Brief visit to upstate South Carolina Heritage Preserve for fall Gentians — 2016-11-01

This morning, I made a brief day trip to one of my favorite Heritage Preserves in upstate South Carolina. The name of the preserve is Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve. It is located in Greenville County, South Carolina about 45 minutes north of my home. Past visits in early November have shown me several populations of the electric-blue, Gentiana saponaria or Soapwort Gentian also known as Harvest Bells. This species got the name, “Soapwort Gentian” , because its leaves closely resemble those of Saponaria officinalis or Soapwort. When the leaves of Soapwort are rubbed on the hands with water, a soap-like substance is produced. In addition, the term “wort” comes from Middle English, from Old English wyrt meaning: root, herb, or plant. But I digress…

When I’m visiting an area I’ve visited in past years, I am never sure if I will find what I’m looking for. However, on this trip, I did find about a dozen Soapwort Gentian plants in three different locations in the preserve. The plants were scattered in singles and small groups over a wide area of the forest. Here is an example of one of the plants I saw:

Soapwort Gentian.
Soapwort Gentian

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Orchids, critters, and wildflowers along the Carolina Coastal Plain – Part 2 of 2 — 2016-10-29

The morning broke clear and mild, quite unlike some of the late October mornings along the Carolina Coastal Plain where I had to scrape the frost off the windshield. Walter Ezell and I were looking forward to meeting our good friend, Kelvin Taylor aka KT and his photography buddy, Jackie Tate aka JT, both from North Carolina. Today’s adventure would include visits to a couple of the island savannahs in the Green Swamp, Brunswick County, North Carolina as well as a few areas in nearby Boiling Spring Lakes. These areas reliably produce a number of fine wildflowers for study and photography.

Walter and I finished our customary continental breakfast at the motel and headed east toward our agreed upon meeting spot at the “pond” which is slap in the center of the Green Swamp Preserve. For those who are not familiar with the location, the “pond” is a several-acre borrow pit that was created when the highway which splits the preserve, Hwy. 211, was constructed. The dirt and sand that was “borrowed” from the site was used to raise the highway above the elevation of the already high water table. Proof of the high water table is shown by the level of water that is constantly in the borrow pit.

Anyway, as we were entering the sandy parking lot, KT and JT were just getting out of their car — great timing! We made our hellos and discussed the plan for the day’s activities. We decided to first check out the nearby location for Parnassia caroliniana or Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus. This is a rare species in North Carolina, having the state rank of S2, meaning that there are between 6 and 20 extant populations in the state. It is imperiled in the state because of rarity or because of some factor(s) making it very vulnerable to extirpation. Because of the proscribed burn rotation in the longleaf pine savannah where we usually find it, the plant is fairly reliably in its appearance.

Today, however, we found fewer plants than in previous years, and apparently we were too early in the season to find them all in bloom. We found only two open flowers, but there were dozens of buds that were beginning to open. Here is a shot of an open flower and one of an opening bud:

Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus.
Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus

Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus bud.
Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus bud

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Fall trip to the Carolina Coastal Plain – Part 1 of 2 — 2016-10-28

I can hardly wait for fall to arrive, especially the last week of October, because that means photographing the last gasp of wildflowers along the Carolina Coastal Plain. There is a favorite spot of mine, the Wambaw Swamp Wilderness Area, where Spiranthes odorata or Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid can reliably be found. This is an area of the Francis Marion National Forest in Berkeley County, South Carolina, that is described by the US Forest Service as:

Wambaw Swamp Wilderness (4,815 acres) is thick with wild orchids, pickerel weed, sedges, lizard’s tail and ferns and is challenging to explore. There are no trails in the wilderness so those hardy enough to take on a slow-paced slog generally rely on orienteering skills to navigate. The wilderness is composed of bottomland hardwood forest and is edged with small pine stands. While it offers little dry land, the water level is usually too low for boating. Mature cypress and tupelo trees and relatively open understory, especially off FS road 154 near Coffee Creek, provide some easier hiking and an opportunity to explore a place where very few people go.

On Friday, Walter Ezell and I headed South toward the coast. We arrived at the Wambaw Swamp access road and were met immediately by a fierce swarm of mosquitos. This was not a big surprise for me, because this swampy location is ground zero for those pesky suckers. But I don’t think Walter was prepared for the onslaught. I had recently bought a mosquito hat/net for such purposes, and I happened to have a spare mosquito head-net in my camera bag for Walter to use. We gathered our camera gear and headed into the swamp.

It’s just a short slog through the swamp until we reach the subtle rises in elevation where the orchids love to grow. There they were — a couple of dozen flowering plants – some up to 30 inches (75 cm) tall. This particular species of Spiranthes has a rich, earthy fragrance that is unmistakable. Often times, the fragrance is noticed even before the plants are spotted. That was the case on our most recent visit. Even if I hadn’t known where to look for them, I would have had that clue to help me. Here is what a typical Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid looks like:

Fragrant Ladies'-tresses orchid.
Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid

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Revisit to a Fringed Gentian location in northeast Georgia — 2016-10-16

It is that time of the year again. Time to make a visit to a Gentianopsis crinita or Fringed Gentian site. Since we don’t have this Gentian species in South Carolina, my headquarters, I had to drive 2.5 hours to a privately owned site in Union County, Georgia. I was first made aware of this sloping field several years ago by my good friend from Atlanta, Georgia, Alan Cressler. When we visited it then, it was late September, 2012. The site was a fallow field, and there were thousands of flowering Fringed Gentian scattered around. We got there in the morning, and all of the flowers were shut tight and covered with dew — they close at night then open in the morning when the sun warms them up.

On this trip, I didn’t get to the site until around noon, so all of the flowers were already open. However, due to the extreme drought in the spring and summer, there were only a few dozen plants in flower. It was a disappointment, but I tried to make the best of it. Fortunately, the plants were growing among a Sumac species whose leaves had already turned bright, scarlet red, which made for a nice background:

Fringed Gentian.
Fringed Gentian

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Some colorful fall wildflowers in the South Carolina upstate — 2016-10-09

It is early fall in South Carolina, and even though the leaves have not yet taken on their glorious yellow, red, and orange colors, many of the fall wildflowers are already out for the show. This morning, I made the 45-minute trip north to visit one of my favorite state Heritage Preserves: Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve in northern Greenville County. The many hundreds of forested acres of this mountain preserve range widely from wet depressions, cataract falls with rare cataract bog plants, xeric conditions on granite balds with prickly pear cactus and yucca plants, and mesic woods with several species of native orchids and numerous other wildflowers.

On the winding mountain road leading to the preserve, I saw a number of plants with purple flowers. I knew this to be Lobelia puberula or Downy Lobelia. It comes in many shades of blue/purple, and it has been in bloom for several months. Here is one of the plants I found along the trail leading in to the preserve:

Downy Lobelia.
Downy Lobelia

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