Part 2 of 2 – Wildflowers and orchids along the Blue Ridge Parkway — 2017-07-26

As I mentioned in my previous post – Part 1 about the wildflowers I had recently photographed in the Pisgah National Forest, the remainder of the trip consists of those species I saw and photographed at relatively high altitude (at or above 5000 feet/1500 meters) along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Transylvania County, North Carolina.

After I finished photographing the orchids and wildflowers as shown in Part 1, I proceeded to get onto Hwy. 276 and to gain altitude by heading toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. Along the way, I had to pass a rather large population of Sabatia angularis or Common Rosepink by the side of the road. These bright pink flowers have a very sweet fragrance and are quite visible as they line the shoulder next to the wood line:

Common Rosepink Common Rosepink

I really do like the little yellow “star” in the center of each flower made up of a chevron of yellow lined on the outside by a line of deep red. Those colors contrast so well with the bubblegum-pink petals:

Common Rosepink

Hwy. 276 bisects the Pisgah National Forest as it runs from northeast of Brevard to its intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway. All along its very curvy run, many different and varied wildflowers can be found. The only problem is finding a place to pull over so that you can examine the flowers more closely. Depending on where you are along the way, there is either a steeply sloping hillside or cliff just next to the road, or there is a considerable drop-off, each bordered by a metal guard rail only an arm’s length from the road — no place to park. There are a couple of wider parts of the roadside shoulder, but these generally do not occur where the best wildflowers grow. However, at one of these pull-offs, there are thick stands of Jewelweed or Touch-me-not, oftentimes all three varieties are present. There’s the most common, Impatiens capensis or Spotted Jewelweed, then the next most common, Impatiens pallida or Pale Jewelweed, and finally, the least common, Impatiens pallida forma speciosa or alba form of Pale Jewelweed:

Spotted Jewelweed Pale Jewelweed alba form of Pale Jewelweed

Across the road were the bright yellow flowers of Rudbekia hirta or Black-eyed Susan:

Black-eyed Susan

Each one of these petaled beauties is a “composite”, made up of ray flowers (petals) around the perimeter and a dense cluster of true, tiny disk flowers in the center.

I finished with the photography at this spot, pack my gear, and head on up Hwy. 276 to where it intersects with the Parkway. Heading west, I soon begin to see a number of bright orange Lilium superbum or Turk’s-cap Lilies in the woods beside the road. I made a mental note of where I saw them and then continued west to my final destination.

Arriving at Wolf Mountain Overlook, I park in the designated parking area, gather my gear and head the short distance across the road to the wet, vertical cliff seeps where dozens of different wildflower species are growing. This site is a very rich botanical gem, overlooked (no pun intended) by most who pass by. My first goal was to photograph the Triantha glutinosa formerly Tofieldia glutinosa or Sticky Tofieldia aka Sticky False Asphodel. It gets the common name, “sticky”, from the glands associated with the top part of the stem. What is unusual about this particular population of plants, is that they are more commonly found in Canada, Alaska, the Great Lakes region, and Maine. This is a disjunct population, and quite rare for the Carolinas. So, I’m always excited to be able to see it in bloom. Many of the species found in the higher elevations along the Parkway are those which are more commonly seen much farther north. They are part of the small remnant of flora that managed to stick around after the last ice age. That makes this drive very stimulating for the naturalist/botanist trapped inside of me.

As I approach the far side of the road, I begin to see them all lined up in the ditch at the base of the wet cliff face:

Sticky Tofieldia

Sticky Tofieldia Sticky Tofieldia
Sticky Tofieldia Sticky Tofieldia

This is one of those plants for which the flowers open from the top downward, so what appears to be buds toward the top of the stem are actually spent flowers in the process of forming seed capsules.

Here are a couple of shots of actual unopened buds:

Sticky Tofieldia Sticky Tofieldia

On my trek up and down the road at the edge of the cliff, I couldn’t help but notice some small, purple flowers. These actually might be mistaken for an orchid of some sort, but they are not orchids. They are Prunella vulgaris or Heal-all aka Common Self-heal.

Heal-all Heal-all

Behind these purple-flowered plants were moderately sized shrubs containing many hundreds of “fuzzy” yellow flowers; Hypericum densiflorum or Bushy St. Johnswort:

Bushy St. Johnswort

These plants were “alive” with bees and beetles, all feasting on the pollen and nectar provided by the myriad yellow flowers.

One of the orchids that I have come to expect in abundance in this area of the Parkway this time of year is Gymnadeniopsis clavellata or Club-spur orchid aka Green Woodland orchid. I did find several dozen of them, but they appeared to be past peak bloom. Perhaps I was just too late, or perhaps their flowers had become bleached from the high temperatures we have been experiencing in the region. The flowers seemed to be a much lighter color than usual. Here are some shots of these tiny orchids:

Club-spur orchid Club-spur orchid
Club-spur orchid Club-spur orchid

Club-spur orchid

The club-shaped spur behind and attached to each flower should easily be visible on all of these images.

One of the main attractions of this wet cliff seep is Parnassia asarifolia or Kidney-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus. The second week of September brings forth a huge explosion of thousands of white flowers along the cliff face, from the bottom to the top, nearly 100 feet (~30 meters) above. The plants manage to find a foothold in the cracks in the dense rock, and deftly survive the harsh, icy winters. This is what a small section of the cliff face looks like when they are in bloom:

Kidney-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus

Kidney-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus

On this visit, the promise of what is to come was evident in the tiny buds springing forth from the curiously round foliage:

Kidney-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus Kidney-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus

Kidney-leaf Grass-of-Parnassus

Another very interesting plant species that might appear to some to be out-of-place in this setting is the carnivorous plant, Drosera rotundifolia or Round-leaf Sundew. It, too, manages to find a tenuous foothold in the smallest of cracks in the perpetually wet rock. I sometimes wonder how it survives when this wet seep turns into solid ice during the winter. However, it seems to thrive here:

Round-leaf Sundew

Round-leaf Sundew

These plants are fairly small, but the plant with the tiniest flowers has to be Micranthes petiolaris, formerly Saxifraga michauxii or Cliff Saxifrage aka Michaux’s Saxifrage. The flowers are so small that they are undoubtedly overlooked by the casual observer. However this species has some of the prettiest flowers on the cliff face. Here is an image of the plant as it is growing on the wet rock:

Cliff Saxifrage

And here is a close-up of its tiny flower:

Cliff Saxifrage flower

Who knew? Right!?!

There is also another dark pink flower that grows at the base of the cliff. And that is Chelone obliqua or Red Turtlehead. It gets its common name from the resemblance of the open flower to that of the head of a turtle. This species can be found in a wide range of pinks and rosy reds, but the most common color is the one in the following images:

Red Turtlehead Red Turtlehead

One more plant species was in abundant bloom. That is Diervilla sessilifolia or Southern bush honeysuckle. This rather modest shrub is found all along the Parkway above 4500 feet (~1500 meters) elevation:

Southern Bush Honeysuckle

Southern Bush Honeysuckle

It was getting late in the day and time for me to head home. So, I crossed the road and headed to my truck. I looked back one more time, fixing the experience in my mind.

Heading back east on the Parkway, I remembered the spot where I had seen the beautiful Turk’s-cap lilies beside the road. I stopped nearby and walked back to the spot. The plants were nearly 8 feet (2.5 meters) tall. Fortunately, they were growing on a steep slope down from where I was standing, so I was able to get closer than if I had been standing directly under the flowers. There were several flowering plants in the immediate area, and each provided a different range of color. Here are some shots of these beauties:

Turk's-cap Lily

Turk's-cap Lily

Turk's-cap Lily

Turk's-cap Lily

What a day! The floral diversity of the Southern Appalachian Mountains never fails to amaze me. Flowers of every shape and size and color of the rainbow, and then some, are always just around the corner and are waiting for someone to come by and greet them. As I get older, I am more attuned to “drive by” photography where I don’t have to hike for 3 or more hours to study and photograph the plants. But, maybe I will miss something — just think of how many wonderful plants bloom where there is no human to enjoy and appreciate them.

There is still much, very much more for me to learn about the diverse ecosystem of the Southern Appalachian Mountains — more than I could learn in a lifetime. Perhaps by recording and sharing what I am able to see around me, you, dear reader, will gain more of an appreciation of your own surroundings. Because, no matter where you live, there are countless natural wonders to be studied and enjoyed… So what are you waiting for?

–Jim

22 comments


  • Ryan

    These are great flowers Jim, and of course…even greater photography!

    August 03, 2017
  • Rudy Riggs

    Thank you for the beautiful photography and for putting a name on some of the flowers I have seen in the mountains.

    August 03, 2017
    • Jim

      Glad I could help in some small way.

      August 03, 2017
  • Michael Drake

    Great pix. The saxifrage is sensational.

    August 03, 2017
  • jim

    What camera etc do you use? Photos are exceptional

    Thanks

    August 03, 2017
    • Jim

      Thank you for your good words! I use an Olympus E-5 DSLR with a lens/teleconverter combination that equals about a 300mm focal length. Occasionally, I use a hand-held flash for fill light. I ALWAYS use a tripod for my macro work. All images are processed in Photoshop CS6. Hope this helps.

      August 03, 2017
  • David Arbour

    Wow! Amazing!

    August 03, 2017
  • Carol

    All I could say, image after image, was Wow! Wow! Wow! These are incredible!

    August 03, 2017
  • Jerry Daniels

    Jim,
    Thank you for the wonderful blog. I am interested in the camera that you use, the lens type, and the settings used
    for the closeup photo’s.

    A fan,
    jerry

    August 03, 2017
    • Jim

      Thank you for your good words! I use an Olympus E-5 DSLR with a Sigma 105mm lens and a Zuiko 1.4X teleconverter combination that equals about a 300mm focal length. This takes into account the 2X multiplier that my 4/3 sensor gives me. The settings vary because I shoot in “A” (aperture) mode so that I have more control over dof. I shoot RAW only and set the ISO at 100. Occasionally, I use a hand-held flash for fill light. I ALWAYS use a tripod for my macro work. All images are processed in Photoshop CS6. Hope this helps.

      August 03, 2017
  • I have photography skill envy!!!

    August 03, 2017
    • Amanda Rowe

      Beautiful pictures of beautiful flowers. The Turk cap lilies were gorgeous and I think the same that David photographed. That particular day, there were several butterflies hanging around. Thanks again for sharing your adventures.

      August 03, 2017
  • Beautiful photos! I really enjoyed seeing the images of Triantha glutinosa. I have seen them at the top of the lower peninsula of MI. Didn’t know their range extended to NC!

    August 04, 2017
    • Jim

      They are disjunct in North Carolina. That’s what makes them so special to see down here.

      August 04, 2017
  • Tony Willis

    Lovely pictures as usual have I missed the name of the lily?

    August 04, 2017
    • Jim

      Hey Tony, it is Lilium superbum. I mentioned it earlier in the blog post and didn’t re-state the botanical name again later on. Sorry…

      August 04, 2017
  • Tony Willis

    Thank you Jim,I thought it was but not great on my identification so good for confirmation

    August 05, 2017
  • sonnia hill

    Beautiful, colorful and interesting wildflowers.

    August 06, 2017
  • Liz

    Another fabulous report! I wanted you to know that I visited the overlook Friday and found the first Parnassia asarifolia bloom (only ONE!) . So exciting! The Triantha glutinosa was still beautiful and the red seed pods were coming on.

    August 06, 2017
  • John Neufeld

    Magnificent photography and commentary as always. You are a master!

    August 08, 2017
  • John Fowler

    You sure know how to find them.

    August 28, 2017
  • Michael Edens

    Fantastic pictures! I enjoy hunting wildflowers in my neck of the woods (Upper East TN, Washington and Unicoi counties). I absolutely love seeing the Grass of Parnassus and the many orchids u manage to find! Absolutely incredible!

    September 23, 2017

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