom. Walter Ezell and I decided to check out a couple of upstate South Carolina preserves to see if the Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily had come into bloom. I have seen it in bloom as early as late January, but that was far before its usual bloom date. So, we traveled about 1 hour away to one of our favorite spots for this wildflower. Here is an example of the flower:

Dimpled Trout LilyDimpled Trout Lily

Read More»

Symplocarpus foetidus (Eastern Skunk Cabbage) bonanza in the mountains of North Carolina — 2019-02-16

Back in the saddle again! I strive to have a post in January of each year, but this year, life got in the way a little bit. However, while all you northern folks are still snowed in, we in the south have flowers blooming. The plant which is the subject of this blog post is Symplocarpus foetidus or Eastern Skunk Cabbage. My good friend, Alan Cressler, met me at the house early Saturday morning, and we wasted no time in heading on our 3-hour trip to get to several bog sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway where we hoped to find Skunk Cabbage in flower.

This is a rather strange plant if nothing more than why it was named, Skunk Cabbage. Generally found in more northerly climes, Skunk Cabbage does make its way as far south as North Carolina and Tennessee (where it is considered endangered). It gets its common name from the malodorous “fragrance” it emits from its flowers and its leaves, when crushed – supposedly like a skunk. Thus the botanical epithet, foetidus, meaning “smelling extremely unpleasant”. To me, though, it smells more like burned rubber or plastic. In any case, it doesn’t take long to be overcome with disgust in its presence.

The 2 to 3-inch (5 to 7.5-cm) flowers are thick and leather-like. They are quite tough, but snap like celery stalks when bent or, heaven forbid, stepped on. Because this is my first occasion to study and photograph these mysterious flowers, I am amazed at the color patterns and color varieties that we found on our trip to the bogs along the Blue Ridge Parkway in extreme northwestern North Carolina. Here is an image of a typical Skunk Cabbage flower which we encountered in one of the several bogs we visited:

Skunk CabbageSkunk Cabbage

Read More»

A Fall visit to the Cedar Glades of northwest Georgia — 2018-11-04

The main reason I wanted to make this long trip was to photograph the uber fragrant Spiranthes magnicamporum or Great Plains Ladies’-tresses orchids. They are not found in the Carolinas, but they do appear in small numbers in the Cedar Glades and Limestone Barrens of two counties in northwestern Georgia. Little did I know, when I left home at 5:15 am, that I would see much more wildflower diversity than I had imagined, and I would also make a new field trip friend.

My good friend, Alan Cressler of Atlanta, Georgia had guided me to the sites for this orchid a few years ago, and I had asked if he would like to do so again. He readily agreed and mentioned that Henning von Schmeling, Senior Director of the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, Georgia would like to join us. Great! Time to make a new field trip friend.

Great Plains Ladies'-tresses orchidGreat Plains Ladies’-tresses orchid

Read More»
Copyright © Dandelion by Pexeto