Part 1 of 2 — Summer comes to the BRP — 2018-06-23

This post is fairly long and loaded with colorful images, so fasten your seat belts!

On Saturday, June 23, 2018, my photography buddy, Alan Cressler met me at my North Carolina mountain cabin to get ready for a weekend trek along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. We each had a list of flowering plants we wanted to photograph, all of which should be blooming this time of year. The cabin is about 25 miles (40 km) from the closest section of the BRP, and it’s not a bad drive at all.

We loaded our gear in my truck and headed off to the Parkway. Our first stop would be at a site very near where we intersected the Parkway. It is a site I found out about just a couple of years ago. The target species would be Liparis loeselii or Loesel’s Twayblade orchid. My friend and photographer, Meng Zhang, had learned about this site from a volunteer at the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center and had passed the directions on to me. This roadside site consists of several large clumps of orchid plants growing on a moss-covered hillside. Each time I visit, I am awed at both the number of plants as well as the collection of last year’s seed capsules remaining on the plants. I shouldn’t be, though, because this is a self-pollinating plant whose pollination efforts are aided by rain drops! Yes, the protective cap covering the pollinia withers away quite readily and allows the pollinia to drop (aided by rain) directly onto the stigma, resulting in pollination. In the image below, notice the flowers in the upper right and upper left. On the one in the upper right, the protective cap is still present, but it is loose enough to allow one of the pollinia to begin to fall from its original position. On the one in the upper left, the protective cap is gone, and one of the two pollinia has already fallen.

Loesel's Twayblade orchid Loesel’s Twayblade orchid

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Overnight trip to near Dayton, Ohio for the rare, Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid — 2018-06-19

On Tuesday morning, June 19, 2018, Walter Ezell and I loaded up a rental car and left Greenville, South Carolina for a special wildflower preserve near Dayton, Ohio where the rare, Platanthera leucophaea or Eastern Prairie Fringed orchid can be found. Historically, this orchid species was considerably more plentiful, but due to habitat degradation, it has become quite rare in all of the states where its presence had been recorded. This one site is fairly reliable in producing flowering plants, mainly due to the conservation efforts made to keep the population steady. We cannot thank those folks nearly enough for the difficult work in monitoring and taking care of these rare plants.

When considering the logistics of the trip, I decided to rent a vehicle, because the wear and tear on my 11-year-old truck would cost more than the rental fee. That’s the first time I’ve done this, and it seemed to make sense for the 8-hour drive. We had planned to meet photographer and close friend, Lee Casebere from Indianapolis, Indiana at the Comfort Inn motel and head out to the nearby site early the next morning. We had made arrangements with Lee a month or so ahead, and were reasonably sure that the orchids would be in full bloom on this date. Lee knew the person who was tasked to monitor this rare (federally Threatened and state Endangered) orchid, and had kept in touch with her about the up-to-date status of the plants at this site. The only thing we were not reasonably sure about was the weather.

A couple of days ahead of the trip, I consulted the Weather app on my iPhone, and I discovered that there was 40%-60% chance of thunderstorms on the following Wednesday, the day we were scheduled to visit the orchid site. Bummer! On the day we left Greenville on our trip, the forecast was upgraded to 80%-90% chance of thunderstorms. Big Bummer! But when you have only one choice; that’s the right choice, so we headed out with great expectation that we would be getting wet.

As we approached the Dayton, Ohio area, we drove through several heavy downpours. Checking the radar map again, we could see large areas of rain all around the Dayton area. We arrived at the motel around 6:00 pm and met Lee in his room. After discussing the miserable forecast for the next day, Wednesday, we decided to check the current weather radar one more time. It showed a break in the thunderstorms in the immediate area with heavy rain just north of Dayton. It was still sprinkling outside the motel, but the overcast would provide super light conditions. So we decided to brave it and head on out to the site, which was less than 10 miles (16 km) from the motel. Walter and I had brought rubber boots, so any accumulated water at the site would probably not be a problem.

We arrived at the site with a few sprinkles still dotting the windshield. Gathering our gear and applying generous amounts of mosquito spray, we found the path and headed down the half-mile (.8 km) trail to the sedge meadow where the plants prefer to grow.

Here is a close-up of the Eastern Prairie Fringed orchid:

Eastern Prairie Fringed orchid Eastern Prairie Fringed orchid

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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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