A large population of the rare, Small Whorled Pogonia orchid in western South Carolina — 2017-05-06

On Saturday, May 5, I was fortunate enough to be guided to a special site in Oconee County, South Carolina for the rare, Isotria medeoloides or Small Whorled Pogonia orchid. My guide was a recent acquaintance, David White, who is a contract employee for the US Forest Service, doing monitoring and surveys of plants within the state of South Carolina. David is the volunteer steward for this particular plot of orchids, and he is charged by the newly formed, South Carolina Plant Conservation Alliance (SCPCA), to make periodic reports concerning the orchid’s well-being.

Here is an image of one of the plants we found at the creek-side plot:

Small Whorled Pogonia orchid Small Whorled Pogonia orchid (with a tiny inch worm on one of the sepals)

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Three native orchids and some other stuff… 2017-04-26

Those of you who know me well, know that I am easily distracted by shiny objects. The latest, very shiny object to come my way is the cabin that Walter and I recently had built on a piece of mountain property in western North Carolina near the Tennessee border. Now, I am fully aware that talking about such an acquisition is like showing pictures of my grandchildren or our latest vacation, so I will try not to bore you much further. However, I mention all of this to let you know that I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth nor have I been raptured. It’s just life getting in the way of other more important things (like a blog).

Back in the saddle: Yesterday, after being notified by several of you that the orchids were in bloom in the Pisgah National Forest, I made the familiar trip up the road (Hwy. 276) to the Pisgah National Forest. However, first, I wanted to stop by the site for Isotria verticillata or Large Whorled Pogonia in the town of Brevard, North Carolina. This site was shown to me a few years ago, and I have visited it each year since then. In previous years, there have been hundreds of plants in flower. Last year, there were only 4 !!! This year, I counted 8 or 9 of them with many smaller, sterile plants showing themselves. I’m not sure the cause of the drastic decline, but it appears that they’re making a come back.

Here are a few shots of some of the plants I saw on this trip :

Large Whorled Pogonia Large Whorled Pogonia

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A rare plant from upstate South Carolina – Pachysandra procumbens or Allegheny Spurge — 2017-03-10

A few days ago, I saw a post that my friend, Rich Stevenson had posted on FB. He first posted an image of just the foliage, not knowing that it was in bloom. The next day, he posted an image of the flowers, after returning to the site.

Rich is a superb photographer and naturalist, and is always discovering new sights to see in our Southern Appalachian Mountains. I am very grateful that he shared with me the location for a very rare wildflower, Pachysandra procumbens or Allegheny Spurge. It is a “cousin” to the Pachysandra that is used as a garden ground cover, and which can be purchased at many nurseries. The one we photographed, however, is a native plant, and is found in South Carolina only in Pickens County. It is more common in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. I believe Georgia also has a few populations. It is also found in only one county in North Carolina, as well. Having said that, when it is found, it is locally abundant, meaning that it is everywhere you look! There were thousands of plants at the site we visited, but we managed to find only about two dozen flowering stems. I believe we were a week or so early for the peak bloom, but I wanted to get out to photograph them because we have snow and very cold weather due in the next couple of days.

Here is an image of the strange flowers of this plant:

Allegheny Spurge Allegheny Spurge

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Seeing the rare, Relict Trillium in South Carolina — 2017-03-05

On March 5, 2017, my Georgia friends, James Van Horne, Alan Cressler, Steve Bowling and I visited a site in Aiken County, South Carolina for the rare, Trillium reliquum or Relict Trillium. This site is very near the classic site for this species.

When we arrived, we managed to find a roadside parking area, then retrieved our camera gear and made our way into the woods. Almost immediately, we found a blooming plant. I remembered seeing this species in an isolated site in Georgia a couple of years ago, and these plants looked no different. Being a “bird-in-the-hand” guy, I decided to photograph that flowering plant while the rest of the crew went ahead, looking for additional plants. The hillside of the ravine where the plants grow was quite steep, and I was constantly trying to keep my feet under me. The leaf litter was thick and loose, and reduced the friction I needed to remain upright.

Here is the image of the first plant I spotted:

Trillium reliquum Trillium reliquum

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New, undescribed Trillium species in Georgia and some other stuff — 2017-03-05

This will be a rather lengthy blog entry due to the large number of images of this undescribed Trillium species. So sit back and enjoy…

In late February, my friend James Van Horne from Kennesaw, Georgia messaged me and asked if I would be interested in joining a small group to look for an undescribed Trillium species in Elbert County, Georgia. He said that two other friends from Atlanta, Georgia would be going, as well. Those two are Alan Cressler and Steve Bowling. Of course, I said “YES!”. We agreed on a place to meet in Georgia near the Trillium location, and I began making preparations for the trip.

On Sunday, March 5, I packed all my camera gear and drove to the agreed location. It was really good to see those guys again, because it had been months since our last mutual field trip. We made our circuitous drive to a spot next to a large river in Elbert County, Georgia. Alan and I had been to this site In the early summer about a year ago, but we didn’t realize that there were Trillium plants there because they had died back for the season.

Upon reaching the site, almost immediately we began to see the plants in singles and small groups all along the road and stretching into the woods. We wasted no time in getting our camera gear and inspecting the population to find the best plants to photograph. As it turns out, this undescribed species is more variable that any other Trillium species I’ve ever photographed. The range of color forms and petal size and shape is mind-boggling. It’s almost like the entire population is made up of hybrid crosses of other Trillium species. This is probably not the case, because we did not find any identifiable pure species in the area. Here is an image of one of the more unusual flowers we saw in this population:

Undescribed Trillium species Undescribed Trillium species

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Spring is early at Nine Times! — 2017-02-25

Nine Times Preserve is a small sliver of Pickens County, South Carolina that is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. According to The Nature Conservancy’s web page describing the preserve:

Named because nine bridges across a small creek were needed to gain access to the property, the 560‑acre nature preserve is one of the most biologically significant properties in the southeast. Located where the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains meet the Piedmont, The land encompasses five mountains that harbor more than 134 species of native wildflowers. It also is home to seven distinct forest types where black bear roam, unique rock outcrop plant communities where peregrine falcons fly, and headwater streams where trout dart.

Click here for a map of the preserve. In the Spring, especially, dozens of species of wildflowers can be found in abundance. The wildflower that is most prevalent this time of year is Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily.

I left the house fairly early in the morning so that I could get a head start on the breezes that are inevitably generated when the sun gets higher in the sky. It’s a one-hour drive for me and a trip that I’ve made many times. As I approached the gravel parking lot, I was a bit apprehensive, wondering if the plants would be in flower. In previous years, this population of Trout Lilies has been a bit later to bloom — sometimes by as much as two weeks, compared to the site I visited recently (Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve). In my previous blog entry, I wrote about finding only a single Trout Lily in flower. So today, I could be met with a hillside of only leaves and buds with no open flowers.

The flowers of this species of Trout Lily do not open on a very cloudy day or on a clear day until the sun begins to warm the air. It was still early, so any flowers that I might find would just be opening. I gathered my camera gear and walked to the entrance to the preserve. As I got near, I heard another vehicle enter the gravel parking lot. Someone waved from the passenger side, but they were too far away for me to recognize who it was. I lingered at the entrance, while the visitors approached. Soon, I recognized that it was my good friend and professional photographer, Bill Robertson and his companion, Kathy. We exchanged hellos and talked about what we might find on this trip. It was Bill who had remarked in an email last week, that he had heard that the Trout Lilies were in bloom at Nine Times Preserve. That was what prompted my trip.

We entered the preserve and immediately found that most of the buds were still closed. The sun was filtering through the bare canopy, and I knew it would not be long before the flowers would begin to open. So I walked the trail looking for photographic opportunities and making mental notes about where to revisit in an hour or so. I reached the end of the trail and found a small group of plants nestled in the fork of the roots of a tree. It was too good to pass up, so I set my tripod and took this shot:

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

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My annual walk through a winter woods… — 2017-02-12

This is supposed to be mid-winter, but it’s 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) outside! The plants still seem to be in winter mode though, and that is good because I suspect we do have a bit of cold weather ahead of us. We always have at least a couple of days of freezing temperatures in mid-April. But today’s walk is pretty much all about green. In our portion of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, there are a number of “evergreen” plants/trees whose leaves make them much easier to spot in the woods’ otherwise drab winter garb.

I did run across a single flowering plant, Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily. I figured some of them might be in bloom although it was just a bit early. Here is that little yellow beauty:

Dimpled Trout Lily.
Dimpled Trout Lily

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Brief visit to upstate South Carolina Heritage Preserve for fall Gentians — 2016-11-01

This morning, I made a brief day trip to one of my favorite Heritage Preserves in upstate South Carolina. The name of the preserve is Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve. It is located in Greenville County, South Carolina about 45 minutes north of my home. Past visits in early November have shown me several populations of the electric-blue, Gentiana saponaria or Soapwort Gentian also known as Harvest Bells. This species got the name, “Soapwort Gentian” , because its leaves closely resemble those of Saponaria officinalis or Soapwort. When the leaves of Soapwort are rubbed on the hands with water, a soap-like substance is produced. In addition, the term “wort” comes from Middle English, from Old English wyrt meaning: root, herb, or plant. But I digress…

When I’m visiting an area I’ve visited in past years, I am never sure if I will find what I’m looking for. However, on this trip, I did find about a dozen Soapwort Gentian plants in three different locations in the preserve. The plants were scattered in singles and small groups over a wide area of the forest. Here is an example of one of the plants I saw:

Soapwort Gentian.
Soapwort Gentian

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Orchids, critters, and wildflowers along the Carolina Coastal Plain – Part 2 of 2 — 2016-10-29

The morning broke clear and mild, quite unlike some of the late October mornings along the Carolina Coastal Plain where I had to scrape the frost off the windshield. Walter Ezell and I were looking forward to meeting our good friend, Kelvin Taylor aka KT and his photography buddy, Jackie Tate aka JT, both from North Carolina. Today’s adventure would include visits to a couple of the island savannahs in the Green Swamp, Brunswick County, North Carolina as well as a few areas in nearby Boiling Spring Lakes. These areas reliably produce a number of fine wildflowers for study and photography.

Walter and I finished our customary continental breakfast at the motel and headed east toward our agreed upon meeting spot at the “pond” which is slap in the center of the Green Swamp Preserve. For those who are not familiar with the location, the “pond” is a several-acre borrow pit that was created when the highway which splits the preserve, Hwy. 211, was constructed. The dirt and sand that was “borrowed” from the site was used to raise the highway above the elevation of the already high water table. Proof of the high water table is shown by the level of water that is constantly in the borrow pit.

Anyway, as we were entering the sandy parking lot, KT and JT were just getting out of their car — great timing! We made our hellos and discussed the plan for the day’s activities. We decided to first check out the nearby location for Parnassia caroliniana or Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus. This is a rare species in North Carolina, having the state rank of S2, meaning that there are between 6 and 20 extant populations in the state. It is imperiled in the state because of rarity or because of some factor(s) making it very vulnerable to extirpation. Because of the proscribed burn rotation in the longleaf pine savannah where we usually find it, the plant is fairly reliably in its appearance.

Today, however, we found fewer plants than in previous years, and apparently we were too early in the season to find them all in bloom. We found only two open flowers, but there were dozens of buds that were beginning to open. Here is a shot of an open flower and one of an opening bud:

Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus.
Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus

Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus bud.
Carolina Grass-of-Parnassus bud

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Fall trip to the Carolina Coastal Plain – Part 1 of 2 — 2016-10-28

I can hardly wait for fall to arrive, especially the last week of October, because that means photographing the last gasp of wildflowers along the Carolina Coastal Plain. There is a favorite spot of mine, the Wambaw Swamp Wilderness Area, where Spiranthes odorata or Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid can reliably be found. This is an area of the Francis Marion National Forest in Berkeley County, South Carolina, that is described by the US Forest Service as:

Wambaw Swamp Wilderness (4,815 acres) is thick with wild orchids, pickerel weed, sedges, lizard’s tail and ferns and is challenging to explore. There are no trails in the wilderness so those hardy enough to take on a slow-paced slog generally rely on orienteering skills to navigate. The wilderness is composed of bottomland hardwood forest and is edged with small pine stands. While it offers little dry land, the water level is usually too low for boating. Mature cypress and tupelo trees and relatively open understory, especially off FS road 154 near Coffee Creek, provide some easier hiking and an opportunity to explore a place where very few people go.

On Friday, Walter Ezell and I headed South toward the coast. We arrived at the Wambaw Swamp access road and were met immediately by a fierce swarm of mosquitos. This was not a big surprise for me, because this swampy location is ground zero for those pesky suckers. But I don’t think Walter was prepared for the onslaught. I had recently bought a mosquito hat/net for such purposes, and I happened to have a spare mosquito head-net in my camera bag for Walter to use. We gathered our camera gear and headed into the swamp.

It’s just a short slog through the swamp until we reach the subtle rises in elevation where the orchids love to grow. There they were — a couple of dozen flowering plants – some up to 30 inches (75 cm) tall. This particular species of Spiranthes has a rich, earthy fragrance that is unmistakable. Often times, the fragrance is noticed even before the plants are spotted. That was the case on our most recent visit. Even if I hadn’t known where to look for them, I would have had that clue to help me. Here is what a typical Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid looks like:

Fragrant Ladies'-tresses orchid.
Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchid

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