The Yellows in DuPont State Forest, Transylvania County, North Carolina – and some surprises — 2018-05-12

This is a lengthy post, so please pick a time when you can browse the text and pictures at your leisure.

For the past few years, I’ve been visiting DuPont State Recreational Forest in Transylvania County, North Carolina, to photograph Cypripedium parviflorum variety pubescens or Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid and Cypripedium parviflorum variety parviflorum or Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid, which grow in pretty good numbers there. It requires a 2-hour hike up and down some fairly steep inclines to find them, but it’s worth every step! The bloom occurs around Mother’s Day each year, and is usually quite reliable. This year was no exception! Here is a shot of one of the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids I photographed on this trip:

Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid

For comparison, here is a shot of the Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid:

Small Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid

Each of these species is quite variable, but as a general rule, the lip (pouch) of the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid is about 1.5 inches (3.75 cm) to 2 inches (5 cm) long whereas the lip of the Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid is about half that length. In addition, the sepals and petals of the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid are usually mostly yellow-green and suffused with a small number of dark red streaks and blotches whereas the sepals and petals of the Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid are usually (but not always) heavily suffused with these dark red streaks and blotches – sometimes to the extent of being a solid, dark red color. There may be some other, subtle differences, but these species are so variable that those subtle differences are too subtle to characterize a specific flowering plant.

The location for these beauties is above the Fawn Lake Access area in the 10,400-acre (4,200-hectare) DuPont State Forest. This is an area with dozens of narrow trails through the woods, mainly used by mountain bikers, so it is a good idea to keep your eyes and ears open for the occasional bike traffic when squatting on the trail to photograph a wildflower. However, I have found the bikers to be exceedingly friendly and patient as I manage to move my body and camera equipment to the side while they pass.

One interesting thing happened to me on this trip. As I was climbing up the first, rather steep incline, a pair of bikers nodded as they passed. One of them alerted me and said, “There is one more behind us.” I remained on the side of the trail, waiting for the other rider to approach. As she did, she spotted my camera gear, stopped and inquired if I was Jim Fowler. It’s sort of funny when this happens, because a lot of people know who I am, but the opposite is not always true. I acknowledged who I was and she identified herself as Carmen, a follower and supporter of this blog. I was pleased, as I always am, to meet another fellow wildflower enthusiast. We chatted a while and she told me that she had seen a small group of Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids just beside the trail, downhill in the ferns. That was good, since it confirmed my expectation that the flowers were, indeed, in bloom. I’ve met a number of blog-followers on my treks into the woods, and it’s always a pleasure to meet another one.

After we finished our chat, I proceeded up the trail to my first stop. It was a side trail which led me to a couple of small groups of Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids, reliable for their annual appearance. Turns out, they were in perfect shape for photography. The only hitch was the wind. This seems to be a constant challenge in the mountains, so it is a good idea to get to the site early in the morning before the wind picks up. However, on this day, it was already past noon, and the breezes were already rather strong. Here is a shot or two of the orchids at this site:

A small group of Large Lady's-slipper orchids

Now, you folks in the northern latitudes are blessed with huge clumps of these orchids, but down South, we have to be satisfied with these smaller groups and single plants. I’m envious of your large clumps, but I’m grateful for what we have, as well. The largest group I managed to find of the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchid on this trip was a group of 5 flowering plants. The flowers on these plants had 2-inch (5 cm) pouches, which was a bonus. Here are some shots of single flowers which I managed to isolate:

Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid

The next stop was very close by, and I managed to find a group of three Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids. One of these appears as the second image in this blog. Here is another one:

Small Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid

Note the very dark petals and sepals.

Soon I was on my way up the trail to see if I could locate more of them. About 5 minutes later, I spotted some small, white flowers just inches from the bike tracks along the edge of the trail. This turned out to be a plant I had not seen for years: the 1-inch (2.5 cm) tall Orobanche uniflora or One-flowered Broomrape. I had given up on ever seeing it again, since it had eluded me for years. It is easy to miss seeing something like this if you are looking up or down the hillside, trying to find some bright yellow flowers in the distance.

Some flowers of this tiny species are a deep lavender-purple, but the ones at this location are white. If you look very closely at the flower petals, you might be able to see purple hairs on the petals. According to the Gobotany website, “One-flowered broomrape is an entirely parasitic species that has no green tissues. It derives all of its nutrients by invading the root system of its host through specialized roots called haustoria. The host plants of One-flowered broomrape include sedums (Sedum spp.), saxifrages (Saxifraga spp.), sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and others.” In any case, I was thrilled to find these growing beside the trail:

One-flowered Broomrape One-flowered Broomrape
One-flowered Broomrape One-flowered Broomrape

Finishing with this exciting find, I gathered my gear and moved on up the trail. As I walked, I welcomed the cool breeze against my face as I was serenaded by the hoot of a large owl of some type. I apologize to the birders who happen to follow this blog, but I am woefully ignorant of bird calls. All I know is that I had to be a large owl due to the deep-throated “Who, Who, Who” of its call. There were also a surprisingly large number of song birds in the area as well, calling out to their neighbors — perhaps warning them of a wayward traveler with his camera and tripod…

Soon, I arrived at the spot in the trail where, in order to locate the orchids, I was forced to descend the steep hillside into a lush valley. Here, my friend KT once showed me “X marks the spot” — a natural X formed by two large trees that had fallen in this pattern. Sure enough, the orchids were there, and they were in bloom. Here are some shots of these beauties:

Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid
Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid

Large Yellow Lady'-slipper orchids

Large Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid

I ended up spending the better part of a couple of hours in the dappled light of this lush valley, photographing about two dozen of the orchids. But it was now time to climb back up the hillside and begin to retrace my steps back to the truck. On my way back, however, I would be able to capture some of the other woodland wildflowers I had seen along the trail. One of these wildflowers was the gorgeous Cypripedium acaule or Pink Lady’s-slipper orchids that, oddly enough, inhabits some of the same ground that hosts the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids. I had expected to see more of them on this trip to DuPont State Forest, but for some reason, this was not a good year for them. Here are a few shots of the Pink Lady’s-slipper orchids that were blooming near the trail:

Pink Lady's-slipper orchid Pink Lady's-slipper orchid

Pink Lady's-slipper orchids

As I made my way back down the trail, I spotted a splash of creamy yellow beside the trail. It was a wildflower that I had photographed just last week: Uvularia perfoliata or Perfoliate Bellwort. Seems as though I can never get enough of these. It was so nice that I had to photograph it:

Perfoliate Bellwort Perfoliate Bellwort

Nearby, but off in the distance were the bright orange flowers of Rhododendron calendulaceum or Flame Azalea. These bright flowers proudly announce their presence by glowing in the sunlight that manages to find its way through the leafy branches of the forest’s trees. Here is a shot of one cluster of these orange flowers:

Flame Azalea

A bit farther down the trail, I spotted the unmistakable flowers of another of our common wildflower shrubs: Kalmia latifolia or Mountain Laurel. These had just began to bloom. In some areas of the Southern Appalachian mountains, the hillsides are literally covered with drifts of these white, bell-shaped flowers:

Mountain Laurel

I know have mentioned this in other blog posts, but it could stand to be said again. The flowers have an interesting way of forcing their pollinators to pick up pollen. Those red blotches on the flowers are hiding nooks for the stamens, which are cocked and loaded to spring forth when a pollinator triggers them upon visiting the flower. By springing forth toward the center of the flower, the stamens unload pollen onto the pollinator which will deliver it to the next flower it visits. It is easy to experience this action by placing your finger into the center of the flower as if your finger was a pollinator. What an ingenious way to deliver the pollen to a pollinator. Try it the next time you see Mountain Laurel in flower. It’s a bit of natural fun…

Hiding right below this Mountain Laurel was another fairly common wildflower: Iris cristata or Dwarf crested Iris:

Dwarf Crested Iris

Almost back to the parking area, I spotted another couple of Cypripedium parviflorum variety parviflorum or Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids. The location for these was pointed out to me by another blog follower, Becky K. who has kept up with my posts over the years. Thanks, Becky. The nice thing about these particular plants is that they tend to produce double-flowered stems each year:

Small Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid Small Yellow Lady's-slipper orchid

As I made it back to the truck, it began to rain. I had been hearing the rumble of thunder for the past hour, hoping that I would not get caught by a downpour while on the trail. Fortunately, I timed my return just right!

As I headed back to Greenville, I had to pass an area on Hwy. 276 that provides a host of wildflowers during the season. Last week, I had photographed an Aplectrum hyemale or Putty-root orchid in spike, and I figured it should be in bloom on this day. I found the spot and pulled off the road, safely away from traffic. I gathered my camera gear and headed to the place where I had seen the plant last week. There it was, in full bloom. The flower stalk was not as loaded with flowers as some I had seen in prior years, but that didn’t matter much to me. Here is the Putty-root orchid:

Putty-root orchid Putty-root orchid

There were other wildflowers in bloom at this site, as well. One of them that I always expect to see is Asclepias quadrifolia or Fourleaf Milkweed. Milkweeds have always been a favorite of mine, and I never pass up a chance to photograph them:

Fourleaf Milkweed Fourleaf Milkweed

There was another plant with glossy green leaves on branches that arch over the forest floor. Dangling under these leaves are the small, bell-shaped flowers of Polygonatum biflorum or Smooth Solomon’s seal:

Smooth Solomon's seal

Another wildflower plant that closely resembles Smooth Solomon’s seal is Maianthemum racemosum or False Solomon’s seal.

False Solomon's seal

Before the plants bloom, their foliage and arching stem structure resemble each other quite closely.

Finishing up a this roadside site, it was time to head home. But, as always, there was one final place to visit. That was Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve in upper Greenville County, South Carolina. The access road for the preserve, Persimmon Ridge Road, veers off Hwy. 276, so it was conveniently on my route home. Driving down that gravel road is an exciting experience, because no matter how often it is graded, the local bad boys like to use the steeper portions of it for wheelies and other such “fun” creating potholes and rough spots in the road. Navigating my way down to the Preserve is always a challenge, but I finally made it to the spot where some really nice Pink Lady’s-slipper orchids can reliably be found in season. Here are some shots of these orchids:

Pink Lady's-slipper orchid Pink Lady's-slipper orchid
Pink Lady's-slipper orchid Pink Lady's-slipper orchid

There were even a few very light pink ones scattered among the typical, darker pink ones:

Pink Lady's-slipper orchid Pink Lady's-slipper orchid

There was one which had been pollinated and had already begun to form a seed capsule with the old, withered flower still attached:

Seed capsule of Pink Lady's-slipper orchid

Almost covering the ground around the orchids were the tiny white flowers of Mitchella repens or Partridge Berry. This is a rather odd plant in that its pair of white flowers is connected to ovaries which fuse into a single structure as the seed capsules are produced. Here is a shot of the flowers and the dual-navel seed capsule which is produced in late summer:

Partridge Berry flowers Partridge Berry seed capsule

Partridge Berry seed capsules

It had been a long, but rewarding day in the field. I packed my gear and headed back down the gravel road that runs through the Preserve. Along the way, I caught a glimpse of white shining through the woods. It was Rhododendron carolinianum or Carolina Azalea, also known as Piedmont Azalea. Its clusters of white flowers (with the tiniest blush of pink) held as bouquets surrounded by glossy, dark green leaves, beckoned me to stop and admire…:

Carolina Azalea

Surely, I could now leave the woods and head home. Almost at the intersection of Persimmon Ridge Road and the main highway, I saw that the roadside was lined with another wildflower, Porteranthus trifoliatus or Indian physic also known as Bowman’s Root. The gleaming white flowers of this plant are oddly asymmetric, with its sharply pointed petals pointing out at strange angles. I find this plant captivating, though, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to photograph it:

Indian physic Indian physic

I was finally and totally exhausted after more than 8 hours out in the field. I’m not the Spring chicken I used to be, and the miles of driving, hiking, and photographing were taking its toll. But what a centering and refreshing experience it was to be communing with nature in the Southern Appalachian Mountains! I just love where I live — so close to such exciting wildflowers and forested woods. I just wouldn’t have it any other way…

Until our next adventure,

–Jim

11 comments


  • Lucy

    Amazingly beautiful! Thank you Jim!

    May 14, 2018
  • Susan

    The yellows are fantastic! Poor pinks.

    May 14, 2018
  • Ann McCormick

    I LOVE your blogs! Always incredibly beautiful wild flower pictures. I love learning their names!

    May 14, 2018
  • Carol Allen

    Magical! What a wonderful day!

    I must report that it might be a “poor” year for pink lady slippers up here too! We have a site in nearby Laurel/Greenbelt area that is a utility right of way. On average we find 20 – 25 blooms with about twice that number in non-blooming plants. Our banner year saw 35! This year? 3. There were plenty of 1 and 2 leaved plants and there was no evidence of poaching. Just an off year, I guess!

    May 14, 2018
  • Chris Davidson

    A wonderfully written blog as usual Jim! Always so exciting to read and follow along with your stunning images and narrative… Almost like were walking along with you!!

    May 14, 2018
  • eliane norman

    what a beautiful journey. Thank you

    May 14, 2018
  • John Fowler

    What a great trip with so many excellent photos and a great account.

    May 15, 2018
  • Carmen

    Awesome photos and I enjoyed the explanation of the differences between the large and small yellow. I’ll have to tell all my flower buddies about how I, Carmen, was mentioned in your blog! Funny, as were biking around Saturday, we were seeing a plethora of pink ladies slippers and thinking it must be a good year.

    May 15, 2018
  • John

    Thanks Jim, I always enjoy your trips into the woods. This year I had more Pink Ladys than ever, between 35 and 50 in bloom at one time about a hundred yards behind my house.

    Also I only live about 4 miles from Bogg’s Rock and this spring visited there for the first time in my life, 3 times now at two week intervals in April and May and it is amazing the changes I saw from these visits and the one you posted on 4/24.

    May 15, 2018
  • sonnia hill

    So many beauties.

    May 20, 2018
  • Penny Firth

    Magical indeed. What a treat and thank you for your hard work!

    May 21, 2018

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