Fringed Gentian in Northeast Georgia – Blue, Blue, Blue!– 2018-10-04

Because of its intensely vibrant blue (some would say “electric blue”) color, this beautiful Gentian species has evoked an emotional response from a number of writers/poets over the years. Here are two poems that come to mind:

Fringed Gentian
By EMILY DICKINSON

God made a little gentian;
It tried to be a rose
And failed, and all the summer laughed.
But just before the snows
There came a purple creature
That ravished all the hill;
And summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still.
The frosts were her condition;
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North evoked it.
“Creator! shall I bloom?”

To the Fringed Gentian
By WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT

Thou blossom bright with autumn dew,
And colored with the heaven’s own blue,
That openest when the quiet light
Succeeds the keen and frosty night.

Thou comest not when violets lean
O’er wandering brooks and springs unseen,
Or columbines, in purple dressed,
Nod o’er the ground-bird’s hidden nest.

Thou waitest late and com’st alone,
When woods are bare and birds are flown,
And frosts and shortening days portend
The aged year is near his end.

Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye
Look through its fringes to the sky,
Blue-blue-as if that sky let fall
A flower from its cerulean wall.

I would that thus, when I shall see
The hour of death draw near to me,
Hope, blossoming within my heart,
May look to heaven as I depart.

For the past few years, I’ve set aside some time in early October to make the trip to northeast Georgia to see and photograph a large population of Gentianopsis crinita or Greater Fringed Gentian. This population, on private property, is the largest in Georgia, and it is possibly the southern-most population of this Gentian species in North America. There are only a couple of populations in North Carolina and a couple in Virginia — this is a northern plant. For me, it was important to visit the site this year, because I understand that the property is up for development. In fact, I did see a “For Sale” sign at the edge of the property, but it was mostly covered up by the weedy growth that makes up the preponderance of vegetation in the gently sloping, mountain meadow.

Greater Fringed GentianGreater Fringed Gentian

Read More»

Spectacular wildflower display on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina — 2018-09-22

This is a rather lengthy post, so grab a snack and your favorite adult beverage, and settle in for the ride…

Just a few weeks after my last visit up there, the Blue Ridge Parkway roadsides in western North Carolina have provided us with a marvelous display of fall wildflowers! Each year that I visit this region, I am amazed at this colorful showing. On this trip, my good buddy and nature photographer, Alan Cressler, decided he would join me on a long (16 hours) day trip covering about 150 miles (240 km) of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, the 469-mile long (755 km) Blue Ridge Parkway is our longest National Park. In some places, it is only about 100 yards (100 meters) wide, but it snakes its way through some of the most beautiful mountainous sections of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia. It is here, at altitudes of 5,000 to 6,000 feet (1,525 to 1,825 meters) that many plant species, usually found much farther north, can and do find a suitable home. During the trip, we both agreed that many of these species would probably not be found by anyone except for the fact that the construction of the Parkway had left its mark on the planet by winding its way through and over these craggy mountains, giving seeds and spores an open place to germinate and grow into our beautiful mountain flora. Many north-facing, vertical road cuts/cliff faces expose fractures in the rock which allow water to flow and provide the cool, wet substrate for some of the more northerly species, which are rare for these southern climes.

We began our trip leaving my home in Greenville, South Carolina, finding our way to the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, North Carolina. Our first stop would be to check on the bloom status of Spiranthes cernua or Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchid at the impressive Cradle of Forestry facility just off of Hwy. 276 which transects the Pisgah National Forest and connects to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had visited this site for the first time in the fall of 2017, after being told that there was a good showing of orchids in the spaces bordering the parking lot. I told Alan that we might be a bit early, because it was later in the month when I photographed them last year.

As we approached the entrance gate, I was prepared to pay the $5 entrance fee, even though we would not be entering the facility, proper, but just scouring the parking lot area for photographic opportunities. Imagine my surprise when the guard said that the fee would be waived that day since it was “National Federal Lands Day”, and that we could also volunteer our services by weeding, etc., but I declined the offer telling him that we were there to photograph the orchids. From that spot at the guard gate, I could see a few Spiranthes cernua at the edge of the parking lot — a sight that got my juices flowing!

We pulled in to the first available parking spot and were amazed to see that the orchids were at peak bloom. I don’t think Alan had ever seen so many Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchids in one spot! Although the ground next to the parking lot had been left unmowed and was a bit weedy, it didn’t seem to bother the orchids much, at all. Here are some shots of this spectacular display:

Nodding Ladies'-tresses orchidNodding Ladies’-tresses orchid

Read More»

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

Read More»

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

Read More»

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

Read More»

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

Read More»

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

Read More»

Part 3 of 4 — A Texas wildflower adventure — Western Milkweeds — 2018-07-12 through 2018-07-14

First, I must apologize for sending the previous post under this new title. Some of you got the older post and are probably wondering what happened. This blogging thingy is a complicated process which takes me anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to create each post. One of the first actions I MUST do when creating a new post is to make it a Private one while I edit it and get it ready to send out. The default setting is Public. I forgot to change the setting after I had changed the title… Again, sorry for the inconvenience.

Now, back to the subject of Western Milkweeds.

I will list the 8 Milkweed species we found in alphabetical order of botanical name. Each of these was a life-lister for me, having never seen them “in person” before this trip. My thanks, again, go to my friend Matt Buckingham and his wife, Carolina (Caro) Paez for taking the time to show us these wonderful and mysterious plants.

As you, Dear Readers, must already know, Orchids are my passion. But, I believe Milkweeds come in a close second or third. Texas boasts 25 different species of Milkweed species. We did not see them all because of either geographical or bloom-date constraints. Texas shares several species with the east coast, especially the Carolinas and Georgia, and I didn’t see a single one of those on this trip.

So, let’s get down to business:

1. Asclepias asperula or Antelope horns aka Green flowered Milkweed aka Spider Milkweed

Antelope horns Milkweed

Read More»

Part 2 of 4 — A Texas wildflower adventure — Giant Crested Coralroot orchid — 2018-07-13 and 2018-07-14

The first full day of our trip took us across the big state of Texas from Dallas to Ft. Davis, gateway to the Davis Mountains. Did I mention that Texas is BIG? Well, it seemed like we were driving forever. If it hadn’t been for stopping at a couple of Matt’s favorite wildflower spots, it would have been a heavy haul. In Part 1, I said that I hoped to add a number of Milkweed species to my life list. In Part 3, I’ll discuss the Milkweeds we saw — all of which were ones I had never seen. Yes, it was turning out to be a very good trip.

We spent the night in Abilene, Texas, which is just about halfway between Dallas and Ft. Davis where we had arranged to stay at something like an Airbnb — an apartment building that had been converted to rental units. We arrived in Ft. Davis after lunch, unpacked the rental vehicle and formed a two-car caravan with Matt and Caro. It is monsoon season, so huge thunderstorms were surrounding us. It was inevitable that we would be getting wet. Matt and Caro knew a retired biology professor whose property borders the Nature Conservancy’s 33,000 acre (~13,500 hectare) Davis Mountain Preserve. The professor’s name is Gary Freeman, and he owns around 500 acres (~200 hectares) in a private community. One special item that is found on his property is the bubble-gum pink, Hexalectris grandiflora or Giant Crested Coralroot orchid. Odd thing about this orchid is that it is neither “giant” nor is it “crested”, so how it got its name is beyond my reasoning.

So, we headed west from Ft. Davis to Gary’s property. On the way, Matt spots a pair of Antilocapra americana or Pronghorn Antelopes near the road. We stopped and figured which camera gear was needed. While Matt and Walter busied themselves trying to get some wildlife shots (here is Walter’s shot),

Walter's shot of Antelope

Caro and I walked the roadside where we found two Asclepias or Milkweed species that were new to me. Lucky we stopped at that very spot! More about the Milkweeds in Part 3. We soon resumed our trek to Gary’s place, and about 30 minutes later, we turned off onto his “driveway”. His driveway is a dirt road that has to be about 10 miles long, leading to the secluded community.

A few minutes after entering the driveway, we rounded a curve and saw that Matt had slammed on the brakes. Well, that is usually a good sign. What happened is that Caro had seen an orchid in bloom between two large boulders. I would soon find out that the orchids prefer to grow very close to large boulders, and getting close enough to them for photography is sometimes quite the physical challenge. Here is a shot of the orchid flowers:

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

While I was doing my best to photograph this one, my first for this species, Walter was busy laughing and taking pictures of me contorting my body to get my head behind the camera’s viewfinder:

Me doing my best to get the shot...

We finally made it to the mountain house where Gary was on the porch waiting for us. Such a neat and funny guy I’ve not met in a long while. We spent some time getting acquainted with him and his wife, Claire. After discussing the target species, Hexalectris grandiflora, we left the house and found a foot-trail that led off into the rocky, wooded grassland. This habitat is a perfect habitat for the orchid species we were looking for. He had just seen some of them popping up across the dry creek bed, and he thought that chances were very good for us to find some in bloom.

Read More»

Part 1 of 4 — A Texas wildflower adventure – Texas Purple Spike orchid — 2018-07-11 and 2018-07-12

A few months ago, I viewed some images on Flickr which is an online photostream repository. These images included a couple of orchid species that I have wanted to see and photograph for quite a while. The photographer is someone whom I have followed for quite a while. His name is Matt Buckingham, and he lives in Lufkin, Texas. He doesn’t photograph just wildflowers, he also loves to photograph birds, insects, snakes, and anything else provided by nature.

Not too long ago, I asked him if he would guide me on a trip to photograph some of the wildflowers he has seen in Texas. Much to my surprise, he agreed to do so! My target orchid species were two Hexalectris species: Hexalectris warnockii or Texas Purple Spike orchid aka Texas Crested Coralroot orchid, and Hexalectris grandiflora or Giant Crested Coralroot orchid. In addition, Texas has about 25 different Asclepias species or Milkweeds, and those are also high on any list of target species I could come up with. So Walter Ezell and I made arrangements to pay a visit to Texas on July 11 through July 16, hoping we could find at least one of the target orchid species in flower as well as a few Milkweeds.

Matt and a Flickr friend and master naturalist from Tyler, Texas, Sonnia Hill, had told me that a good place to start looking for H. warnockii is Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve just south of Dallas, Texas. Sonnia and her husband, Bob were spending a few days in Dallas, but she couldn’t make it to the Preserve with us. But, they did ask us out for a delicious meal in Dallas’ Galleria shopping center. I’ve known Sonnia on Flickr for a few years and had never met her, so this “face to face” was especially nice.

The Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve, managed by Audubon Dallas, is quite disjunct for the Texas Purple Spike orchid, but it is fairly reliable this time of year. H. warnockii was originally found at the Preserve in 1986 but nothing much was done with the information. Then, in 2003, a botanical inventory was done and around 40 H. warnockii plants were found. This orchid species was better known from much farther west, particularly in the Big Bend and Davis Mountains area of western Texas and in the Chiricahua Mountains of extreme southeastern Arizona. So our plan was to fly into Dallas, look for the orchids, then drive into west Texas to look for other species in the Davis Mountains. Matt and his wife, Carolina (Caro) Paez would be our guides. Matt and Caro would have a several-hour drive to meet us, so we agreed to meet at the Preserve on Thursday morning, look around, then head west.

Walter and I flew into Dallas early on Wednesday but could not check into our rented Airbnb accommodations until 3:00 pm, so we decided to drive directly to the Preserve and see if we could locate the orchids on our own. Turns out, the local chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists monitors this orchid species in the Preserve during June and July. Fortunately for us, they mark the location of every plant they find by orange survey tape, so it was quite easy for us to locate a few good subjects to photograph. Here is an example of this gorgeous orchid species:

Texas Purple Spike orchid Texas Purple Spike orchid

Read More»
Copyright © Dandelion by Pexeto