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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The Magic of Boggs Rock — 2018-04-24

I have been waiting weeks for the peak bloom at Boggs Rock in Pickens County, South Carolina. Our state has several sites for a very special plant known as Diamorpha smallii or Elf orpine. It prefers the dry, severe landscape of a flat, bald rock face. On the rock face itself, not much else can survive except a few Lichen species and a moss known as Grimmia laevigata or Dry Rock Grimmia.

Elf orpine is found in only a handful of southeastern states, and then only on flat, exposed formations which are composed of unbroken granite and granite-gneisses and are emplaced within Precambrian metamorphic rocks which are scattered on the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains. Along with Elf orpine, there are a number of other rather unusual plants which also prefer this harsh environment. However, most of these species are usually found on the edges of the rock outcrop where dirt has accumulated and where there is a meager supply of water during the hot, summer season.

A week or so ago, I took my young friend, Alex Patton, of Ohio to the site where he was able to photograph the beginning of the Spring bloom of these plants. They weren’t at peak bloom, but he was able to add a few species to his life list. It was fun to see him drink in the magical beauty of a flatrock outcrop in flower.

The Elf orpine plant is quite unusual in that this annual plant is only a couple of inches tall, at best, and in the full sun, its bulbous leaves turn bright, scarlet red. The 4-petaled, star-shaped flowers are only about 3/16 of an inch (less than 5mm) wide and are bright white. When mature, the plant will form several branches, at the end of which the flowers form. The contrast of the white flower petals, the scarlet leaves, and the rich green of the moss makes for some interesting images.

Here is a shot of a tiny, 1 inch tall (2.5 cm), unbranched Elf orpine plant growing on the moss:

Elf Orpine on Dry Rock Grimmia Elf Orpine on Dry Rock Grimmia

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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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