Early Spring Botanizing in Northwestern South Carolina — 2018-02-24

A few days ago, I received a couple of email messages relating to the Spring wildflowers in our area of northwestern South Carolina. The first one was from a Flickr friend, Gordon Magee, informing me that if I wanted to see the mass blooming of Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lilies at a nearby preserve called Nine Times, I’d better get on it, because they were currently in full bloom. What!?! I was hoping to wait another week or so before including this preserve in my schedule. The next day, I opened my email inbox and saw a message from a good friend and photographer, Bill Robertson, wondering if I wanted to spend Saturday botanizing in the upstate of South Carolina. Of course, said “I sure do!”. So we made plans to meet at a local restaurant for breakfast and plan our day trip.

After breakfast, we began our trip, heading toward a great spot for Trillium and several other Spring ephemerals. This location is called Oconee Station Falls, near the site of old Oconee Station, a stone blockhouse used as a military outpost by the S.C. State Militia and for trading with Native Americans from about 1792 to 1799. It appears in the “wilds” of early South Carolina history.

The day looked perfect for photography, overcast or at least mostly cloudy, and the temps were in the low 70’s (F); low 20’s (C). We loaded our camera gear and began the trek down the gently sloping trail to the 60-foot (18-meter) waterfall at the end of the trail. The trail, itself, is about .75 miles (1.2 km) long in each direction, and there is a great deal to see at almost any time of the year. However, Spring is the most popular time because of the explosion of wildflowers found in the cove forest. Early on, we began seeing Trillium cuneatum or Little Sweet Betsy plants along the trail, it was not until we reached the lower elevation area of the cove forest where we saw our first blooming plant, Sanguinaria Canadensis or Blood Root; so named because of the ooze of red liquid that appears when its rhizome is crushed. The pure white petals and bright, golden-yellow stamens make this a favorite of lovers of Spring wildflowers. Here is a shot of this beauty:

Blood Root Blood Root

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First blog post of 2018: Visit to a state Heritage Preserve for Dimpled Trout Lilies — 2018-02-18

Finally! This winter’s Cabin Fever spell is broken! Lately, I’ve been quite envious of my photography buddies in Florida for their ability to photograph early season wildflowers, many similar to those that are found in our region.

This past Sunday, Walter Ezell and I drove 35 miles (56 km) to one of my favorite state Heritage Preserves: Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve in upper Greenville County, South Carolina. Around this time of year, one of our earliest blooming wildflowers, Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily, sometimes called Dog-tooth Violet comes into bloom. This tiny, 3/4-inch (1.9-cm), bright yellow wildflower manages to poke its head through the leaf litter to grace the forest floor with its delicate beauty.

This particular location is not known for its masses of blooming lilies; rather the plants are scattered just off the trail and offer the opportunity to get full plant images separated from the other lily plants. At this site, the flowers bloom as soon as a month earlier than at other similar sites in the upstate of South Carolina. I’ve been to locations where getting a clear full-plant image is almost impossible due to the close proximity of other blooming plants. In another month or so, I will visit another location, Nine Times Preserve, in a neighboring county, where there are thousands of Dimpled Trout Lilies, crowded in and among themselves.

Here is an example of this wonderful flowering plant:

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

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Annual fall visit to the Carolina coastal plain (with an unexpected twist!) — 2017-11-03

“So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Macbeth, In Act I Scene 3 line 38 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. [More about this farther down in the blog…]

Winter is just around the corner for us in the Carolinas. Our nearby mountains have already gotten their first dusting of snow (although it didn’t hang around), and now it is time for my annual visit to the Carolina coastal plain for some fall botanizing. The last weekend in October through the first weekend in November brings the last of the orchids and wildflowers in the Francis Marion National Forest in Berkeley County, South Carolina as well as in the Green Swamp in Brunswick County, North Carolina — two of my favorite botanizing locations.

The previous week had brought some correspondence from a new FaceBook friend, Alex Patton. Alex helps run a family fruit farm in Utica, Ohio, and he wanted to come down to the Green Swamp to look for the following:

Spiranthes cernua or Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchid
Spiranthes odorata or Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid
Spiranthes longilabris or Long-lipped Ladies’-tresses orchid
Parnassia caroliniana or Carolina Grass-of-Parnassis
Gentiana autumnalis or Pine Barren Gentian
Nabulus (formerly Prenanthes) autumnalis or Slender Rattlesnake Root

…and anything else interesting that might be available. This may sound like a tall order, but it was one that should be easily knocked out in a day. Alex had also arranged to meet his friend, Eric Ungberg, in the Green Swamp. Eric is affiliated with Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I was so looking forward to hanging around with a couple of photographers and botany nerds in one of my favorite places.

I had messaged Alex that I would be hitting the Francis Marion NF on Friday, spending the night near the Green Swamp in Shallotte, NC that night and meeting him and Eric at “The Pond” in the Green Swamp early Saturday morning. My objective in the FMNF was to photograph Spiranthes odorata or Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid in the Wambaw Swamp area of the National Forest. This is an area I’ve visited each fall for the past 10 years or more years.

So, early Friday morning, I head south on my 4-hour trip to the South Carolina coastal plain. I arrive at the usual spot on Victor Lincoln Road. This gravel road winds through the center of the FMNF, connecting Halfway Creek Road with Hwy. 45. The location for the orchids is in the 4,755-acre Wambaw Swamp Wilderness area. It is a forsaken place of bottomland cypress forest, mucky swamp land, and dense pocosin. I have used the following descriptive quote in a previous blog, but I think it deserves mentioning again:

Wambaw Swamp offers no trails and little dry ground. Here, in another of the four Wildernesses in Francis Marion National Forest, you’ll find river-bottom hardwood swamp edged with small stands of pine. Wild orchids, lizard’s tail, pickerel weed, sedges, and ferns dominate the understory. The water level is generally too low for canoeing. Insects, snakes, muck, and lack of dry campsites keep most humans away. This may be the least visited spot in South Carolina.

The above description makes only a general mention the hordes of mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers that are always present. And I’ve seen a number of poisonous snakes there, as well. After having said all of this, I know it is still a great place to find Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchids as well as a few other orchid species in season. Here is a close-up that I took of an exceptional Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid on Friday while mucking around in the swamp:

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

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Impressive display of Spiranthes (Ladies’-tresses orchids) in the North Carolina mountains — 2017-10-04

In keeping with my most recent post showing Gentiana and Spiranthes species along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I will be showing you some more (in fact, a lot more) Spiranthes images.

In an email a few days ago, a good friend, Rosemarie Knoll, happened to mention that the Spiranthes were blooming in the parking lot of the Cradle of Forestry interpretative Center off of Hwy. 276 in the Pisgah National Forest north of Brevard, North Carolina. If you have been following my posts for any length of time, you will know that the Pisgah National Forest continues to fascinate me with its many orchids and other wildflowers in season. Well, this happens to be the season for Spiranthes or Ladies’-tresses orchids.

Turns out, Rosemarie doesn’t use hyperbole in her communications, but she should have. When I arrived at the entrance gate, I informed the attendant that I had come to photograph the Spiranthes flowers on the margin of the parking lot. He said, “Oh, you mean those little white flowers?” I indicated what I was referring to by pointing to a couple of flowering plants on the shoulder of the access road just next to his gate shack. I had reached for my wallet to give him the $5 entrance fee, when he told me that I could go ahead without paying. I gladly thanked him and proceeded to the parking area, noticing the patches and groups of Spiranthes cernua or Nodding Ladies’-tresses along the way.

However, I was mouth-agape to see the huge numbers of flowering plants as I pulled into the first available parking space! There were thousands of flowering plants all along the grassy berms that separated different sections of parking area. It is difficult to show a wide-angle shot of such a display, but here is one attempt:

Nodding Ladies'-tresses orchid Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchid

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More wildflowers along the Blue Ridge Parkway – Gentians and Spiranthes — 2017-09-29

I just returned from a wonderfully relaxing weekend in the mountains of North Carolina. The trip allowed me time to visit the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, one of my favorite botanizing haunts. Recently, a friend, John Neal, had emailed me some locations for both Gentiana saponaria or Harvest Bells as well as Spiranthes cernua or Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchid, and I had hoped that they both would still be in good bloom on this trip.

Harvest Bells Harvest Bells

Nodding Ladies'-tresses orchid Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchid

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