Early Spring Botanizing in Northwestern South Carolina — 2018-02-24

A few days ago, I received a couple of email messages relating to the Spring wildflowers in our area of northwestern South Carolina. The first one was from a Flickr friend, Gordon Magee, informing me that if I wanted to see the mass blooming of Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lilies at a nearby preserve called Nine Times, I’d better get on it, because they were currently in full bloom. What!?! I was hoping to wait another week or so before including this preserve in my schedule. The next day, I opened my email inbox and saw a message from a good friend and photographer, Bill Robertson, wondering if I wanted to spend Saturday botanizing in the upstate of South Carolina. Of course, said “I sure do!”. So we made plans to meet at a local restaurant for breakfast and plan our day trip.

After breakfast, we began our trip, heading toward a great spot for Trillium and several other Spring ephemerals. This location is called Oconee Station Falls, near the site of old Oconee Station, a stone blockhouse used as a military outpost by the S.C. State Militia and for trading with Native Americans from about 1792 to 1799. It appears in the “wilds” of early South Carolina history.

The day looked perfect for photography, overcast or at least mostly cloudy, and the temps were in the low 70’s (F); low 20’s (C). We loaded our camera gear and began the trek down the gently sloping trail to the 60-foot (18-meter) waterfall at the end of the trail. The trail, itself, is about .75 miles (1.2 km) long in each direction, and there is a great deal to see at almost any time of the year. However, Spring is the most popular time because of the explosion of wildflowers found in the cove forest. Early on, we began seeing Trillium cuneatum or Little Sweet Betsy plants along the trail, it was not until we reached the lower elevation area of the cove forest where we saw our first blooming plant, Sanguinaria Canadensis or Blood Root; so named because of the ooze of red liquid that appears when its rhizome is crushed. The pure white petals and bright, golden-yellow stamens make this a favorite of lovers of Spring wildflowers. Here is a shot of this beauty:

Blood Root Blood Root

Unfortunately, these flowers last only a couple of days, and even then, they do not open fully unless there is a good bit of light in the woods. On this day, there was broken overcast, which provided plenty of light for these rascals to open. These short-lived flowers are called “ephemerals” for a good reason. Here is another shot of Blood Root taken nearby on the trail. Only a tiny portion of the lobed leaf is visible behind the bracts of the Trillium plant:

Blood Root growing between two Trillium cuneatum plants

At this point, the density of Trillium cuneatum was increasing, and we began to see quite a few blooming plants. However, many of the plants were just poking out of the ground, and the bracts were not fully unfurled while other plants had buds that were not yet open:

Trillium cuneatum Trillium cuneatum

This very large (tens of thousands) population of Trillium cuneatum exhibits a variety of color forms. The typical petal color is a deep maroon to brownish-red. Here are a few examples of this color form:

Trillium cuneatum - typical color form Trillium cuneatum - typical color form

I’m guessing that the next most prevalent color form is found on about 5% of the flowering plants. This petal color varies from a greenish-yellow to an almost chartreuse color. Here are a few examples:

Trillium cuneatum - yellow color form Trillium cuneatum - yellow color form

Two color forms of Trillium cuneatum growing side-by-side

The final petal color that is usually present in a few plants is the bronzy-yellow color form. Since so few plants were in full bloom, this color form was difficult to find:

Bronzy-yellow color form of Trillium cuneatum

It is difficult to visit this site and not be distracted by the thousands of Trilliums blooming in the open woods beside the trail. However, the observant among us will soon spot some of the more diminutive plants. One of these is Viola hastata or Halberd-leaved Violet. These bright yellow flowers soon manage to catch our eye as we proceed along the trail:

Halberd-leaved Violet

Halberd-leaved Violet

Halberd-leaved Violet

It was a bit early yet for this next wildflower, but I did manage to find a couple of them in bloom. This is Thalictrum thalictroides or Rue Anemone. In another week or two, it will be frequently seen along the trail:

Rue Anemone Rue Anemone

Nearing the falls, the trail winds next to the creek. This brings us into close proximity to another early Spring wildflower, Anemone acutiloba or Sharp-lobed Hepatica. This plant was formerly known as Hepatica acutiloba, but the taxonomists have decided that all Hepatica are now Anemone. According to Wikipedia, “The taxonomy of the genus Anemone and its species is not fully resolved, but the latest phylogenetic studies of many species of Anemone and related genera indicate that Hepatica should be included under Anemone because of similarities both in molecular attributes and other shared morphologies.” Name changes like this are necessary, I suppose, but it does make life difficult among some of the older, more settled naturalists — yours truly, included in the bunch…

In any case, here are some shots of these beauties which were growing within spitting distance of the creek. Let me add that 99% of the flowers of this species, at least in our area, have flowers with pure white petals. This species is widespread in the eastern half of North America. The color of the flowers varies widely from deep bluish-purple to pure white, depending on the region where they are found. But the color form I seek out is the white flower with pinkish-purple toward the center of the flower. I do not understand what causes this color form, because plants can produce pure white petals and this pinkish-purple color form on the same plant. Again, I have seen this variation in only a handful of plants in our region. Here are a couple of shots to show what I’m describing:

Anemone acutiloba with pinkish-purple in the center of the flower

Anemone acutiloba with pinkish-purple in the center of the flower

The remainder of the plants are those with white petals:

Anemone acutiloba Anemone acutiloba

Anemone acutiloba

In this last shot (above), if you look closely, you will probably be able to see a slight blotch of pinkish-purple on a couple of the petals of the flower at the lower right.

We finally finished up at Oconee Station Falls, and made our way back up the trail to our car. At this point, we decided that we would visit Nine Times Preserve, where the Dimpled Trout Lilies were said to be in full bloom.

The drive to Nine Times took us about 45 minutes, including a lunch break for pizza at a local convenience store along South Carolina state Hwy. 11. According to www.sctrails.net, Nine Times was 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.” This Nature Conservative preserve is possibly the most prolific when it comes to Dimpled Trout Lilies.

Parking near one of the trailheads to the Preserve, we could instantly see that the plants were, indeed, in full bloom. We quickly gathered our gear and headed off down the trail. There was one spot where I had seen a rare mutation of the typically yellow flower. It was spotted by another photographer friend of mine from Indiana, Lee Casebere, while I was showing him this site a couple of years ago. This mutation causes the flower to appear tan or pinkish-tan, and I wanted to show it to Bill. Here is a shot of this strange flower color:

Mutant color form of Dimpled Trout Lily

I went straight to the spot and looked carefully for the plant, but I could not locate it. There had been a considerable amount of tree fall during the winter, and there were a number of limbs in that particular spot beside the trail. I managed to remove the limbs, but I still could not find the plants I was looking for. Bummer! But, there were indeed plenty of other photographic opportunities awaiting us.

Although I posted a number of images of the Dimpled Trout Lily in my previous post, bear with me as I post a few here to round out our day trip:

Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily
Dimpled Trout Lily Dimpled Trout Lily growing among Shining Club Moss plants

Incidentally, that last shot (above right) shows a Dimpled Trout Lily growing among stems of Shining Club Moss plants, another of my favorite winter, evergreen, plants.

Dimpled Trout Lily group

After looking around the area a bit, we discovered a few Blood Root plants on the hillside:

Blood Root

Blood Root

By this time, it was mid-afternoon, and the temperature was around 80 degrees (F) 26 degrees (C), much too warm for this time of year. We packed up and headed to one final stop to look for Claytonia virginica or Spring Beauty at Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve. Alas, we found only two partially opened flowers, not the “mother lode” I was expecting. Maybe in another week to 10 days…

All things considered, we had a great “first outing” in the foothills of South Carolina. Bill is a delightful companion and a wonderful photographer. There was no end to the banter along the trail as we caught up with our respective goings-on. I’m really looking forward to our next outing, probably not that far away in time, because the wildflower season has just begun!

Until next time…

–Jim

6 comments


  • John Kingston

    Enjoyed your blog and lovely photos, as usual.
    You must be very happy with your new camera.

    February 25, 2018
  • Linda Francis

    Each winter after a long wait for your first posts of spring wildflowers, I am always thrilled to be escorted on a photography adventure of discovery and wonder! Exquisitely beautiful pictures!

    February 25, 2018
  • Ann McCormick

    Wonderful blog and fantastic pictures! Seems way too early for these wildflowers!

    February 25, 2018
  • Gena Todia

    This post and your amazing photos make me want to head to NC right here and now! And I would love to visit these spots in SC. Thanks for sharing.

    February 25, 2018
  • Becky Kessel

    The most wonderful time of the year- beautiful images, Jim!
    I found the formerly-known-as-hepatica just beginning to bloom in the Shelton Laurel backcountry yesterday- with the purplish tinge. Spring is freakishly early this year- but always a welcome sight.

    February 25, 2018
  • Lee Casebere

    Enjoyed hearing about your outing, Jim. I can still visualize some spots you mentioned quite well yet. Sorry you didn’t find the odd-colored trout lily, but perhaps it’s still there. Boy, that bi-colored Hepatica is a beauty!

    February 28, 2018

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