Some colorful fall wildflowers in the South Carolina upstate — 2016-10-09

It is early fall in South Carolina, and even though the leaves have not yet taken on their glorious yellow, red, and orange colors, many of the fall wildflowers are already out for the show. This morning, I made the 45-minute trip north to visit one of my favorite state Heritage Preserves: Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve in northern Greenville County. The many hundreds of forested acres of this mountain preserve range widely from wet depressions, cataract falls with rare cataract bog plants, xeric conditions on granite balds with prickly pear cactus and yucca plants, and mesic woods with several species of native orchids and numerous other wildflowers.

On the winding mountain road leading to the preserve, I saw a number of plants with purple flowers. I knew this to be Lobelia puberula or Downy Lobelia. It comes in many shades of blue/purple, and it has been in bloom for several months. Here is one of the plants I found along the trail leading in to the preserve:

Downy Lobelia.
Downy Lobelia

Here is another darker one I found just down the trail a bit:

Downy Lobelia

The rich woods are open and support a number of shrubby plants. One of these is Euonymus americanus or Hearts-a-burstin’. It is also known, for obvious reasons, as Strawberry-bush. When it is not in bloom, it is quite easy to recognize, because it has green bark on the trunk and branches. Here is one of its colorful and exotic-looking fruiting bodies:

Fruiting body of Euonymus americanus

In the spring, a very unassuming flower appears at the place where the leaf meets the stem. Here is an image I made of one of the flowers on a previous trip and an image of another fruiting body I found on this trip:

Euonymus americanus flowers Euonymus americanus fruit

Another fruiting body that was evident on the forest floor is Mitchella repens or Partridge Berry. Here is an image of the fruit, (note the double “navel” at the base of the fruit):

Fruiting body of Partridge Berry plant

The fruit is formed this way because the two, white, spring flowers share a single ovary. This is the only plant that I know about in the Southern Appalachians that has this odd way of producing fruit. Here is an image of the tiny white, spring flowers:

White flowers of Partridge Berry plant

As I proceed farther down the trail, I’m feeling at home again. On the left and right are open areas literally carpeted with ferns and grasses. This environment allows me to center my spirit and feel connected with nature. Farther down the trail, a shallow creek borders the trail. I stop and look at the leaves that are floating on the surface. I have seen a water snake on the rocks at this very spot in the spring, but today, there are no snakes — just the sound of a few birds and of the water flowing over the rocks. From time to time, a cool breeze stirs the leaves in the trees above, reminding the forest and me that winter will not be long coming.

The trail ends abruptly at the top of a down-sloping, granite bald. From here, the taller buildings of the city of Greenville appears as a couple of rectangular bumps on the horizon. The view is out of a picture book. To the left, there is a bank of yellow flowers along the stream. These flowers are Coreopsis gladiata or Swamp Tickseed. To me, it is rather odd to find this plant in the mountains, because it is fairly common along the Carolina coastal plain:

Swamp Tickseed

Next to and among the Swamp Tickseed, were a dozen spikes of Spiranthes cernua or Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchid growing within inches of the edge of the stream. These are the last native orchids to bloom in the region, and no matter how many times I see them, I never tire of taking their photographs. Here are a few of the plants I saw at this site:

Nodding Ladies'-tresses orchid Nodding Ladies-tresses orchid
Nodding Ladies'-tresses orchid Nodding Ladies-tresses orchid

Nodding Ladies'-tresses orchid

As I expected, there were dozens of another wonderful wildflower: Parnassia grandifolia or Large-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus in full bloom. This plant is quite rare in South Carolina, and for that matter, in the adjoining states as well. Photographing them is quite the challenge, especially since they grow along the stream and point out across the water. This means that in order to get a shot of the front of the flower, the photographer has to get wet feet. Here are a few images of this unusual wildflower:

Large-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus Large-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus

For the following two images, it appears that I have rotated them 90 degrees, but in fact, they were growing in a horizontal fashion pointing out from the edge of the stream bank:

Large-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus

Large-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus

I didn’t find any “new” plant species today, but I did revisit some old “friends”. Again, I never get tired of seeing these flowering plants from year to year. You can think of it in the same way as visiting the country side for the showing of fall color. I find it funny that we always manage to see it again, for the first time… I hope this never changes for me or for anyone else who gets pleasure from spending time in the woods.

–Jim

5 comments


  • Rudy Riggs

    I always love your beautiful photography, of the plants I already know, and of the ones you reveal to me.

    October 10, 2016
  • sonnia hill

    I never tire of the same plants year after year and sometimes a new one will appear to reward our patience. Such beauties you have shared with us.

    October 10, 2016
  • Laurie

    Gorgeous…photos and flowers !! 🌺

    October 10, 2016
  • John Fowler

    Nice work!

    October 11, 2016
  • J Snapp

    very interesting, you continue to educate me. Thank you!

    October 17, 2016

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