Early fall wildflower color on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina — 2018-09-05

About a week ago, my good friend and photographer/naturalist, Liz Fox, visited some of my favorite wildflower spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina. She advised me that I’d better get up there, because the wildflowers were already blooming and were in pretty good shape. Personal commitments and lousy weather prevented me from going until yesterday. Although my usual visit time up there is around mid-September, I knew that an earlier visit would allow me to see some of the flowers in early/peak bloom even though some of the species would not be showing blooms at their peak form.

So, the night before, I cleaned my lenses, charged spare camera batteries, and made sure I had some snacks and water for the trip. It’s about a two-hour trip, but I had planned to stop along the way to check out a few sites in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, North Carolina. Two orchid species I had in mind in the Pisgah NF are Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata or October Ladies’-tresses orchid and Corallorhiza odontorhiza or Autumn Coral Root orchid. In good years, these can be found along the Davidson River near the Davidson River Campground. There is a trail along the river where these native orchids hide under the branches of Rhododendron maximum or Rose Bay Rhododendron.

October Ladies'-tresses orchidOctober Ladies’-tresses orchid

Autumn Coral Root orchidAutumn Coral Root orchid

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Francis Marion National Forest and the Carolina Coastal Plains Fringed Orchids — 2018-08-12

It is my usual delight to visit the Carolina coastal plain during mid-August. The wildflowers, especially the fringed orchids are usually in abundance. What I would normally do is visit the Francis Marion National Forest (the majority of Berkeley County, South Carolina) and then head over to the Green Swamp (the majority of Brunswick County, North Carolina) the next day. However, this year, I did not have the luxury of spending two days along the coastal plain. So I decided to visit just the Francis Marion NF and call it a day.

I had recently been in contact with good friend, Jeff Jackson, resident of the city of North Charleston, South Carolina, which is just a hop away from the FMNF. I told him that I was planning to come down on Sunday and asked if he would like to join me on a field trip. I was pleased when he agreed. The weather forecast was for 50% rain, but sometimes the forecast is wrong. So at 5:15 am on early Sunday morning, I left Greenville and headed to our meeting place in the Francis Marion National Forest. It’s a 4-hour trip for me, but I had my thoughts of lots of orchids and other wildflowers to keep my juices flowing.

We met at Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area, a SCDNR site which covers 10,700 acres (4,330 hectares) of pine savannahs, bottomland hardwoods, wildlife openings, wetlands, and reservoirs. The earliest known date of existence of the ferry crossing was 1712. Anthony Bonneau’s ferry landing was established here, along the banks of the Cooper River, by a legislative act. The ferry soon became a private enterprise and remained so until 1798. The nearby plantation house, Bonneau’s Ferry Plantation, was built around not long after the ferry was established. In 1742, Anthony Bonneau died willing the 3,020 acre (1,220 hectare) plantation, on which he resided, to sons Samuel and Benjamin Bonneau. It seems that Samuel and his wife Mary became sole owners at some point. So the name, Bonneau Ferry. In 2004, The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources acquired a 10,700-acre tract from MeadWestvaco which included the original Bonneau plantation property.

I was excited to finally visit this location, having passed the turnoff many times over the past dozen years or so of my time spent in the FMNF. Jeff had seen several Platanthera species down there over the years, and we had high hopes of seeing some good ones on this day’s visit. We ended up spending about an hour driving around and walking the pine savannahs, but did not find much worth photographing. One of the target orchids was Platanthera cristata or Crested Fringed orchid, but they are the earliest of the ones to flower along the coastal plain, and the ones we saw at Bonneau Ferry were pretty much done. I did photograph some other wildflowers there which I will mention toward the end the blog.

So, we decided to head on into the Francis Marion where we both knew there would be some good orchids to photograph. Jeff had done some scouting on a previous visit, and he knew the location for some Crested Fringed orchids in a bottomland swamp. But first, we headed to a site where I had seen Platanthera conspicua or Southern White Fringed orchids in previous years. I had visited the site in May of this year, and saw that it had been burned very recently prior to that visit. That was good news, because a winter burn or even a late spring burn will clear out much of the choking vegetation that might prevent the orchids from blooming.

We arrived at the spot and gathered our camera gear. It was just a short walk into the savannah before we saw the first sign of bright white orchid flowers. They were growing in a fairly open area surrounded by ferns. Here is a shot of the first Southern White Fringed orchid we spotted:

Southern White Fringed orchidSouthern White Fringed orchid

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Pollination of Platanthera ciliaris orchids in the Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina — 2018-07-27

I am not a scientist (in the strict sense), and I don’t play one on TV. But, I do like to observe things in nature and attempt to explain some of the things I see. Case in point: The subject of today’s blog post.

Being a nature photographer often presents me with situations that make me go, “Hmmmmmmmm”. While photographing the beautiful Platanthera ciliaris or Yellow Fringed orchid (more aptly called Orange Fringed orchid), I usually like to take my time and enjoy the moment. At my favorite site for them way back in a secluded part of the Pisgah National Forest, I often see butterflies flitting back and forth on the flowers, frantically working them to retrieve the sweet nectar hidden deep down in each flower’s long nectar tube. This appears to happen more often during the heat of the day around noon, especially on sunny days.

These butterflies will work their way down the roadside, visiting each flower scape along the way. They will then fly back up the road to the beginning of the population of orchids, and make their way back down the road, again. Over and over this happens. If you are patient and sit in front of a particular orchid scape, you will be rewarded by seeing the pollination action over and over again as the butterflies (the same one in many cases) continue to come back for more.

The butterfly in question is Battus philenor or the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. These appear to be the workhorses when it comes to pollinating the Yellow Fringed orchid, at least at this site. I did see yellow and black Papilio glaucus or the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies flitting around, but none of them seemed the least bit interested in the orchids.

Some really botanically geeky stuff follows:

I shall digress a bit here for some background. Larvae of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly and those of the other swallowtails belonging to the tribe Troidini feed on plants in the genus Aristolochia (of which the Pipevine or Dutchman’s Pipe is a member), and are commonly referred to as the Aristolochia Swallowtails. But, because “Pipevine” is easier to say than “Aristolochia”, we will call them Pipevine Swallowtails. Here is an informative article from www.gotscience.org about the life-cycle of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

The following is a shot of one of the strange flowers of the toxic, Aristolochia macrophylla or Dutchman’s Pipe followed by an image of the vine and heart-shaped leaves which the larvae of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly feed on. These vines often reach more than 30 feet (9 meters) into the canopy of the forest, and the flowers are almost always toward the top of the vine, making them somewhat difficult to photograph.

Dutchman's Pipe flowerDutchman’s Pipe flower

Dutchman's Pipe vine and leavesDutchman’s Pipe vine and leaves

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Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina — 2018-07-21 and 2018-07-22

On Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22, 2018, I visited the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway in the western North Carolina mountains. The target species were Triphora trianthophorus or Three-birds orchid and Lilium superbum or Turk’s-cap Lily. By observing weather conditions on an online amateur weather station near the orchids, I had calculated that the orchids would be in bloom on either Saturday or Sunday. However, they might be a day or so late due to the immaturity of the plants; this being the first bloom cycle of the season. It used to be early August before the first wave of blooms, but due to climate change, they are blooming nearer to mid-July. As I had guessed, they orchids were ready to pop, but I was still a day early. So, I drove on up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to try to locate some good specimens of Turk’s-cap Lilies.

Well, that turned out not to be a problem at all. This year has brought an explosion of these Lilies along the Parkway. I could not drive a mile without seeing these towering (6-10 feet or 1.8-3 meters tall) plants, loaded with red-orange blooms, and they were being swarmed by large numbers of Battus philenor or Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies. What a spectacular sight to see these beauties arching over the lower-growing shrubs on the side of the road! Here are some examples of these lovely Lilies:

Turk's-cap LilyTurk’s-cap Lily

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Part 4 of 4 — A Texas wildflower adventure — Wildflowers — 2018-07-12 through 2018-07-15

One attraction of mine to west Texas was, of course, the stunning native orchid species that are found there. A side perk, though, was photographing the myriad other wildflower species as well as the unexpected wildlife that would insert itself, from time to time, in our presence. This is Part 4 of 4, and it includes the remainder of images that were not shown in the other 3 Parts of our Texas wildflower adventure.

I thought long and hard how to present these images and decided to just present them in some random order, because there was no good reason to group them in any other way.

So here goes…

After finishing our photography in the Davis Mountains, we headed back to Dallas, where we would catch our flight back to Greenville, SC. We had no sooner gotten on the road, when I spotted a flash of pink. Of course, I slammed on the brakes as I am wont to do in such a situation, and backed up the road until I was next to the pink flowers. Just so you know, this road is not frequently traveled, so I felt safe in doing so. I pulled off the road and gathered my camera gear. The sun was out brightly which is not the best of situations for wildflower photography, but it was what it was. Here is what I saw:

Skeleton plantSkeleton plant

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