Two special wildflower sites in Pickens County, South Carolina — 2019-04-17

On Wednesday morning, Walter Ezell and I took a few hours to visit two special wildflower sites in neighboring Pickens County, South Carolina. These two sites were ones we have visited many times before, but because they never fail to amaze us, and because they are close by, we decided to check out the current status of the wildflower bloom. The first of these sites is Boggs Rock, which is a granitic flat-rock outcrop wildflower community, and the second site is Nine Times Preserve, a nature preserve owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy.

At Boggs Rock, the principal attraction is the diminutive, Diamorpha smallii or Elf Orpine. Diamorpha is a monotypic genus with Diamorpha smallii being the only species. It is quite unique in another respect, in that it prefers the ultra harsh environment of small depressions in granitic gneiss where, in the cooler months of Springtime, vernal pools provide enough moisture for them to grow and thrive. This is definitely a Spring ephemeral, for in just a month or so, these vernal pools will completely dry up. But fortunately, the Orf Elpine plants will have flowered and produced seed for the next generation. Here is a close up of a dense grouping of plants, showing the succulent nature of the leaves as well as the 4-petaled, white flowers. The entire plant is no more than 2 inches (5 cm) tall:

Elf OrpineElf Orpine

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I’ve got the blues (and yellows and whites)… — 2019-04-04

It’s Spring in the Southeast, and time for getting out to photograph some of the many Spring wildflowers in our area. One of my favorite spots to photograph these Spring wildflowers is in upstate Greenville County, South Carolina — about 45 minutes from my house. The location is Persimmon Ridge Road, which bisects a couple of fantastic state Heritage Preserves. Although just a bit early for some of the species, I had hopes of finding at least some Violets and a few other early bloomers.

As I entered Persimmon Ridge Road, I began to see some color in the leaf litter beside the road. The first wildflower I spotted was one that doesn’t last long once it blooms: Iris verna or Dwarf Iris:

Dwarf IrisDwarf Iris

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First visit to Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve in upstate South Carolina — 2019-04-05

On Friday, April 5, Dan Whitten and I made a day-long visit (my first) to Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve in northern Greenville County, South Carolina. The preserve, which is state-owned and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, encompasses 1,886 acres (763 hectares), and is transected by a moderately difficult, 2.75-mile (4.4-km) foot trail. We met at the parking lot about noon; the time necessitated by the overnight into late morning rain. Our objective was the monitoring (counting, measuring, and photographing) of a couple of populations of “Jones Gap” Trillium, an odd form of Trillium catesbaei or Catesby’s Trillium first seen at Jones Gap State Park in Greenville County, South Carolina. This undescribed species is very widely scattered in South Carolina and northern Georgia and can be recognized by the upward-pointing flowers (normally nodding beneath the bracts/leaves). The largest population at Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve we estimate at about 750 plants. Of those 750 plants, less than 10% were blooming. This might sound like a lot of plants, but they are spread over a fairly large, steeply sloping area and are clustered in small to large colonies. Here is an image of one of the plants in flower:

Jones Gap Trillium“Jones Gap” Trillium

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Two fantastic Spring wildflower sites in northwest Georgia — 2019-03-27

Without the help of two of my Georgia friends, Alan Cressler and Henning von Schmeling, I never would have found two really fantastic wildflower sites in northwest Georgia. They had visited and photographed wildflowers at these two sites three days before Walter Ezell and I made our very long (almost 14 hours) day trip. Because Spring ephemerals are quite short-lived, I was hoping there would still be something for us to photograph.

The first site we visited is a nature preserve in Floyd County near Rome, Georgia. It is a “typical”, rich cove habitat, underlaid with limestone and with very little over-story cover. Because we arrived several days later than Alan and Henning, a couple of the species Alan had photographed had already bloomed out, but there were several species still in bloom. The main one for me was Dicentra cucullaria or Dutchman’s Breeches. It gets its common name from the shape of the flower which resembles a pair of inflated trousers (presumably of the type that Dutch men used to wear) hanging upside down. This is a species which is found in only one county of my home state of South Carolina, so I was excited to be able to see and photograph it:

Dutchman's BreechesDutchman’s Breeches

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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

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