Spring is early at Nine Times! — 2017-02-25

Nine Times Preserve is a small sliver of Pickens County, South Carolina that is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. According to The Nature Conservancy’s web page describing the preserve:

Named because nine bridges across a small creek were needed to gain access to the property, the 560‑acre nature preserve is one of the most biologically significant properties in the southeast. Located where the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains meet the Piedmont, The land encompasses five mountains that harbor more than 134 species of native wildflowers. It also is home to seven distinct forest types where black bear roam, unique rock outcrop plant communities where peregrine falcons fly, and headwater streams where trout dart.

Click here for a map of the preserve. In the Spring, especially, dozens of species of wildflowers can be found in abundance. The wildflower that is most prevalent this time of year is Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily.

I left the house fairly early in the morning so that I could get a head start on the breezes that are inevitably generated when the sun gets higher in the sky. It’s a one-hour drive for me and a trip that I’ve made many times. As I approached the gravel parking lot, I was a bit apprehensive, wondering if the plants would be in flower. In previous years, this population of Trout Lilies has been a bit later to bloom — sometimes by as much as two weeks, compared to the site I visited recently (Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve). In my previous blog entry, I wrote about finding only a single Trout Lily in flower. So today, I could be met with a hillside of only leaves and buds with no open flowers.

The flowers of this species of Trout Lily do not open on a very cloudy day or on a clear day until the sun begins to warm the air. It was still early, so any flowers that I might find would just be opening. I gathered my camera gear and walked to the entrance to the preserve. As I got near, I heard another vehicle enter the gravel parking lot. Someone waved from the passenger side, but they were too far away for me to recognize who it was. I lingered at the entrance, while the visitors approached. Soon, I recognized that it was my good friend and professional photographer, Bill Robertson and his companion, Kathy. We exchanged hellos and talked about what we might find on this trip. It was Bill who had remarked in an email last week, that he had heard that the Trout Lilies were in bloom at Nine Times Preserve. That was what prompted my trip.

We entered the preserve and immediately found that most of the buds were still closed. The sun was filtering through the bare canopy, and I knew it would not be long before the flowers would begin to open. So I walked the trail looking for photographic opportunities and making mental notes about where to revisit in an hour or so. I reached the end of the trail and found a small group of plants nestled in the fork of the roots of a tree. It was too good to pass up, so I set my tripod and took this shot:

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

Even though the flowers were just beginning to open, I thought that I shouldn’t pass up this scene.

Looking around, I found additional flowers just beginning to open:

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

As a wildflower photographer, I find that I often become so involved with what I’m doing that I lose contact with others that are enjoying the same adventure. Bill and Kathy were no where in sight. He was probably experiencing the same thing. So I proceeded to walk back down the trail searching for additional photographic opportunities, figuring I’d see Bill and Kathy soon. Here are a few more shots of some of the Trout Lilies I came across, the flowers already beginning to open more fully:

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily

Dimpled Trout Lilies

As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, I’m always on the lookout for plants in need of some “help”. Occasionally, as it emerges from the forest floor, a plant will poke up through a hole in a leaf. Often, the enclosing leaf will prevent the plant from forming fully, so when I find such an occurrence, I will free it from its imprisonment. Here is such a scene:

Dimpled Trout Lily growing through the hole in a leaf

The Trout Lily flowers at this site are quite variable. Oddly, some of the stamens of these plants were yellow while others were reddish-purple or brown. I know of no reason for the difference in variable stamen color, though. Here are examples of this color variation:

Dimpled Trout Lily with yellow stamens Variable-leaf Heartleaf with brown and reddish-purple stamens

I am also drawn to the flowers with decidedly darker sepals as well as stripes on the back of the petals:

Dimpled Trout Lilies with dark sepals and striped petals

Although most of the plants grow in small groups of two or thee plants, I did manage to find a few clumps of six or more blooming plants growing in the bright sunlight:

Group of Dimpled Trout Lilies

Note that the flowers in this group have opened fully — petals and sepals completely reflexed and pointing upward.

By this time, we had spent an hour or more at the preserve. I had finally caught up with Bill and Kathy when he mentioned that he wanted to show me a site for Shortia galacifolia or Oconee Bells. This was a “secret spot”, and Bill made me promise not to divulge the location. Some of us are very protective of our favorite haunts. Of course I agreed, and so we went back to our vehicles, packed our gear, and off we went.

It was not a long drive, but it was to an area that I had never visited. The long and winding paved road soon gave way to a gravel road, then to a two-track. We found a place to park, gathered our gear and were off on a short hike up the trail.

Somewhere along that trail, Bill guided us into the woods. Almost immediately, the narrow path took a deep drop-off. We were on a steep hillside above a small creek. Unlike the other locations I know for Oconee Bells, this site occupied an almost vertical hillside more than 100 feet (30 meters) above the creek. Normally, the plants prefer to grow directly next to a creek on the sloping creek bank and no more than 15 feet (5 meters) or so from the water. These plants had not gotten the email telling them where to grow…

Bill was disappointed that there were not more plants in flower, but the ones that were in flower were spectacular. We set about choosing our subjects and got into position to take our photographs. Kathy spotted one plant with 8 flowers, but it was perched precariously on the hillside, and I wasn’t sure I could reach it. Being the intrepid naturalist, she found a way down to a spot where a tripod could be set up for the capture. Here is that cluster of flowers:

Cluster of Oconee Bells

Near this large cluster, were a few additional flowering plants:

Oconee Bells Oconee Bells

As you can see on the above right image, there were even a few of the rare, pink-flowered ones in this population. But I found myself constantly slipping on the steep slope and could not get close enough to the pink ones for a good shot.

Bill was intently involved in getting his famous close-ups, so I scrambled back up the hill to where he was positioned. I noticed that there were lots of flower buds hidden under the glossy, green leaves. So, I thought I should document their presence:

Flower buds of Oconee Bells

In another week or so, the ground will be a blanket of white. This is truly a wonderful spot for such a rare species, and I wasted no time in thanking Bill for bringing me here.

I find the buds to be almost as pleasing as the fully-open flowers, so I took a few more shots of the buds as well as a close-up of an open flower in the sunlight:

Oconee Bells Oconee Bells

After returning home and reviewing my shots, I can see that many of the flowers seemed to have a somewhat pinkish hue. This was a truly remarkable find. As I was working on the final few photographs, Bill had found a pair of flowers that were decidedly pink. This would be my last shot of these wonderful Oconee Bells:

The rare, pink Oconee Bells

After we finished with our photography, Bill said that he would be heading over to Clemson to visit the South Carolina Botanical Garden, but I wanted to head back to Nine Times to photograph the Sanguinaria canadensis or Bloodroot that was just opening when we left that site. I also wanted to look for the rare, pale form of Trout Lily which I had photographed a couple of years ago. It was originally spotted by a photographer friend, Lee Casebere, when he had come down from Indiana to join me in a wildflower field trip in the upstate. So Bill and Kathy and I talked a bit about what we had seen, said our goodbyes, and headed off in different directions.

I made it back to Nine Times and found the Bloodroot in full bloom. Here are a few shots of some of the nicer plants that were growing on the sloping hillside:

Bloodroot Bloodroot

Bloodroot

This species is truly ephemeral, with flowers lasting no more than a couple of days, so I was happy to be able to catch them in full bloom.

Before I left Nine Times, I wanted to see if I could find that pale form of Trout Lily. So I walked up the trail to the spot where I remembered seeing it, but it wasn’t there. Maybe it was just a fluke and did not come back up. But I did not give up the search. I walked back and forth along the trail and eventually found a single flower of the pale form. In addition, I did find a couple of unopened buds that I believe would eventually produce these rare flowers. Here are two shots of that single flower:

Pale form of Trout Lily Pale form of Trout Lily

The flower was not in perfect shape, but at least I managed to relocate the plant. I’m guessing it is not a fluke, but it is a different color form that will return in successive years. I’m eager to learn more about this rare form, so if any of you Dear Readers have more information, I’m eager to hear from you.

It’s always great to go out into the field and come across friends who share the same passion for wildflowers and other natural things. Meeting Bill and Kathy was special, and sharing our outdoor adventure was a special treat. The wildflower season is just getting started in our area, so who knows what surprises will be in store…

–Jim

16 comments


  • John Fowler

    I don’t know how you get such wonderful flower images.

    February 26, 2017
    • Jim

      Thank you! It’s all done with magic… 😉

      February 26, 2017
  • Very nice! Trout-lilies and bloodroot are blooming in SE Oklahoma right now too.

    February 26, 2017
  • Walter Ezell

    Such fun to find pink Oconee bells and pale trout lillies all in one outing.

    February 26, 2017
  • Tony Willis

    Wonderful start to the year,beautiful photographs as usual.

    February 26, 2017
  • sonnia hill

    Just marvelous, Jim. Gorgeous photos and narrative.

    February 26, 2017
  • Terry gentry

    Great to get my wildflower fix – not as good as being there but almost

    February 26, 2017
  • Rudy Riggs

    Beautiful photography of my favorite spring flowers. Thank you!

    February 26, 2017
  • diane

    Thank you so much! Gorgeous!!

    February 26, 2017
  • Lee Casebere

    Well this blog brought back some memories from a couple of years ago!! Nice to hear that you found the pale form of the trout lily again. I recall that we found several when all was said and done that day. As usual, enjoyed your blog and photos immensely!

    February 26, 2017
  • Daniel McClosky

    Another wonderful tour – especially appreciated in the (re)-frozen north.

    A research group in Ottawa is soliciting observations of trout lily anther color. They’re only interested in E. americanum, but I thought you might still find this project interesting:

    https://troutlilysurvey.wordpress.com/

    February 27, 2017
  • Jim, your photography is out of this world. I wish I knew half as much as you do about taking such beautiful photographs. I’ve never seen any of these wildflowers, although I have heard of a couple. I’m so happy to finally see an Oconee Bell. It’s amazing how much I learn when I read your blog. Keep up the fantastic work. Look forward to your wildflower season.

    ~Laurie

    March 01, 2017
  • John Robinson

    The Oconee Bells and your capture of them are stunning! What camera and lens did you use?

    John

    March 02, 2017
    • Jim

      Hey John, I use an Olympus E-5 DSLR with a Sigma 105mm lens coupled with an Olympus 1.4X Teleconverter. I sometimes use a hand-held flash to fill in the shadows. Hope this helps. –Jim

      March 02, 2017
  • John Robinson

    Thanks for the info, Jim, I was just curious. I enjoy wildflower photography, too, but I have not developed a refined technique as you have.

    Would you say blooms will be about two weeks ahead of schedule?

    March 03, 2017
    • Jim

      I’d say at least two weeks early, but we are experiencing cold weather again right now.

      March 04, 2017

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