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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The Blue Ridge Parkway – Part 2 of 2 – Quest for Hickey’s Tree-Clubmoss — 2017-09-02

The subject matter for this post, Part 2 of 2, is quite limited and will probably appeal to only a few of you, but you never know. So that you are prepared, the subject matter is quite “geeky”, botanically speaking. As I mentioned in Part 1 of 2, my good friend, Alan Cressler had asked if I could point him to one of our little-known clubmosses, Dendrolycopodium hickeyi or Hickey’s tree-clubmoss. I was happy to oblige. Please join our adventure as we search an area along the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina for this denizen of the Appalachian Mountains.

But first, a little background: Lycopodiaceae or the family of clubmosses has always interested me. In fact, it was my passion before becoming acquainted with Orchidaceae. I was struck by their primitive nature and how they seemed to occupy a special niche in the natural order of things.

According to the Virginia Native Plant Society, “The common name ‘clubmoss’ is based on the premise that at first glance these plants resemble mosses (mosses are bryophytes and thus, non-vascular plants), and because they often have club-like structures [sporangia] that produce spores. Clubmosses are all perennial evergreen plants with numerous small leaves. Individual plants in many species are connected by horizontal stems that run above ground (runners) or below ground (rhizomes); the actual roots are rather shallow. None of the clubmosses are flowering plants, but all are vascular plants with an interesting strategy of releasing spores at a life stage that few people see—outside of a science lab.

Clubmosses or Lycophytes evolved some 410 million years ago as one of the earliest groups of vascular plants (plants with special tissues xylem and phloem to conduct water and food, respectively, in this group of plants). Some 300-plus million years ago, tree forms of both clubmosses and horsetails along with ferns dominated the great coal swamps of the Carboniferous geological period. Tree forms of tree clubmosses that once reached heights of 100 feet have left an excellent fossil record of the woody tissue of tree forms.”

Worldwide, there are 10 to 15 genera and 350 to 400 species of clubmosses. The following represents those species found in the Southeast:

Southeastern Clubmosses:

Dendrolycopodium hickeyi Hickey’s tree-clubmoss
Dendrolycopodium obscurum Common tree-clubmoss

Diphasiastrum digitatum Common running-cedar/pine
Diphasiastrum tristachyum Ground-cedar, blue running-cedar

Huperzia appalachiana Mountain fir clubmoss
Huperzia lucidula Shining clubmoss, shining firmoss
Huperzia porophila Rock clubmoss

Lycopodiella alopecuroides Foxtail clubmoss
Lycopodiella appressa Southern bog clubmoss
Lycopodiella caroliniana Slender clubmoss
Lycopodiella cernua Stag-horn clubmoss
Lycopodiella prostrata Feather-stem clubmoss

Lycopodium clavatum Running clubmoss

Phlegmariurus dichotomus Hanging clubmoss

This blog report will be focused, particularly, on the Dendrolycopodium or tree-clubmoss species. To give you some basis of visual reference, here is a shot of the most prevalent tree-clubmoss in our area, Dendrolycopodium obscurum or Common tree-clubmoss:

Common tree-clubmoss Common tree-clubmoss

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The Blue Ridge Parkway – Part 1 of 2 – Late Summer color — 2017-09-02

This is the time of year when we are all getting ready for fall. But in the meanwhile, we should not ignore the late summer color that is quite amazing. My good buddy, Alan Cressler, resident of Atlanta, Georgia called a few days ago and asked if I would show him the location of a particular Clubmoss, Dendrolycopodium hickeyi or Hickey’s tree-clubmoss. He has been wanting to photograph that species for years, and had not had the opportunity to locate it. I knew of a sure location for it, so I said, “Yes!”. Of course, I would never turn down a trip to one of my favorite places, The Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina.

For the time being, I am going to put off our search for the elusive clubmoss and point my attention to the other things we saw on that day-long trip – ones that add that late summer splash of color to the scenery. The Clubmoss search will be detailed in Part 2 of 2.

We began our trip by driving from my house in Greenville, South Carolina through northern Greenville County on our way to the Parkway. My preferred way of getting there is to pick up Hwy. 276 and head to Brevard, North Carolina – gateway to the Pisgah National Forest. Driving Hwy. 276 would take us by a roadside waterfall called Wildcat Wayside Falls. It is directly next to the highway and is a favorite of locals, and it is one of the very few waterfalls that is wheelchair accessible. We stopped in front of the falls and took a few shots of the cascades. The amount of water running over the falls varies considerably depending upon the rainfall in the preceding week. We had experienced a thunder-storm the day before our visit, so at least the falls were not as dry as they sometimes are. Here is my shot from in front of the falls:

Wildcat Wayside Falls Wildcat Wayside Falls

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