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

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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

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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

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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

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Fall Gentians of the Southeast — 2018-11-02

Fall, having thrust itself on us in the Southeast, I thought it would be fun and maybe a bit instructive to write a blog post about the southeastern Gentians. According to Jim Drake in his illuminating, self-published book, Gentians of the Eastern United States, the plant family Gentianaceae contains 87 genera and more than 1600 species worldwide. But I will restrict myself to three genera, Gentiana, Gentianopsis, and Gentianella, each well represented in the southeast. Incidentally, they all bloom during the fall, September through November. I had actually planned to make a short field trip to the upper reaches of Greenville County, South Carolina to photograph a population of Gentiana saponaria or Soapwort Gentian aka Harvest Bells which I’ve been following the past couple of weeks from bud to bloom, but it is pouring rain as we speak. Maybe tomorrow… This is what they looked like in full bloom a couple of years ago:

Soapwort GentianSoapwort Gentian

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