Orchid Rescue — epiphytic Green-fly orchid in bloom in my front yard — 2017-07-11

This is not the first time I have rescued an orchid from its pending doom, but this time, it seems to have worked out quite well, so far. Sort of a win-win… Later on in this blog report, I will mention the first time I rescued a specimen of this species, but for now, let’s stick to the present. In late October of last year (2016) Walter Ezell and I were down in the Francis Marion National Forest checking out the Spiranthes odorata or Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchids in the Wambaw Swamp. We finished up with a very successful day, but since we were already down there, I wanted to check out the Epidendrum magnoliae or Green-fly orchids in a church yard about 30 miles east of our current location.

This particular orchid species is the only native epiphytic orchid in the Carolinas. Epiphytic means that it grows on trees (and rarely on rocks in some areas) and tree branches. It, however, is not a parasite, but uses the tree bark as an attachment so that it can capture rain water and nutrients from the air. The second part of the botanical name seems to indicate that it grows on Magnolia grandiflora or Southern Magnolia trees, and it does, but locally, it prefers to grow on the large horizontal limbs of Quercus virginiana or Southern Live Oak. These trees can grow to be very old, in fact, not far away is the Angel Oak, which is thought to be over 400 years old. Those trees in the church yard have to be a couple of hundred years old — they are huge!

We packed our gear and drove to the old brick church (built in 1768) and parked the truck outside the gate. As soon as I entered the church yard, I was struck by the number of large oak limbs littering the ground. Apparently, a huge storm had caused several large limbs to break and fall, just missing the portico and some of the grave stones in the church yard cemetery. A few of the limbs had already been sawed into manageable logs. I quickly noticed that quite a few of the logs had been host to large groups of the Green-fly orchid as well as its constant companion, Pleopeltis polypodioides or Resurrection fern. It is called Resurrection fern, because during drier seasons, it withers and turns brown, only to “resurrect” and turn green during the next rainy period. Here is a neat YouTube video showing a time-lapse of this process.

Note: All of the logs are long gone, so don’t expect to go there and find more orchids on the ground. The remainder of the orchid plants are in the trees, about 15-20 feet (4.5-6 meters) off the ground. Never remove living orchids from their natural environment. The only reason I took the limb, which was home to the one group I found, was that it was destined to be used as fire wood.

I didn’t want to see these orchids burned in some fire pit, so I “rescued” one of the smaller logs which had a relatively large group of plants growing on the tree bark. Here is an image of me and the limb on my way back to the truck:

Jim with the rescued oak log Jim with the rescued oak log

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Summer wildflower adventure along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina — 2017-07-04

There is never a dull moment for anyone travelling during any season on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My intended goal on this brief trip was to photograph the flowering (I hoped) of an orchid that I had seen a week before beside a trail just off the Boone Fork overlook. This overlook allows easy access to several wonderful hiking trails in the area. The particular orchid I was revisiting, Platanthera orbiculata or Pad-leaf orchid is quite rare in the Carolinas, having its southernmost range just into the high mountains of North Carolina. It is more commonly found in each of the states bordering Canada, from Maine to Minnesota. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, the high mountains of the Southern Appalachians provide remnants of the flora that existed before the last ice age, especially at higher elevations. Many species along the peaks and ridges of these mountains, are commonly found much farther north and into Canada.

Back to the orchid in question… I was anxious to photograph it, IF it was now in flower. Because I am not intimately familiar with this orchid species, I did not know how long it would remain in bud. But first, I had to get there. The past few days had been spent in our mountain cabin which is, fortunately, only about 40 minutes from the trailhead.

I got an early start, about an hour after sunrise, and headed to the intersection of Hwy. 221 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. One I reached the Parkway, I headed north, with the thought that I might very well be disappointed. Just after I joined the Parkway, I passed an overlook that offered a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Southern Appalachian Mountain range. From this overlook, it is easy to see why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s also easy to see how the Smoky Mountains got its name, as well. Here is that view:

Blue Ridge Mountains Blue Ridge Mountains as seen in early morning from the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Annual Blue Ridge Parkway Adventure — 2017-06-23

I’m writing this blog entry from the conference room of the Admissions Office at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Walter Ezell and I are currently staying at our mountain cabin which does not have internet service, so I had to find a place where I could sit and write for a couple of hours. Lucky for me that the college is only a 20-minute drive from the cabin. School is out for the summer, so they graciously let me in to work on my blog.

The end of June is always a fine time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina — especially for the summer orchids. It seems that they are blooming earlier each year. It used to be the case that the Purple Fringed orchids would be at peak on the 4th of July, but now, the third week in June appears to be the best time to catch them at peak bloom. In our area, Platanthera grandiflora or Large Purple Fringed orchid is at peak about 1 week ahead of Platanthera psycodes or Small Purple Fringed orchid. It’s also the case that there are many fewer of the former, and one has to really search hard to find them. They are usually in the ditches bordering the Parkway, just above the mow line. It makes me wonder just how many we could find if they didn’t mow the roadside until later in the year.

However, the first place Walter Ezell and I stopped was at a Parkway roadside site for Liparis loeselii or Loesel’s Twayblade orchid. Thanks to my photographer friend, Meng Zhang, for pointing it out to me, this site will always be a sure bet to photograph this species. In addition, there were more flowering plants at this roadside site than there were last year. I suspect that we were about 4-5 days late, because most of the flowers were just past peak and already producing seed capsules. That’s OK, though. I was very happy to see them again all nestled in their mossy bed:

Loesel's Twayblade orchid Loesel’s Twayblade orchid

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Field Trips North – Native Orchid Conference, Manitoba, Canada — 2017-06-05 thru 2017-06-08

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this year’s Native Orchid Conference symposium’s field trips included sites both South and North of the headquarters at the South Beach Casino and Resort in Scanterbury, Manitoba. The final day of the symposium, I was in the group heading North. The “North” group would be split into two sub-groups: one heading to the village of Woodlands and the other heading to the village of Rembrandt. I use the term, “village” very loosely, because they are pretty much just a crossroad with a couple of buildings. In any case, the field trip sites were near these villages.

Our sub-group of about 15 attendees gathered in the parking lot of the Casino and headed out early in the morning. At 8:00 am, the sun had already been up for 3-4 hours, so light was not a problem, except for photographers who would hope for an overcast sky. There were a few clouds, but they were high and thin; not very conducive to light dispersal.

Orchid geek stuff follows: We were headed to the Woodlands site where we had been told we would see the rare Cypripedium candidum or Small White Lady’s-slipper orchid and the uber rare hybrid between it and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens or Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper. The hybrid is named, Cypripedium Xandrewsii. Although most references mention Cypripedium parviflorum without a variety qualification, the ones we were supposed to see were definitely crossed with Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. Confused??? Well, maybe after you see the images of both putative parents and the resulting hybrid cross, perhaps it will become clearer.

Our leaders/guides for this leg of the day’s field trip were Catherine and Ben Rostron. They are from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and Ben is next year’s NOC president. He was also responsible for doing all of the behind-the-scenes legwork to get this year’s symposium off the ground. Many thanks for all of his hard work and for the effort put into the symposium by the numerous volunteers — especially the local guides.

We followed Ben and Catherine in our 5-car caravan and arrived to the site after a couple of hours of departing the Casino parking lot. The site was an open roadside bordering a plowed farm field. There was some discussion that the farmer intended to spray the field for weeds, but would wait until there was no wind. Riiiiight…… These plants are on private property, not public land, so the strength of protections that would go along with orchids in provincial preserves are not as firm. We all hope that the plants will not be affected by the herbicide, but who knows? These plants are national treasures, so maybe there will be a time when the property is ceded over to the government for suitable protection.

The plants were barely visible in the grass across a deep, but mostly dry ditch. We got our of our vehicles and gathered around Ben who explained the delicate nature of the site. The very worst thing we could do would be to trample the plants, so he pointed out how he had marked them with survey tape. Descending the ditch bank from the road actually took us through several clumps of Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids, and we were cautioned to avoid these clumps. Here is a shot of several of the attendees photographing the orchids which were growing on the far side of the ditch bank:

Photographing orchids in Manitoba, Canada Photographing orchids in Manitoba, Canada – Ben Rostron (standing), Chariya Punyanitya (kneeling), Walter Ezell (prone)

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Field Trips South – Native Orchid Conference, Manitoba, Canada — 2017-06-05 thru 2017-06-08

At this year’s annual Native Orchid Conference symposium in Manitoba, Canada, the two day’s field trips were in opposite directions from our headquarters which were at the South Beach Casino and Resort in Scanterbury. The 60 attendees were separated into 4 groups of 15, and each group was assigned a list of orchid sites to visit for the day. Two of them were “South” and two of them were “North”. I was in the “South” Group. Each group was further divided into 2 sub-groups, and we switched locations at about 1:00 pm so that we would each see all that there was to see in the area. Whew! If you think that is complicated, you should have been there when we were separating into the 4 groups! Seems like an easy thing to do, but it’s not. It’s the “herding cats” thing. But I digress…

The first area that the first sub-group of the “South” group visited was near the village of Woodridge. We arrived on time (10:00am) at a local tavern after a 2-hour drive from the Casino and configured our caravan for the initial adventure out into the field. After agreeing on whom to follow, we proceeded down an EXTREMELY dusty road and finally arrived at the first of the orchid sites. Here, we saw some great (and very dark) Cypripedium acaule or Pink Lady’s-slipper orchids. The Pink Lady’s-slipper orchids in the south are medium to light pink, but these were a deep, raspberry pink — a color I had not seen since our trip to Newfoundland, Canada a couple of years ago. Here is an example of that deep color:

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

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Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve – Native Orchid Conference, Manitoba, Canada — 2017-06-05 thru 2017-06-08

This year’s annual Native Orchid Conference symposium (the 16th one in 16 years) took us to an area northeast of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, near the southeast shore of Lake Winnipeg. The conference was held in the facility of South Beach Casino and Resort in the village of Scanterbury, Manitoba. The symposium began with a reception on Sunday evening (2017-06-04) in one of the two large ballrooms. The highlight of the evening was getting re-acquainted with friends whom we haven’t seen since the previous symposium. This social gathering is always fun, and it has become an event that we all look forward to attending.

For those of you who have not attended one of the NOC’s symposia, they consist of two days of enlightening and educational presentations as well as two days of full-day field trips to local areas to study and photograph native orchids. This year, the “official” NOC field trips included visits to several sites, one of which was Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve. I could go on and on about this very special place, but instead, I will provide the official link. This is a wonderfully informative website, and is chock full of internal links (see the menu on the left of the home page) that fully explain the mission, inception, and on-going activities of the site. The NOC attendees visited this site in 2005 when the symposium was held in Winnipeg. However, the lengthy boardwalk had not been built then, so to our “delight”, we tromped around in the calf-deep boggy areas photographing the orchids in the woods and bog. The boardwalk currently allows visitors who are not so passionate as we orchidophiles are, to see and appreciate the natural heritage of the area.

It is important to note that Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve is overseen by Debwendon Inc., a non-profit organization formed in 2007 to promote and preserve the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve, raise public awareness of the historic cultural connection between the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation and the Brokenhead Wetland. In the Ojibway language, debwendon means “trust”.

Much volunteer effort has been expended by another organization, Native Orchid Conservation Inc. (NOCI) which is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In June of 2016, they published the 2nd edition of “Orchids of Manitoba: a field guide” — a wonderful guide to the native orchid species, many of which we saw during the symposium field trips.

Of course, most of our endeavor was to locate and photograph the native orchids of this special place, and there were two species, in particular, that I wanted to photograph. The first of these was Corallorhiza striata var. striata or Striped Coral Root orchid:

Striped Coral Root orchid Striped Coral Root orchid

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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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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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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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