Part 2 of 2 — Purple Fringed orchids on the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC — 2018-06-24

In case you missed it, Here is a link to Part 1 of 2 for this weekend trip.

After traveling north on the Blue Ridge Parkway on Saturday, on Sunday, Alan Cressler and I made the trip south from the intersection of Hwy. 221 and the BRP near Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. Our target location was Mt. Mitchell State Park. The access road from the BRP to the top of the mountain is populated with scores of Platanthera psycodes or Small Purple Fringed orchids. Around the last week in June each year, I try to make the pilgrimage to this location because these orchids almost never let me down. They come in a variety of shades from pure white (still have not found this one) to pink to deep rosy-purple. Here is one showing the typical color found in the large majority of plants at this site:

Small Purple Fringed orchid Small Purple Fringed orchid

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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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