Visit to a remote Pitcher Plant bog in northeast Georgia — 2018-06-02

On Saturday, June 2, my good friend, Alan Cressler and I made the trip up into the mountains of northeast Georgia to visit a very remote mountain bog (technically, a fen) to attempt to find Cleistesiopsis bifaria or Upland Spreading Pogonia orchid in bloom. Alan had seen it in bud there a couple of years ago, so we set the trip date to be about a week later in the year.

To sweeten the deal, this location is the only native site left in Georgia for the extremely rare, Sarracenia purpurea subspecies venosa variety montana or Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant. Several other bog sites in the upstate of Georgia have been “repopulated” with this rare species, thanks to the hard work of the conservation staff at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in raising plants from seed gathered at this site. There are just a handful of other sites for this plant in North Carolina and South Carolina. It is currently federally listed, so it is easy to understand why I don’t give out the specific location. Frankly, it is so remote, that I’m not sure I could find it on my own if my life depended on it. Alan used his GPS to get us there after two hours of hiking… uphill in both directions! Here is a shot of one of the clumps of the Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant, in situ:

Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant

As you can see, this particular clump of plants produced a bloom this past spring — good for the future of the population. Not many of the plants we saw had produced flowers this year.

Up on my soapbox: Mountain bogs/fens are almost a thing of the past in the Southern Appalachian Mountains — there were few to begin with, but it is estimated that only 20% of them still exist. Loss of habitat for rare bog plants and some animals (almost everywhere in the U.S.) is responsible for their rarity. This loss of habitat usually occurs by draining for agriculture or other development of the land. Once destroyed, these bogs are virtually impossible to restore to their original condition. The rare plants which live in these bogs have very particular needs that can be met only under the exacting conditions provided for in the mountain bogs.

There are a number of conservation organizations which take on the mission of keeping these bogs free of woody shrubs which crowd out the generally slow-growing bog plants. The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants. A few years ago, the state of North Carolina, in cooperation with the U.S. FWS, created Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge. Click Here for its mission statement.

Another hazard besides loss of habitat is the presence of feral hogs. Many of these were originally brought in to surrounding areas for the purpose of hunting. Unfortunately, these feral hogs have no natural enemy except man, and man is not doing a good enough job of keeping these prodigiously prolific hogs under control. BTW, as you might imagine, it is against the law to introduce critters such as these into the countryside, but it is fairly easy to evade the law, particularly if you are careful. …Down from my soapbox.

Here are some additional shots of these rare plants:

Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant

Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants
Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants

Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants

Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants

I have visited two sites in North Carolina and one site in South Carolina for this Pitcher Plant species. Each site is different in its own way, but I never tire of seeing them in their element.

We did manage to locate dozens of the orchid plants we came to see, but the great majority of them were immature, sterile plants, and the ones that were ready to bloom were just that… in bud and ready to bloom. Here are images of two of the Upland Spreading Pogonia orchids that will probably be in bloom in just a few days, followed by an image of one in full bloom that I photographed at a different location a few years ago:

Upland Spreading Pogonia orchid Upland Spreading Pogonia orchid

Upland Spreading Pogonia orchid

If being too late or too early to a bloom site has never happened to you, then you are just not trying hard enough…

Here, I’m going to back-track just a bit to show you what we found on the drive up to the trailhead. Earlier that morning, I met Alan in the sleepy town of Tallulah Falls, Rabun County, Georgia. By necessity, we needed to take only one vehicle to the trailhead, so we decided to leave my vehicle in the parking lot at nearby Tallulah Gorge State Park. On the way into the park, we spotted a native plant species that I had never photographed until now: Decumaria barbara or Climbing Hydrangea. It was great for me to finally see this species in its natural habitat. It looks very different from the showy, domesticated blue and pink Hydrangeas that are commonly found in many southeastern gardens. I am not a gardener, but with its glossy green leaves and multiple clusters of creamy white flowers, I believe it would make quite a statement in any garden setting:

Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea Climbing Hydrangea

Nearby, at the edge of the woods, I spotted a Rhododendron carolinianum or Carolina Rhododendron that was just coming into bloom:

Carolina Rhododendron

I’ll leave you with one final shot. This was part of a population of Monotropa uniflora or Indian Pipes. There were a dozen groups of up to 10-20 blooming plants each. However, all but this small group of plants were well past peak:

Indian Pipes

Shortly after we finished the hike, a deluge of a storm overtook us. Thankfully, we had stopped in the Tallulah Grill for a ham and cheese sandwich, so we were able to stay dry and comfortable. After I got home, I basically collapsed onto the couch; tired from the strenuous hiking (for me, anyway) as well as the excitement I experienced during the day. Thanks to Alan, I did manage to visit a remote Pitcher Plant site as well as photograph a “lifer” species, the Climbing Hydrangea. Not bad for a day’s work…

There are numerous opportunities that await us, only if we make the effort to get out and find them. Who knows what adventure I will take part in on my next trip out in the field…

Until then,

–Jim

8 comments


  • diane

    I look forward to all of your blogs. thanks

    June 03, 2018
  • Valerie Bourdot

    Always grateful for your sharing

    June 03, 2018
  • Dan Pittillo

    That is a good summary of the Sarracenia purpurea. Weakley gives two varieties for these plants, S. p. var. montana (with the hoods closed to touch or S. p. var. venuosa that don’t have hoods closed this close.
    I don’t know the authority but these are:
    Sarracenia purpurea Linnaeus var. montana Schnell & Determann
    Sarracenia purpurea Linnaeus var. venosa (Rafinesque) Fernald
    Weakley suggests they might need further evaluation.

    June 03, 2018
  • Enjoyed this post I post my own Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading reflections weekly: http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/

    Sign up on my Contact page to receive alerts: http://stevejonesgbh.com/contact/

    Keep up the great work and wonderful photography!

    Steve

    June 04, 2018
  • Carol Allen

    An excellent adventure! Thank you for sharing!

    June 04, 2018
  • Michael G Kerlin

    I look forward to all your posts as well. You’re great at this.

    June 04, 2018
  • Catherine Elwell

    You never fail to startle me, excite me, and make me green with envy with your botanical hop-scotches. Those Pitcher plants were voluptuous, enticing, and very artsy. The ones I see in northern climes are bewitching, but none like these! thanks so much for keeping our minds off the political hardships we must endure. please take longer trips with many more photographs. lol

    June 07, 2018
  • I long to get to the point as a naturalist where nature specialists let me in on the secret locations of rare habitats like the mountain purple pitcher bogs. Thanks for all of the blog posts that have made me aware of rare plants and habitats so I have some targets to shoot for!

    June 12, 2018

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