150 miles (240 km) and 7 Trillium species — 2018-04-13

Friday the 13th! Supposed to be “unlucky”? Well, I had a pretty good day this past Friday. It was a long day — 7 hours and 150 miles (240 km), which took me into Polk County, North Carolina, and Greenville and Pickens Counties in South Carolina. There were 4 sites that I visited — each of which I have visited this time of year in previous years. There were no big surprises in store, just loads of gorgeous Trillium flowers.

Trillium grandiflorum Trillium grandiflorum

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Early visit to Persimmon Ridge Road in upstate South Carolina produces surprising results — 2018-04-06

Friday dawned with a high overcast — perfect for wildflower photography. On the spur of the moment, I decided to scout out one of my favorite mountain roadside locations in the upstate of South Carolina — Persimmon Ridge Road. This gravel road transects two of our most productive upstate Heritage Preserves: Ashmore Heritage Preserve and Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve, both of them home to several rare plant species as well as a stunning array of wildflowers during the Spring and Summer months. After a near freeze the night before, I wondered if any of the Spring ephemerals would be up and blooming. I prepared myself to be disappointed, because just 10 days prior to this trip, I made the same visit and did not find a single plant in bloom.

As I turned off of Hwy. 11/276 onto Persimmon Ridge Road, thoughts of Spring Iris and several species of Violet filled my mind. It was not long before I saw the first splash of blue popping out of the leaf litter on the side of the road. Iris verna or Dwarf Iris was in full bloom! I had not expected to see it for another week or so, but here it was:

Dwarf Iris Dwarf Iris

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In search of Hexastylis minor [Asarum minus] or Little Heartleaf in South Carolina — 2018-03-24

For those of a sensitive nature, please be aware that I’m immediately jumping in to the brambles of some very geeky botanical stuff here. Disclaimer: Much of the following few paragraphs is my editorializing about taxonomy and such, so if you just want to look at the eye candy (pretty pictures), then skip ahead — my feelings won’t be hurt even one bit, but you do get extra points if you make it through the weeds.

There has been a move about to place the North American Heartleafs in the genus, Asarum. Currently, they are known by most botanists to be in the genus, Hexastylis. Taxonomy is the way that humans, according to their nature, order things so that they can better understand the world around themselves. The taxonomic way of classifying organisms is based on similarities between different organisms. A biologist named Carolus Linnaeus started this naming system; he also chose to use Latin words. Taxonomy used to be called Systematics.

The North American Heartleaf is ordered by discrete levels:

“Older” Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Magnoliids
Order: Piperales
Family: Aristolochiaceae
Genus: Hexastylis

or

“Newer” Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Magnoliids
Order: Piperales
Family: Aristolochiaceae
Subfamily: Asaroideae
Genus: Asarum
Subgenus: Heterotropa
Section: Hexastylis

From a fairly recent paper by Brandon T. Sinn, called, Asarum chueyi (Aristolochiaceae), a new species from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee and Virginia, USA, the following was written: “…the North American members of Asarum do not form a monophyletic group, but instead comprise two separate monophyletic groups. North American Asarum species with separate sepals, two deciduous leaves per node, and flowers that are autonomously self-pollinated via delayed stamen movement are found on both the east and west coasts, and form a clade that falls within Asarum subgenus Asarum. North American taxa that produce a single evergreen leaf per node and herkogamous flowers with connate sepals are restricted to the eastern portion of the continent and have been placed within Asarum subgenus Heterotropa (Kelly, 1997; 1998) section Hexastylis (Araki, 1937). Species of subgenus Heterotropa have showy, complex calyces that may mimic the sporocarps of basidiomycete fungi (Vogel, 1978; Lu, 1982; Sugawara, 1988; Leins and Erbar, 2010) and appear to have influenced the diversification of this subgenus (Sinn et al., 2015b). The North American members of this subgenus remained under-collected and under-described, most obviously due to their often restricted ranges, low growth habit, early flowering period, and the difficulty of working with the deformed flowers of pressed material (Ashe, 1897; Weakley, 2012).”

So…… I remain in the group of botanists/naturalists who have not bitten the taxonometric bullet and switched over from Hexastylis to Asarum. As Robin Sharma said, “Change is Hard at the Beginning, Messy in the Middle, and Gorgeous at the End.” Right now, I think that I am in the middle…

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Now, let’s get to the results of the field trip. Here is a typical example of Little Heartleaf with its 11 flowers tightly packed near the ground at the center of the plant:

Little Heartleaf Little Heartleaf

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Devils Fork SP and Oconee Station Falls — wildflowers — 2018-03-17

After leaving the Pachysandra procumbens site, we headed a short distance west on Hwy. 11 to Devils Fork State Park. Here, we hoped to find Shortia galacifolia or Oconee Bells and Monotropsis odorata or Sweet Pinesap in bloom. Neither Alex Patton (photographer friend from Ohio) nor Sam Saulys (photographer friend from Connecticut) had photographed these two rather rare species. Alex and Sam drove to South Carolina to see these plants as well as any other wildflowers I could show them in our area of northwestern South Carolina.

Devils Fork State Park was created in 1990, about 20 years after the 7,500 acre (3,000+ hectare) Lake Jocassee was built and filled. The filling of this lake, whose purpose was to provide cooling water to a nuclear facility, buried the large percentage of the federally and state listed Shortia galacifolia or Oconee Bells under more than 300 feet (91 meters) of water. However, many creeks and tributaries in the immediate area of the lake currently host this rare plant.

On the Saturday we visited the site, the park was holding the Oconee Bells festival. I usually prefer to visit on a day when the festival is not taking place, because there are large numbers of visitors, and the Park Rangers are especially zealous about asking photographers to stay on the trail. But I wanted to make sure that my out-of-town visitors would be able to photograph the plants at their peak, so I scheduled their visit during the festival. Just hours before our visit, there was a deluge of rain, which I believe cut down the public attendance, considerably. This gave us just a bit more room to set up and photograph the flowers.

Oddly enough, to me anyway, the flowers always face the creek next to which they grow. That means you had better be prepared to get your feet wet to get the best shots. To make matters worse, the plants grow no more than 10-15 feet (3-5 meters) from the creek – never up in the woods bordering the creek. Here is a shot of a typical clump of Oconee Bell flowers:

Oconee Bells Oconee Bells

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The secret life of Pachysandra procumbens (and some other wonderful stuff) — 2018-03-17

This past weekend, I was fortunate to have two friends, Sam Saulys from Connecticut and Alex Patton from Ohio, as well as my faithful companion, Walter Ezell, join me for some local botanizing. In our area of South Carolina — the extreme northwestern counties of Greenville, Pickens, and Oconee — we have some really wonderful Spring ephemerals. Being ephemeral, they don’t hang around for very long, so it was important that my friends arrive during mid-March to enjoy the full impact.

It was going to be a long day out in the field, so we left as soon as we had breakfast and packed our gear in my truck. Sam was going to head toward home in Connecticut at the end of the day, so she drove her own car in our mini caravan.

Our first stop was a rich mountain cove near a place called Peach Orchard Branch in Pickens County. This is located in the wilds of the Jocassee Gorges Management Area. I was introduced to this site by my friend Rich Stevenson, who had photographed the leaves of Pachysandra procumbens or Allegheny Spurge around this same time, last year. I had known that this species was found in only a couple of small populations in the upstate, but until I saw his pictures and asked for directions, I didn’t know where to look for it.

The four of us arrived at the trail head and gathered our gear. The trail is actually an old logging road that winds around the mountains and borders the rushing waters of Eastatoe Creek, a great trout stream, filled with waterfalls and rapids. It is not a challenging trail at all, meandering through dense woods of deciduous trees, pines, and hemlocks. What normally takes me 10 minutes to get to the site from the trailhead, took us considerably longer, because my naturalist buddies wanted to inspect lots of plant specimens along the way.

We finally reached a spot where a patch of Pachysandra procumbens was growing on the banks of a small rivulet next to the trail. I had visited here about a week ago to make sure that the plants were in good shape and would provide a floral display for my guests. At that time, there were many budding stems, but I was not convinced that they would be in flower during our visit. We were not disappointed! This patch of plants provided more than a dozen spikes of white flowers, looking very much unlike any other flowering plant in this region. Here is an example of the flowers of this strange and wonderfully fragrant plant:

Pachysandra procumbens Pachysandra procumbens

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Early Spring Botanizing in Northwestern South Carolina — 2018-02-24

A few days ago, I received a couple of email messages relating to the Spring wildflowers in our area of northwestern South Carolina. The first one was from a Flickr friend, Gordon Magee, informing me that if I wanted to see the mass blooming of Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lilies at a nearby preserve called Nine Times, I’d better get on it, because they were currently in full bloom. What!?! I was hoping to wait another week or so before including this preserve in my schedule. The next day, I opened my email inbox and saw a message from a good friend and photographer, Bill Robertson, wondering if I wanted to spend Saturday botanizing in the upstate of South Carolina. Of course, said “I sure do!”. So we made plans to meet at a local restaurant for breakfast and plan our day trip.

After breakfast, we began our trip, heading toward a great spot for Trillium and several other Spring ephemerals. This location is called Oconee Station Falls, near the site of old Oconee Station, a stone blockhouse used as a military outpost by the S.C. State Militia and for trading with Native Americans from about 1792 to 1799. It appears in the “wilds” of early South Carolina history.

The day looked perfect for photography, overcast or at least mostly cloudy, and the temps were in the low 70’s (F); low 20’s (C). We loaded our camera gear and began the trek down the gently sloping trail to the 60-foot (18-meter) waterfall at the end of the trail. The trail, itself, is about .75 miles (1.2 km) long in each direction, and there is a great deal to see at almost any time of the year. However, Spring is the most popular time because of the explosion of wildflowers found in the cove forest. Early on, we began seeing Trillium cuneatum or Little Sweet Betsy plants along the trail, it was not until we reached the lower elevation area of the cove forest where we saw our first blooming plant, Sanguinaria Canadensis or Blood Root; so named because of the ooze of red liquid that appears when its rhizome is crushed. The pure white petals and bright, golden-yellow stamens make this a favorite of lovers of Spring wildflowers. Here is a shot of this beauty:

Blood Root Blood Root

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First blog post of 2018: Visit to a state Heritage Preserve for Dimpled Trout Lilies — 2018-02-18

Finally! This winter’s Cabin Fever spell is broken! Lately, I’ve been quite envious of my photography buddies in Florida for their ability to photograph early season wildflowers, many similar to those that are found in our region.

This past Sunday, Walter Ezell and I drove 35 miles (56 km) to one of my favorite state Heritage Preserves: Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve in upper Greenville County, South Carolina. Around this time of year, one of our earliest blooming wildflowers, Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily, sometimes called Dog-tooth Violet comes into bloom. This tiny, 3/4-inch (1.9-cm), bright yellow wildflower manages to poke its head through the leaf litter to grace the forest floor with its delicate beauty.

This particular location is not known for its masses of blooming lilies; rather the plants are scattered just off the trail and offer the opportunity to get full plant images separated from the other lily plants. At this site, the flowers bloom as soon as a month earlier than at other similar sites in the upstate of South Carolina. I’ve been to locations where getting a clear full-plant image is almost impossible due to the close proximity of other blooming plants. In another month or so, I will visit another location, Nine Times Preserve, in a neighboring county, where there are thousands of Dimpled Trout Lilies, crowded in and among themselves.

Here is an example of this wonderful flowering plant:

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

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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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