Back to the mountains of northeast Georgia — 2018-06-10

I must be a glutton for punishment. On Sunday, June 10, my good friend Alan Cressler and I made the trip back up to a remote mountain bog in Rabun County, Georgia to check on the bloom status of a state-endangered native orchid that we had seen in bud the previous week. This orchid is Cleistesiopsis bifaria or Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid. It has a close counterpart along the Atlantic Coastal Plain which is known as Cleistesiopsis oricamporum or Coastal Plain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid. These two species were, for a long time, thought to be the same species, but fairly recently, they were split into two separate species due to significant differences. I have to point out that there are those who still believe that they are the same species.

Although this southeastern native orchid is fairly widespread, it is by no means common. In Georgia it is classified as S1 or “Critically Imperiled”. I believe it is known from only two, maybe three, mountain sites in Georgia. So, my physical struggle to hike the uphill mountain trail was definitely worth it. Here is one of the shots of the three blooming plants we found on this trip:

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

Because there were only three blooming plants, I made images of each of the flowers from different angles to get the full effect of the beauty of the flowers. Here are two additional shots of this orchid:

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

Personally, I find that the images are better lit if I use fill-flash while the sky is overcast. On this day, however, there were mixed clouds (partly cloudy to mostly sunny conditions), so we found ourselves waiting for clouds to cover the sun — sometimes waiting up to 15 minutes. There are many techniques employed in capturing images, and no one of them will please everyone. The overcast/fill-flash technique seems to work OK for me.

The second of the three orchid plants in bloom was a larger specimen — probably about 15 inches (38 cm) tall. It was only a couple of feet from the first plant. This orchid species seems to prefer raised ground and somewhat dry conditions. Even though this site is a mountain bog (fen), there is a rather large, raised dry area in the center of the bog where these orchids grow. Here are several images of the second flowering plant:

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

When we arrived to the site, the third flower was still in bud and not yet open. However, as the day progressed, the flower extended its sepals and began to open. Even in the short amount of time I spent with this particular flower, it is fairly easy to see that it had progressed fairly well, and I suspect that if we had stayed a few more hours, the flower would have been close to fully open:

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

Mountain Small Spreading Pogonia orchid

After what seemed like a long time — after waiting for clouds to offer diffused sunlight — we finished our photography of the orchids, packed up our camera gear and headed back down the mountain. Believe me, hiking down the mountain was much, much easier that hiking up the mountain! Being 71 years old is not all it’s cracked up to be… ;-D

The narrow, sometimes non-existent trail led us through some areas that were thick with a fairly common wildflower, Chimaphila umbellata or Striped Wintergreen aka Pipsissewa. As common as it is in the mountains and foothills of the Southern Appalachians, I cannot remember ever seeing as much of it as we saw on our hike. And almost every plant was in bloom. Here are some examples of this rather strange but beautiful wildflower:

Pipsissewa

Pipsissewa Pipsissewa

We made it back to Alan’s car in one piece and headed toward our next stop. This is an area that was pointed out to me by another good friend, Liz Fox, after she found it quite by accident. This site had about a dozen Malaxis unifolia or Green Adder’s-mouth orchids in full bloom. I had photographed them last week on a separate trip to Tallulah Gorge State Park, but I wanted Alan to see the plants even though he had photographed this orchid species on other occasions. We arrived and walked to the spot. The plants were still in great shape, and he found one that he thought would make a great subject. This is one species of native orchid that is generally seen to its best advantage when photographed from directly above. Here is a shot I took of the plant while Alan was photographing it from above. You can see the tip of his lens, a portion of his tripod, the handle of a shading umbrella, and his shoe in the background:

Green Adder's-mouth orchid with camera equipment in place

Here is a closer shot I took after he had removed his camera gear:

Green Adder's-mouth orchid

There was one other site we wanted to visit. It was a site which contained a very rare wildflower, Lysimachia fraseri or Fraser’s Loosestrife. Of the dozen or so Lysimachia species found in Georgia, all but 3 or 4 of them are considered rare. Fraser’s Loosestrife is classified as S1 or “Critically Imperiled”. It is such a beautiful plant that I’m wondering why it hasn’t made its way into the landscape trade.

In any case, we made our way to the site where several dozen plants were in full bloom. They were growing on a moderately steep slope just next to the road. The site was lush and fairly shaded, being bordered by dense woods. They were growing among ferns and other roadside plants. The flowers are bright, lemon yellow, and are borne on a long, arching stem that can vary from 2.5 feet (.75 meters) to almost 5 feet (1.5 meters) in length. The lance-shaped leaves are formed in whorls of 3 – 6 leaves. The flowers are formed in a loosely branched cluster, up to 10 inches (25 cm) tall, at the top of the plant. The flowers are up to 5/8 inch (1.5 cm) wide; sepals 5, narrow and pointed, visible between the petals, with black-tipped hairs on red margins; petals 5, spreading, solid yellow (not spotted). Here is a series of shots of these beautiful plants:

Fraser's Loosestrife

Fraser's Loosestrife Fraser's Loosestrife
Fraser's Loosestrife Fraser's Loosestrife

Fraser's Loosestrife

Fraser's Loosestrife

This turned out to be a great day for botanizing and photography. We managed to find a couple of neat orchid species in perfect bloom, and I managed to photograph a very rare wildflower that I had heard about but had never seen — a “lifer” for me. I always enjoy going out into the field with Alan. He is a fine photographer, and because he is a Georgia resident and specializes in Georgia botany, he is loaded with Georgia-specific plant information. I am looking forward to having more botanical adventures with him as time goes by.

In another few weeks, the North Carolina portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway will be ramping up its summer botanical wonders. I hope to catch a few of them along the way.

Until then,

–Jim

4 comments


  • Emily Whiteley

    I know a place with over 150 Cleistesiopsis bifaria, all very high and dry. I go in and count them annually, this weekend is the time I usually go.

    June 11, 2018
  • sam

    Wish I were there . . . this was one of those weeks in CT with plants that had been around awhile, or plants just ready to come into boom. Botanical downtime. Glad to see you’re out there having fun!

    June 11, 2018
  • Ann McCormick

    Fantastic — as always! Thank you!

    June 12, 2018
  • John Neufeld

    wonderful (again). your bog is my favourite

    June 12, 2018

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