Mid-September along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina — 2016-09-15

Mid-September is usually a great time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina. This is not my first blog entry dedicated to the wildflowers that can be seen this time of year in this area, so you will probably see some repeats of the flora in this blog entry. Even if that is the case, each year brings a different perspective to how the flowers present themselves and some of the differing color forms for any particular species. If you like bright shiny objects, I think you will like this post.

One of the problems with labeling the images is the determination of the county location. The Blue Ridge Parkway, especially in North Carolina, follows a very winding path along ridges and saddles, and it meanders across county lines numerous times — often as many as a half-dozen or more times in just 1 or 2 miles (1.6 or 3.2 km). So, if you think I might have gotten the county location wrong, you are probably correct. It’s not that important, anyway; it’s just our penchant for pigeon-holing data.

My main goal for this trip was to reach Wolf Mountain overlook In Jackson County. It is located near Mile Marker 424 on the Parkway. I do not feel uncomfortable divulging the location of this site, because it is well known to photographers, botanists, and naturalists, alike. Wolf Mountain overlook is famous among local naturalists for its huge diversity of mountain flora. This time of year, one can expect to see a wide variety of colors up and down the wet cliff face as well as in the shallow ditch at its base. Here is a shot of the view from the parking area:

Wolf Mountain overlook.
Wolf Mountain overlook

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Fall orchids and other wildflowers in the Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina — 2016-09-10

Just the other day, one of my blog subscribers let me know that she had found Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata or October Ladies’-tresses orchid near the Davidson River in the Pisgah National Forest. This area is in Transylvania County, North Carolina, and I am somewhat familiar with the site she described. So, this morning, I loaded the truck with some snacks and my camera gear, and headed up the road about 1 hour and 45 minutes to the site. The only other sites I know for this orchid species are much farther away in the central or eastern central portion of the state, so I was pleased that some had been found closer to home.

It was quite easy to locate the exact spot where the orchids were growing because she had gone the extra mile to give me detailed directions. When I arrived, though, there were throngs of kids preparing to go tubing in the river. In addition, there had been a stocking of trout recently, and the fishermen were out in droves trying to catch the last one. Some were lucky, proudly showing off their strings of foot-long trout.

I’m used to getting curious glances and questions from onlookers, it’s a professional hazard, and I do my best to determine if the onlookers might be a threat to the plants. The majority of the time, I tell people I’m photographing mushrooms or “wildflowers”, and they accept that as truth. Sometimes, they want to examine the plants/flowers, but since the plants/flowers are usually quite small, they soon lose interest. That’s fine with me.

Anyway, back to the orchids…

These particular ones were quite a bit smaller than others of the same species I’ve seen. These were from 3 inches (7.5 cm) to 10 inches (25 cm) tall. As you will notice, the flowers do not fully open. But opening is not necessary, since the flowers are self-pollinating, so the need for a pollinator such as a bumble bee is moot. I found 12 flowering plants and two leaf rosettes without flowers. Here is an image of the nicest one:

October Ladies'-tresses orchid.
October Ladies’-tresses orchid

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Wildflowers in Southern Arizona — 2016-07-31 through 2016-08-05

Just today, someone (MB, you know who you are) requested that I finish posting the images that I took while on a week-long trip to southern Arizona where we attended the fabulous 2016 Native Orchid Conference in Benson, Arizona.

Disclaimer #1: This is a very, very long blog entry. This blogger is not responsible if you doze off during the reading of this blog entry.

Disclaimer #2: This blogger is not a trained botanist. He is also not intimately familiar with the flora of southern Arizona, and he’s done his best to identify the flora which appear in the images. If you see something that you believe to be misidentified, please bring it to my attention (I will be grateful), and I will do my best to correct the misidentification.

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Not enough can be said about the wonderful job that was done by Ron Coleman of Tucson, Arizona in setting up the NOC symposium, gathering the guest speakers, arranging for the motel and meeting sites, and providing food, drink, and snacks for our enjoyment. In addition, he and a number of others did yeoman work figuring out the best locations for the field trips. After all, Ron wrote the books on the orchids of Arizona, New Mexico, and California. I am privileged to count him and his wife, Jan, as friends.

Images of the 5 species of native orchids we saw on our trip (BTW, all new to me) were posted in previous blog entries, so there won’t be any orchid images in this one:

Malaxis porphyrea and Platanthera limosa,
Malaxis abieticola,
Malaxis corymbosa, and
Malaxis soulei.

So, let’s get started…

Disclaimer #3: These images appear in no particular order. They were all made on the NOC field trips to the Sky Islands of southern Arizona. The locations include the Chiricahua Mountains, the Santa Catalina Mountains, and the Huachuca Mountains.

According to Wikipedia:

Sky islands are isolated mountains surrounded by radically different lowland environments. This has significant implications for natural habitats. Endemism, altitudinal migration, and relict populations are some of the natural phenomena to be found on sky islands. The complex dynamics of species richness on sky islands draws attention from the discipline of biogeography, and likewise the biodiversity is of concern to conservation biology. One of the key elements of a sky island is separation by physical distance from the other mountain ranges, resulting in a habitat island, such as a forest surrounded by desert. Some sky islands serve as refugia for boreal species stranded by warming climates since the last glacial period. In other cases, localized populations of plants and animals tend towards speciation, similar to oceanic islands such as the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador.

Here is an image taken from atop one of the Sky Islands — the Huachuca Mountain range:

Huachuca Mountains -- Sky Islands
Huachuca Mountains — Sky Islands

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Pollination observations in the Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina — 2016-08-09 – 2016-08-16

Shortly after returning from my trip to attend the 2016 Native Orchid Conference symposium in Benson, Arizona, I joined a couple of new friends in the Pisgah National Forest. I had been in correspondence with John and Judy Kingston, residents of Beeston, Nottingham, United Kingdom even before I met them at the symposium. Like me, they are orchid enthusiasts and photographers. I was pleased to show them several orchid species in flower in the Pisgah NF: Platanthera ciliaris or Yellow Fringed orchid, Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis or Slender Ladies’-tresses orchid which were just holding on, and Tipularia discolor or Crane-fly orchid. The former two were new to them, and I could feel their excitement as they wandered around the roadside, remarking on the beauty and perfection of the flowers.

Toward the end of our visit to the Yellow Fringed orchids, we were honored by the appearance of several Battus philenor or Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies intent on getting the nectar of Yellow Fringed orchids, and at the same time, performing pollination of said flowers. The ones that I managed to photograph (not so clearly, I’m afraid) obviously had been quite busy with their activity, because their eyes were loaded with numerous orchid pollinia that were picked up from visits to other nearby orchid flowers. Here is an image of one of them feverishly at work on one of the orchid plants:

Pipevine Swallowtail pollinating Yellow Fringed orchids
Pipevine Swallowtail pollinating Yellow Fringed orchids

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Weekend orchid hunting along the Carolina coastal plain — 2016-08-12 – 2016-08-14

I was asked recently why I blog about my adventures in the field. I didn’t have a good answer then, so I have taken a while to think about it. With the posting of this, my 200th blog post, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want you, the reader, to like what I like; to feel the excitement that I feel upon discovering a group of blooming flowers that are on one hand, not unique, but on the other hand, never the same, no matter how many times I see them. That is my answer.

This past weekend fell in mid-August, the usual time for the fringed orchids to be blooming in the physiographic region of the Carolinas known as the Coastal Plain. These fringed orchids include Platanthera conspicua or Southern White Fringed orchid, Platanthera ciliaris or Yellow Fringed orchid, Platanthera cristata or Crested Fringed orchid, and Gymnadeniopsis (Platanthera) integra or Yellow Fringeless orchid. I know the latter is not a fringed orchid, but it blooms at the same time as the others, so I’m including it here. I also saw a large population of Habenaria repens or Water-spider orchid.

Although I visited several sites in both South Carolina and North Carolina, I will not distinguish between the sites in this post, but rather I will group them together by orchid species. At the end of this blog post, I will also picture some of the wildflowers I came across that are common to both states so that if you are visiting the Carolina coastal plain in the next couple of weeks, you might see some of them and be able to identify them.

The first of the orchid species I photographed on this trip is Platanthera conspicua or Southern White Fringed orchid. It differs from its northern cousin, Platanthera blephariglottis or Northern White Fringed orchid by several subtle characteristics, but I always rely on the position of the apex of the lip: it is generally shorter and tends to curl downward on the Northern White Fringed orchid while it is generally longer and tends to curl outward on the Southern White Fringed orchid.

Platanthera conspicua
Platanthera conspicua or Southern White Fringed orchid

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