Orchid Rescue — epiphytic Green-fly orchid in bloom in my front yard — 2017-07-11

This is not the first time I have rescued an orchid from its pending doom, but this time, it seems to have worked out quite well, so far. Sort of a win-win… Later on in this blog report, I will mention the first time I rescued a specimen of this species, but for now, let’s stick to the present. In late October of last year (2016) Walter Ezell and I were down in the Francis Marion National Forest checking out the Spiranthes odorata or Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchids in the Wambaw Swamp. We finished up with a very successful day, but since we were already down there, I wanted to check out the Epidendrum magnoliae or Green-fly orchids in a church yard about 30 miles east of our current location.

This particular orchid species is the only native epiphytic orchid in the Carolinas. Epiphytic means that it grows on trees (and rarely on rocks in some areas) and tree branches. It, however, is not a parasite, but uses the tree bark as an attachment so that it can capture rain water and nutrients from the air. The second part of the botanical name seems to indicate that it grows on Magnolia grandiflora or Southern Magnolia trees, and it does, but locally, it prefers to grow on the large horizontal limbs of Quercus virginiana or Southern Live Oak. These trees can grow to be very old, in fact, not far away is the Angel Oak, which is thought to be over 400 years old. Those trees in the church yard have to be a couple of hundred years old — they are huge!

We packed our gear and drove to the old brick church (built in 1768) and parked the truck outside the gate. As soon as I entered the church yard, I was struck by the number of large oak limbs littering the ground. Apparently, a huge storm had caused several large limbs to break and fall, just missing the portico and some of the grave stones in the church yard cemetery. A few of the limbs had already been sawed into manageable logs. I quickly noticed that quite a few of the logs had been host to large groups of the Green-fly orchid as well as its constant companion, Pleopeltis polypodioides or Resurrection fern. It is called Resurrection fern, because during drier seasons, it withers and turns brown, only to “resurrect” and turn green during the next rainy period. Here is a neat YouTube video showing a time-lapse of this process.

Note: All of the logs are long gone, so don’t expect to go there and find more orchids on the ground. The remainder of the orchid plants are in the trees, about 15-20 feet (4.5-6 meters) off the ground. Never remove living orchids from their natural environment. The only reason I took the limb, which was home to the one group I found, was that it was destined to be used as fire wood.

I didn’t want to see these orchids burned in some fire pit, so I “rescued” one of the smaller logs which had a relatively large group of plants growing on the tree bark. Here is an image of me and the limb on my way back to the truck:

Jim with the rescued oak log Jim with the rescued oak log

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Summer wildflower adventure along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina — 2017-07-04

There is never a dull moment for anyone travelling during any season on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My intended goal on this brief trip was to photograph the flowering (I hoped) of an orchid that I had seen a week before beside a trail just off the Boone Fork overlook. This overlook allows easy access to several wonderful hiking trails in the area. The particular orchid I was revisiting, Platanthera orbiculata or Pad-leaf orchid is quite rare in the Carolinas, having its southernmost range just into the high mountains of North Carolina. It is more commonly found in each of the states bordering Canada, from Maine to Minnesota. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, the high mountains of the Southern Appalachians provide remnants of the flora that existed before the last ice age, especially at higher elevations. Many species along the peaks and ridges of these mountains, are commonly found much farther north and into Canada.

Back to the orchid in question… I was anxious to photograph it, IF it was now in flower. Because I am not intimately familiar with this orchid species, I did not know how long it would remain in bud. But first, I had to get there. The past few days had been spent in our mountain cabin which is, fortunately, only about 40 minutes from the trailhead.

I got an early start, about an hour after sunrise, and headed to the intersection of Hwy. 221 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. One I reached the Parkway, I headed north, with the thought that I might very well be disappointed. Just after I joined the Parkway, I passed an overlook that offered a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Southern Appalachian Mountain range. From this overlook, it is easy to see why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s also easy to see how the Smoky Mountains got its name, as well. Here is that view:

Blue Ridge Mountains Blue Ridge Mountains as seen in early morning from the Blue Ridge Parkway

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My first visit to Roan Highlands near Roan Mountain, Tennessee — 2017-06-24

The next day after our adventure along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we headed west toward a place called the Roan Highlands. The USDA website states, “Roan Mountain is actually not one mountain, but a high ridge about 5 miles long. It ranges from a height of 6,286 feet at Roan High Knob to a low of 5,500 feet at Carver’s Gap. No one knows the origin of the mountain’s name. Some claim the name refers to the roan or reddish color of the mountain when rhododendrons bloom in June or when the mountain ash berries appear in September. Others say the name comes from Daniel Boone’s roan horse, because he and his horse were frequent visitors.”

Currently, Carvers Gap is a large parking area (probably not large enough for the mid-summer traffic), and is traversed by the Appalachian Trail. We arrived and parked in one of the few spots that was empty. I had made up my mind not to go home without seeing the three big attractions: Rhododendron catawbaense or Catawba Rhododendron; Rhododendron calendulaceum or Flame Azalea: and Lilium grayii or Gray’s Lily. Roan Highlands is especially noted for its large expanse of Catawba Rhododendron, which unfortunately for us, was in peak bloom the week before our visit.

Carvers Gap Carvers Gap

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Annual Blue Ridge Parkway Adventure — 2017-06-23

I’m writing this blog entry from the conference room of the Admissions Office at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Walter Ezell and I are currently staying at our mountain cabin which does not have internet service, so I had to find a place where I could sit and write for a couple of hours. Lucky for me that the college is only a 20-minute drive from the cabin. School is out for the summer, so they graciously let me in to work on my blog.

The end of June is always a fine time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina — especially for the summer orchids. It seems that they are blooming earlier each year. It used to be the case that the Purple Fringed orchids would be at peak on the 4th of July, but now, the third week in June appears to be the best time to catch them at peak bloom. In our area, Platanthera grandiflora or Large Purple Fringed orchid is at peak about 1 week ahead of Platanthera psycodes or Small Purple Fringed orchid. It’s also the case that there are many fewer of the former, and one has to really search hard to find them. They are usually in the ditches bordering the Parkway, just above the mow line. It makes me wonder just how many we could find if they didn’t mow the roadside until later in the year.

However, the first place Walter Ezell and I stopped was at a Parkway roadside site for Liparis loeselii or Loesel’s Twayblade orchid. Thanks to my photographer friend, Meng Zhang, for pointing it out to me, this site will always be a sure bet to photograph this species. In addition, there were more flowering plants at this roadside site than there were last year. I suspect that we were about 4-5 days late, because most of the flowers were just past peak and already producing seed capsules. That’s OK, though. I was very happy to see them again all nestled in their mossy bed:

Loesel's Twayblade orchid Loesel’s Twayblade orchid

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Field Trips North – Native Orchid Conference, Manitoba, Canada — 2017-06-05 thru 2017-06-08

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this year’s Native Orchid Conference symposium’s field trips included sites both South and North of the headquarters at the South Beach Casino and Resort in Scanterbury, Manitoba. The final day of the symposium, I was in the group heading North. The “North” group would be split into two sub-groups: one heading to the village of Woodlands and the other heading to the village of Rembrandt. I use the term, “village” very loosely, because they are pretty much just a crossroad with a couple of buildings. In any case, the field trip sites were near these villages.

Our sub-group of about 15 attendees gathered in the parking lot of the Casino and headed out early in the morning. At 8:00 am, the sun had already been up for 3-4 hours, so light was not a problem, except for photographers who would hope for an overcast sky. There were a few clouds, but they were high and thin; not very conducive to light dispersal.

Orchid geek stuff follows: We were headed to the Woodlands site where we had been told we would see the rare Cypripedium candidum or Small White Lady’s-slipper orchid and the uber rare hybrid between it and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens or Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper. The hybrid is named, Cypripedium Xandrewsii. Although most references mention Cypripedium parviflorum without a variety qualification, the ones we were supposed to see were definitely crossed with Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. Confused??? Well, maybe after you see the images of both putative parents and the resulting hybrid cross, perhaps it will become clearer.

Our leaders/guides for this leg of the day’s field trip were Catherine and Ben Rostron. They are from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and Ben is next year’s NOC president. He was also responsible for doing all of the behind-the-scenes legwork to get this year’s symposium off the ground. Many thanks for all of his hard work and for the effort put into the symposium by the numerous volunteers — especially the local guides.

We followed Ben and Catherine in our 5-car caravan and arrived to the site after a couple of hours of departing the Casino parking lot. The site was an open roadside bordering a plowed farm field. There was some discussion that the farmer intended to spray the field for weeds, but would wait until there was no wind. Riiiiight…… These plants are on private property, not public land, so the strength of protections that would go along with orchids in provincial preserves are not as firm. We all hope that the plants will not be affected by the herbicide, but who knows? These plants are national treasures, so maybe there will be a time when the property is ceded over to the government for suitable protection.

The plants were barely visible in the grass across a deep, but mostly dry ditch. We got our of our vehicles and gathered around Ben who explained the delicate nature of the site. The very worst thing we could do would be to trample the plants, so he pointed out how he had marked them with survey tape. Descending the ditch bank from the road actually took us through several clumps of Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids, and we were cautioned to avoid these clumps. Here is a shot of several of the attendees photographing the orchids which were growing on the far side of the ditch bank:

Photographing orchids in Manitoba, Canada Photographing orchids in Manitoba, Canada – Ben Rostron (standing), Chariya Punyanitya (kneeling), Walter Ezell (prone)

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