Back to the mountains of northeast Georgia — 2018-06-10

I must be a glutton for punishment. On Sunday, June 10, my good friend Alan Cressler and I made the trip back up to a remote mountain bog in Rabun County, Georgia to check on the bloom status of a state-endangered native orchid that we had seen in bud the previous week. This orchid is Cleistesiopsis bifaria or Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid. It has a close counterpart along the Atlantic Coastal Plain which is known as Cleistesiopsis oricamporum or Coastal Plain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid. These two species were, for a long time, thought to be the same species, but fairly recently, they were split into two separate species due to significant differences. I have to point out that there are those who still believe that they are the same species.

Although this southeastern native orchid is fairly widespread, it is by no means common. In Georgia it is classified as S1 or “Critically Imperiled”. I believe it is known from only two, maybe three, mountain sites in Georgia. So, my physical struggle to hike the uphill mountain trail was definitely worth it. Here is one of the shots of the three blooming plants we found on this trip:

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

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Green Adder’s-mouth orchid, Rabun County, Georgia — 2018-06-05

I have to give a big shout-out to photographer and good friend, Liz Fox, for finding a very nice population of Malaxis unifolia or Green Adder’s-mouth orchid in Tallulah Gorge State Park, near Tallulah Falls, Rabun County, Georgia. She saw my last post highlighting the Pitcher Plants at a remote bog in Rabun County, and then mentioned that she had just seen the orchids after she stopped on her way home to give her canine companions a rest stop. She remembered that I had been in the park as part of my trip the day before. That’s the way it works. Sometimes we find great plants when we least expect it.

Green Adder's-mouth orchid Green Adder’s-mouth orchid

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Visit to a remote Pitcher Plant bog in northeast Georgia — 2018-06-02

On Saturday, June 2, my good friend, Alan Cressler and I made the trip up into the mountains of northeast Georgia to visit a very remote mountain bog (technically, a fen) to attempt to find Cleistesiopsis bifaria or Upland Spreading Pogonia orchid in bloom. Alan had seen it in bud there a couple of years ago, so we set the trip date to be about a week later in the year.

To sweeten the deal, this location is the only native site left in Georgia for the extremely rare, Sarracenia purpurea subspecies venosa variety montana or Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant. Several other bog sites in the upstate of Georgia have been “repopulated” with this rare species, thanks to the hard work of the conservation staff at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in raising plants from seed gathered at this site. There are just a handful of other sites for this plant in North Carolina and South Carolina. It is currently federally listed, so it is easy to understand why I don’t give out the specific location. Frankly, it is so remote, that I’m not sure I could find it on my own if my life depended on it. Alan used his GPS to get us there after two hours of hiking… uphill in both directions! Here is a shot of one of the clumps of the Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant, in situ:

Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant

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A federally Endangered species on the Carolina coastal plain (plus an orchid bonus) — 2018-05-21

For many years, I’ve wanted to study and photograph a particularly uncommon, federally Endangered plant species which grows in the longleaf pine savannahs along the Carolina coastal plain. This plant species is Schwalbea americana or American chaffseed. According to Wikipedia, “…[it] is the sole species currently classified in the genus Schwalbea. It is an erect, hemiparasitic, perennial herb in the broomrape family. It is native to the southeastern United States where it is found in wet acidic grasslands. This species has declined tremendously from its historical range due to fire suppression, and it is currently listed as ‘Endangered’ by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Although it has been recorded from seven coastal states, this species has a stronghold, if you can call it that, in South Carolina. Many populations are small and have plants that number into only the hundreds or fewer. Click Here for a wonderful and informative write-up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that tells you everything you want to know about this species, and more.

My sincerest thanks go out to my good friend, Dr. Richard Porcher (noted author and botanist, and also retired professor from the Citadel University in Charleston, SC) who agreed to join me on my trek and point out a couple of locations for this plant species. I visited one other site in the FMNF for these plants, but they were well past bloom.

Here is a shot of the not-so-impressive-but-still-very-interesting flowers:

Schwalbea americana Schwalbea americana

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The Yellows in DuPont State Forest, Transylvania County, North Carolina – and some surprises — 2018-05-12

This is a lengthy post, so please pick a time when you can browse the text and pictures at your leisure.

For the past few years, I’ve been visiting DuPont State Recreational Forest in Transylvania County, North Carolina, to photograph Cypripedium parviflorum variety pubescens or Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid and Cypripedium parviflorum variety parviflorum or Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid, which grow in pretty good numbers there. It requires a 2-hour hike up and down some fairly steep inclines to find them, but it’s worth every step! The bloom occurs around Mother’s Day each year, and is usually quite reliable. This year was no exception! Here is a shot of one of the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids I photographed on this trip:

Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid

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Part 2 of 2 — Orchids and Lilies and Azaleas, oh my! — 2018-05-05

As I mentioned in my previous blog (Part 1 of 2) about our recent trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina, I was joined by my good buddies from Atlanta, Georgia — Alan Cressler and Steve Bowling. On our way up Hwy. 276 through the Pisgah National Forest, I suggested that we stop at a special site for Cypripedium acaule or Pink Lady’s-slipper orchids. I certainly did not have to twist any arms.

This particular site is on a foot trail off a gravel forest service road, and is spectacular in that the plants are quite large, and they never disappoint. There must have been close to 100 blooming plants, and they were in perfect shape. Here is an image of one small group to whet your appetite:

Pink Lady's-slipper orchid Pink Lady’s-slipper orchid

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Recent trip to the Pisgah National Forest for early Spring orchids — 2018-04-25

It’s that time of year again. Spring keeps us amateur naturalists very busy spending every spare minute in the field chasing the Spring ephemerals which do not last long at all. It is also time to catch the early Spring orchids in bloom. One special region I like to visit every Spring is the Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County, near Brevard, North Carolina. The orchids that bloom in late April are Isotria verticillata or Large Whorled Pogonia orchid and Galearis spectabilis or Showy orchis. Both of these species is fairly reliable and produces some lovely flowers.

Here are examples of each of these two orchid species:

Isotria verticillata Isotria verticillata

Galearis spectabilis Galearis spectabilis

The trip to these sites began in my home town of Greenville, South Carolina. Driving north toward the Pisgah National Forest takes me on a beautifully scenic drive up the Blue Ridge Escarpment. According to www.visitgreenvillesc.com, “The escarpment is the line where the mountains are visibly reduced to foothills. Table Rock Mountain is one such outcropping. The 11,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area encompasses the escarpment, as well as Jones Gap and Caesars Head state parks. Hardwood forests, mountain streams, lakes and diverse animal and plant habitats number among its treasures.” The escarpment abruptly rises several thousand feet and is loaded with rich mountain coves and waterfalls. In these coves, one can find many Spring wildflowers in rather large numbers. A few of these coves are transected by Hwy. 276 which runs from Greenville to Brevard.

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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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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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