Some reds, some whites, and a touch of gold — 2018-05-30

Today, I had less than 3 hours to check out and photograph some wildflowers at a location I’ve visited on several previous occasions. The time was not limited by other things I had to do, but it was limited by the deluge of rain we have been seeing for the past week. Fortunately, there was a brief break in the weather that allowed me to run up to my favorite Hwy. 288 road cut to see if the Spigelia marilandica or Indian Pink was in bloom. Among the red flowers that bloom in our area in the summer, this is perhaps the reddest. The flowers form as a row of little pointed tubes which split open at the apex, revealing a star-like bloom of bright yellow petals. The outside of the corolla is a rich, deep red, but the inside is a very bright yellow. It makes a great contrast of colors. Here is an example of one of the many dozens of plants that I saw growing on the hillside:

Spigelia marilandica Spigelia marilandica

I know of two rather reliable sites for this species, but the other is an additional 40 miles (64 km) farther up into the mountains, so I’m pleased that I didn’t have to travel that extra distance to photograph these beauties.

Here are a few more images of the Indian Pinks:

Indian Pink

Indian Pink

Indian Pink

Indian Pink

I was in somewhat of a hurry because of the continued light sprinkle of rain. So when I finished up with the Indian Pink, I turned around to leave and spotted an Asclepias variegata or Red-ring Milkweed just feet away. It was in pretty good shape, so I set up the tripod and focused the lens:

Red-ring Milkweed

After I got the shot, I picked up the tripod and within a split second, a Speyeria cybele or Great Spangled Fritillary lit on the Red-ring Milkweed. I wasted no time in attempting to set up again in order to capture the butterfly, but I must have moved too fast, because it immediately flew away. That’s my usual result when trying to photograph critters that visit flowers. However, the attraction was just too strong for the butterfly, because within a couple of seconds, it came right back to the flower. I was able to get a pretty good focus on this bad boy:

Great Spangled Fritillary nectaring on Red-ring Milkweed

The rain was still holding off, so I looked around for more Red-ring Milkweed, and sure enough, there were several more plants in flower on the hillside:

Red-ring Milkweed

Red-ring Milkweed

I finished with these and headed back to the truck. Along the side of the road, near the truck, I spotted a couple of plants of another Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa or Common Butterfly Milkweed. These were gloriously orange, and if I were a butterfly, I’d certainly want to visit these wonderful flowers:

Common Butterfly Milkweed

I was hearing thunder in the background, so I hurried to finish photographing these flowers. Just next to my truck, I found this strangely wonderful cousin to our domesticated tomato and pepper plants, Solanum carolinense or Carolina Horse Nettle:

Carolina Horse Nettle

Turns out that it really is not a Nettle, but it is a Nightshade. The Nightshades contain alkaloids which are known for being the strongest, riskiest components in herbal medicine. In fact, some of strongest “recreational” or medicinal herbs are from this family. Tropane alkaloids (such as hyoscyamine) are also found in the Nightshade family of plants (and are quite dangerous, hence the name “Deadly Nightshade” given for the Eurasian perennial Atropa belladonna), but they are not necessarily in the Nightshade vegetables which we consume on a daily basis.

I had no sooner taken the above image when the bottom dropped out of the clouds. Luckily, I was right next to the truck, and so I managed to avoid getting drenched. I had hoped to visit a couple of additional sites on this trip, but I can take a hint, so I conceded and headed toward home. Not a bad couple of hours out in the field. I didn’t see a huge variety of interesting plant life, but what I did see was interesting and colorful, and I managed to engage with a beautiful butterfly!

There are possibilities in the very near future for some adventures in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. We will just have to see what pans out…

Until then,



  • diane

    much appreciated!

    May 31, 2018
  • Dan

    Gorgeous photos, Jim! Spigelias are some of my favorite native flowers. And thank you for all your posts…I always enjoy them very much!

    Dan Miles

    June 02, 2018

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