Early visit to Persimmon Ridge Road in upstate South Carolina produces surprising results — 2018-04-06

Friday dawned with a high overcast — perfect for wildflower photography. On the spur of the moment, I decided to scout out one of my favorite mountain roadside locations in the upstate of South Carolina — Persimmon Ridge Road. This gravel road transects two of our most productive upstate Heritage Preserves: Ashmore Heritage Preserve and Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve, both of them home to several rare plant species as well as a stunning array of wildflowers during the Spring and Summer months. After a near freeze the night before, I wondered if any of the Spring ephemerals would be up and blooming. I prepared myself to be disappointed, because just 10 days prior to this trip, I made the same visit and did not find a single plant in bloom.

As I turned off of Hwy. 11/276 onto Persimmon Ridge Road, thoughts of Spring Iris and several species of Violet filled my mind. It was not long before I saw the first splash of blue popping out of the leaf litter on the side of the road. Iris verna or Dwarf Iris was in full bloom! I had not expected to see it for another week or so, but here it was:

Dwarf Iris Dwarf Iris

This particular Spring ephemeral shows its best colors for only a few days, then it fades to a light blue color. These were in great shape; very fresh and a rich, royal blue:

Dwarf Iris

Most of the time, these plants grow in groups of two or three, scattered on the sloping roadside embankments, but occasionally, they can be found in larger groups.

Dwarf Iris

Large group of Dwarf Iris

Just up the road a bit, I found many Viola hastata or Halberd-leaf Violets. These are quite common in our rich, mountain woods and roadsides:

Halberd-leaf Violet Halberd-leaf Violet

It always poses nicely and is quite easy to photograph.

Halberd-leaf Violet

In the same roadside area, just coming up, were one of my favorite wildflowers – Uvularia puberula or Mountain Bellwort. Its flowers have a delicate creamy yellow color, and they are shaped like little bells – hence the name Bellwort (wort from Middle English, wyrt, meaning root or plant). They were just up and producing their first flowers:

Mountain Bellwort Mountain Bellwort

Mountain Bellwort

As I progressed slowly up the road, gaining altitude with each rotation of my tires, I began to spot tiny patches of blue. This was the beginning of the flowering of Viola pedata or Bird’s-foot Violet, so named for the shape of its leaves. In other parts of the country, this plant takes on a bicolor pattern of dark purple and blue, but in our area, they are generally a uniform shade of blue or violet:

Bird's-foot Violet Bird's-foot Violet

Bird's-foot Violet

At one point, the road levels off a little before rising again. I look over to my left, and I see the characteristic, leathery leaves of Epigaea repens or Trailing Arbutus. The flowers of this creeping species are often hidden just beneath the leaves, so it’s difficult to tell if it is in bloom. The plants hang precariously to what’s left of the soil on steep, north-facing embankments. I stopped the truck and got out for a closer inspection. Sure enough, there are a few pinkish flowers hidden under the leaves.

In order to photograph them, I have to do a little “Ansel Adams work” or rearranging. It is thought by many that Ansel Adams, one of America’s most prominent, early outdoor photographers did little to his subjects before photographing them — he was the Master, after all. Au contraire, mes amis! Several years ago, I took a photography class in Yosemite, and many of the meetings were held on site in Adam’s former darkroom/studio. Here, we heard from some preeminent scholars about his work. OK, given that he did not have Photoshop, he did do a lot of photographic manipulation of the negatives in his darkroom. We were also told that he did a considerable amount of “rearranging” and setup for his closeup outdoor photography of plants and other things. But I digress…

So, after a bit of “setup”, I managed to capture a few of the lovely, very fragrant, shell-pink flowers:

Trailing Arbutus Trailing Arbutus

Trailing Arbutus

Granted, the leaves look a bit ratty, but after flowering, the plant will produce new leaves for the year.

Many of the plant produce only white flowers, or flowers that begin as pink but later fade to white:

Trailing Arbutus

In case you were like me, and wondering where the name, “Arbutus” originated, here is the answer: It comes from Arbutus unedo or Strawberry tree, native to Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Supposedly, the flowers of Trailing Arbutus resemble those of the Strawberry tree. Who knew?…

Farther up the road, I spotted an unfamiliar Violet species. Upon closer inspection, I believe it to be Viola sagittata or Arrow-leaf Violet. I don’t believe I have ever seen it until this trip. If you, Dear Reader, believe it to be another species, please say so in the comments section below. I will be more than happy to make corrections to the text. Here are a few shots:

Arrow-leaf Violet Halberd-leaf Violet

It seems to prefer dreadfully poor, disturbed soil. I did not see it except in the scrapings off the side of the gravel road.

I was nearing the place where I usually park my truck and walk into the Heritage Preserve. What do I see but another Violet species: Viola rostrata or Spurred Violet:

Spurred Violet

If you look closely, you can see the spur jutting out at an angle behind the flower petals. Here is a shot taken from a different angle that shows off the spur even better:

Spurred Violet

After entering the trailhead, I spotted this nice little group:

Spurred Violet

As you can see, there is much variability in the color of flowers, even on the same plant.

A short walk took me to the edge of Slickum Creek. Here, I found a couple of interesting plants. The first was Houstonia caerulea or Azure bluet. It is often found in damp depressions or, in this case, a flat area next to the creek. The background of this shot is the reflection in the water of overhead trees:

Azure bluet

Lining the creek bank is Xanthorhiza simplissima or Yellow Root. This is a common plant species found in our area and is quite difficult to photograph. The flowers do not stand out but seem to blend in with almost any background.

Yellow Root

Where does the name, Yellow Root originate? I am loath to dig up plants, so I will provide a link to show the roots. Just scroll down toward the bottom of this link to see a better image of the root color under the bark.

After leaving the creek side, I didn’t have to walk very far before I saw Anemone quinquefolia or Wood Anemone scattered here and there. The plants were fresh, they provided bright, paper-white flowers that stood out against the leaf litter:

Wood Anemone Wood Anemone

Wood Anemone

Next to the trail, there were several plants with shiny, variegated, evergreen leaves. I knew these to be the leaves of Asarum heterophyllum (formerly Hexastylis heterophylla) or Variable-leaf Heartleaf. These plants look remarkably like those which were the subject of my previous post, HERE, of Asarum minus (formerly Hexastylis minor) or Little Heartleaf. As with the other Heartleaf species in our area of Eastern North America, the flowers are borne on the ground under the leaf litter. Here are flowers of two of the Heartleaf plants I photographed on this trip:

Variable-leaf Heartleaf Variable-leaf Heartleaf

At this point, I decided to turn around and walk back to the truck. The clouds had lowered and it was beginning to sprinkle rain. On my way back, I spotted the daisy-like flowers of another very common plant that is often found in large numbers growing in full sun beside the road. But since this was in the middle of the woods, there were only a few plants. It is Erigeron pulchellus or Robin’s Plantain.

Robin's Plantain

It was time to pack up my gear, but I wanted to check on some plants that might lead to the promise of things to come. Those plants are two orchid species that bloom later in the season. The first of these is Goodyera pubescens or Downy Rattlesnake Plantain. The leaves make up some of the prettiest foliage in the woods. Here is an example of those leaves:

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain leaves

The tiny, white, pearl-like flowers will be borne on a slender spike and will appear in our area around mid- to late July.

The other orchid species I wanted to check on is Cypripedium acaule or Pink Lady’s-slipper orchid. It should be in bloom around the end of April — just a few weeks away. Here is a shot of one of the plants that shows an immature flower bud peeking out of a couple of clasping leaves. You will just have to stay tuned to this blog for the final reveal:

Pink Lady's-slipper orchid in bud

What started out to be just a scouting trip turned out to be a big surprise for me. This particular roadside habitat is one that I attempt to visit several times during the year for different wildflowers in season. I am not usually disappointed. The state of South Carolina, in its wisdom, has set aside many thousands of acres of pristine woodland for just such enjoyment. Our Heritage Preserves are scattered from the mountains to the sea, but I have to say that I am very enamored with those in my area of the upstate.

Stay tuned for more wildflower eye-candy (and maybe a little education) in future episodes.

Until then…

–Jim

13 comments


  • bill

    home run after home run……..
    i might follow your lead and head to P. Road tomorrow, even tho today would have been perfect……

    good shots…….

    April 07, 2018
  • Sharon Johnson

    Your marvelous photos give so much pleasure to those of us who lack your photographic skills but LOVE the spring ephemerals. Thank you for sharing.

    April 07, 2018
  • sonnia hill

    Loved every shot, especially the group shots.

    April 07, 2018
  • Scott

    Incredible pictures! Your fill technique is magnificent. The ratios would make Ansel Adams smile with enjoyment. When you teach your photography class, I would like to be one of the first to register. Fantastic!

    April 07, 2018
  • Shannon

    Thanks Jim for always sharing these ephemeral treasures with enthusiasm and artistry.
    A welcome window into the promise of spring as I sit by the fire in my mountain home this chilly Saturday evening…

    April 07, 2018
  • Ann McCormick

    As always, the photographs are fantastic! Thanks for doing this blog!

    April 07, 2018
  • Jim, it always makes my heart sing to see the early wildflowers! I hope it didn’t get as cold there as it did in North Alabama last night. Lots of tree buds were froze even! Hastens up their demise! Those little jewels in the ground were lucky!

    April 08, 2018
  • Great work—I’ve always enjoyed our time together on that road.

    Great use of the rock background on the Xanthorhiza!

    April 08, 2018
  • Beautiful photos and words like always. It is currently 33 degrees and snowing in Upstate New York so I am glad I get to experience spring wildflowers through your website!

    April 08, 2018
  • sam

    Lovely shots, Jim. As I’m in Rhodes now, I plan to seek out the Strawberry tree! Arrived about two weeks too late for many of the orchids. T’s late snows and cold were balanced by Mother Nature over here, early spring and heat waves.

    hugs . . .

    April 08, 2018
  • Jan

    A breath of fresh air…thanks for taking us along!

    April 08, 2018
  • Susan Pfeiffer

    Great Arbutus shots! We saw them this week too. 🙂

    April 11, 2018
  • Patricia

    Once again I am grateful to vicariously visit one of my favorite preserves through your pics. Having been on that road many times this time of year, I can picture where some of these are. Maybe this year I can make it up there before it’s past.

    April 12, 2018

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