Spring ephemeral wildflowers along the Station Cove Falls Trail – Oconee County, South Carolina — 2015-03-16

After my friend Lee Casebere (from Indianapolis, Indiana) and I left Devil’s Fork State Park, we headed to perhaps the finest basic cove preserve in South Carolina – the Station Cove Falls Trail near the Oconee Station State Historic Site. About this time every year, and for several months afterward, wildflowers bloom in profusion. I have photographed wildflowers along the trail for many years, but I never tire of seeing them again every Spring — it’s sort of like the fact that we never seem to tire of seeing the colorful fall leaves each autumn.

I thought Lee would be especially impressed with the show of tens of thousands of Trillium cuneatum or Little Sweet Betsy that cover the ground. I can usually tell when other photographers are soaking in the sight because they tend to get quiet in such a situation — I know I do, as well…

So, we parked at the tiny parking lot at the trail head, gathered our gear, and proceeded down the 1-mile trail to the falls. Soon, we saw our first Little Sweet Betsy, and I realized that Lee is wanting to stop to take is his camera out of his camera bag, but I have to tell him to be patient, and that there will be many better specimens to choose from later down the trail. I know how hard it is to contain myself when I’m confronted with such a sight, but I managed to prevail, and we continued on with our hike.

Here are images of the typical, dark maroon form of Trillium cuneatum (two plants in the center) as well as the less common yellow-green (left) form and bronze (right) form:

Three color forms of Trillium cuneatum

We finally reached a part of the trail that was lined on both sides as far as the eye could see with Trilliums and other flowering plants. While Lee was setting up to photograph the Trillium flowers, I busied myself with a few of the beautiful white Sanguinaria Canadensis or Blood Root flowers. Here are a few of the many that we saw on the hillside:

Blood Root

Blood Root Blood Root

Blood Root is one species whose flowers open fully only when there is bright sunlight. Fortunately, it was that kind of day, and since we got to the site after noon, the flowers were already open.

Blood Root Blood Root

Another Spring wildflower that was in full bloom was Thalictrum thalictroides or Rue Anemone. These particular flowers look quite a lot like other species found in the area, but careful observation of the petals and especially the leaves will lead to accurate identification. Here are a couple of shots of the typical white flowers of the species:

Rue Anemone Rue Anemone

Occasionally, one can find pink Rue Anemone flowers. Here are a couple of pink ones that we saw, mostly hidden well off the trail:

Rue Anemone Rue Anemone

Nearby, we began to see signs of the springing-forth of a few of the many thousands of Podophyllum peltatum or May Apple plants that do so well in this cove. Eventually, these plants will grow to be about 12 inches (30 cm) tall and literally cover the ground. Once these plants mature, many of the smaller species would not be able to receive any sunlight, so they have to “do their thing” while they can before they become shaded out. That’s not a very long time, and that’s why they are called ephemerals. Here are images of a few May Apple plants just coming out of the leaf litter:

May Apple May Apple

The closer we got to the falls, the more humidity we noticed in the air. A Spring species that loves humidity is Hepatica acutiloba or Sharplobe Hepatica. In other parts of the country, Sharplobe Hepatica produces flowers that vary from pure white to deep blue or purple. At Station Cove Falls, 90% of the plants will have white flowers like the ones pictured here:

Sharplobe Hepatica

However, if you know just where to look, you can find a gorgeous example of a “sport” flower which has a pinkish-purple blush toward the center of the flower. I find this one to be especially pleasing but difficult to photograph, because it was on the side of a sheer drop-off, and I was forced to photograph it from above while holding on to a large tree root! What we do for flower photography… 😉 Here are image of the flowers from a small clump on the edge of the cliff:

Unusually colored Sharplobe Hepatica

Unusually colored Sharplobe Hepatica

We finally reached Station Cove Falls. It is a stepped, 70-foot (21-meter) waterfall that forms from headwaters atop Station Mountain. This is a mountain that happens to be the home of the rare (for us, anyway), Corvus corax or Common Raven. Of course, it is a species that is much more plentiful farther north, but is very rare in South Carolina. Although we saw one of the pair fly back and forth several times near the falls, I was unable to get a good image of it. I’m not a very good birder…

After putting my camera down, I just sat there on a large boulder near the base of the falls and enjoyed the music of the water and the chirping of wild birds. After a few minutes, I noticed Lee setting up nearby to capture the water pouring over the falls:

Lee photographing Station Cove Falls

And finally, here is what he was looking at:

Station Cove Falls

I was so happy to show Lee some of the better wildflower sites of the upstate. There is always something blooming from early March through the end of summer along the Station Cove Trail. Fortunately, this area was set aside and protected before logging could take place and ruin one of our most cherished wildflower locations. It’s places like this where I can re-center my spirituality and arm myself against the pressures and stresses of daily life in the city. I’m fortunate to live near such spectacular natural areas, and I’m glad that I was able to show some of them to my friend, Lee.

The last of the places we were to visit on this day is a Nature Conservancy site called Nine Times — the Trout lilies should be in full bloom. Stay tuned…

–Jim

13 comments


  • Phil Draper

    Your blog makes me a little homesick. I remember some of these natural beauties in the woods by my house in Hendersonville. Often I go back in thought and recall those incredible North Carolina mountains. Jim — you are doing an amazing work which will make you live long upon the land you love! Endorphins. You must be loaded!

    March 18, 2015
    • Jim

      I understand your feelings, completely, Phil. Even though you cannot be back in the area very often, you will have those wonderful memories forever…

      March 18, 2015
  • Gorgeous! And we just got our first snowdrops today — followed by 2 inches of snow.

    I’m beginning to understand why people move south.

    March 18, 2015
  • John Fowler

    Loved the waterfall shot!

    March 18, 2015
  • Ali van den Broek

    I love it that Spring is finally here. I can’t get to Station Cove till layer next week. I hope all those great flowers hang on.!!

    March 18, 2015
  • John Neufeld

    Those flowers are magnificent.

    March 18, 2015
  • Scott

    Jim, the flowers are beautiful, but I want to go to those falls. More great photography!

    March 18, 2015
  • Jim

    Station Falls was the first day hike some friends took me on when I moved to Greenville many years ago and I have revisited this special place a number of times since. It has rarely disappointed. Your wonderful pictures brought back many memories.

    March 19, 2015
  • Jim, you da Man…………

    March 19, 2015
  • Chris Davidson

    Wonderful blog, Jim!
    Looks like you guys had a good day and the photography is awesome, as always!

    March 20, 2015
  • sonnia hill

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with your friend and letting us into that magical world of wildflowers and falls.

    March 20, 2015
  • Aren’t the yellow trilliums T. luteum?

    -pt

    March 25, 2015
    • Jim

      No, actually, T. luteum does not appear in South Carolina. It is merely a yellow form of Trillium cuneatum (about 1 out of every 300 plants). There are many tens of thousands of blooming T. cuneatum at this location including the typical maroon forms, yellow forms, green forms, and “bronze” forms. Quite the show! The closest T. luteum are in north Georgia.

      Thanks for your interest and your question.

      March 25, 2015

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