Part 2 of 4 — A Texas wildflower adventure — Giant Crested Coralroot orchid — 2018-07-13 and 2018-07-14

The first full day of our trip took us across the big state of Texas from Dallas to Ft. Davis, gateway to the Davis Mountains. Did I mention that Texas is BIG? Well, it seemed like we were driving forever. If it hadn’t been for stopping at a couple of Matt’s favorite wildflower spots, it would have been a heavy haul. In Part 1, I said that I hoped to add a number of Milkweed species to my life list. In Part 3, I’ll discuss the Milkweeds we saw — all of which were ones I had never seen. Yes, it was turning out to be a very good trip.

We spent the night in Abilene, Texas, which is just about halfway between Dallas and Ft. Davis where we had arranged to stay at something like an Airbnb — an apartment building that had been converted to rental units. We arrived in Ft. Davis after lunch, unpacked the rental vehicle and formed a two-car caravan with Matt and Caro. It is monsoon season, so huge thunderstorms were surrounding us. It was inevitable that we would be getting wet. Matt and Caro knew a retired biology professor whose property borders the Nature Conservancy’s 33,000 acre (~13,500 hectare) Davis Mountain Preserve. The professor’s name is Gary Freeman, and he owns around 500 acres (~200 hectares) in a private community. One special item that is found on his property is the bubble-gum pink, Hexalectris grandiflora or Giant Crested Coralroot orchid. Odd thing about this orchid is that it is neither “giant” nor is it “crested”, so how it got its name is beyond my reasoning.

So, we headed west from Ft. Davis to Gary’s property. On the way, Matt spots a pair of Antilocapra americana or Pronghorn Antelopes near the road. We stopped and figured which camera gear was needed. While Matt and Walter busied themselves trying to get some wildlife shots (here is Walter’s shot),

Walter's shot of Antelope

Caro and I walked the roadside where we found two Asclepias or Milkweed species that were new to me. Lucky we stopped at that very spot! More about the Milkweeds in Part 3. We soon resumed our trek to Gary’s place, and about 30 minutes later, we turned off onto his “driveway”. His driveway is a dirt road that has to be about 10 miles long, leading to the secluded community.

A few minutes after entering the driveway, we rounded a curve and saw that Matt had slammed on the brakes. Well, that is usually a good sign. What happened is that Caro had seen an orchid in bloom between two large boulders. I would soon find out that the orchids prefer to grow very close to large boulders, and getting close enough to them for photography is sometimes quite the physical challenge. Here is a shot of the orchid flowers:

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

While I was doing my best to photograph this one, my first for this species, Walter was busy laughing and taking pictures of me contorting my body to get my head behind the camera’s viewfinder:

Me doing my best to get the shot...

We finally made it to the mountain house where Gary was on the porch waiting for us. Such a neat and funny guy I’ve not met in a long while. We spent some time getting acquainted with him and his wife, Claire. After discussing the target species, Hexalectris grandiflora, we left the house and found a foot-trail that led off into the rocky, wooded grassland. This habitat is a perfect habitat for the orchid species we were looking for. He had just seen some of them popping up across the dry creek bed, and he thought that chances were very good for us to find some in bloom.

As we proceeded along the narrow foot trail, Caro found the first orchid plant on Gary’s property. It was a newly emerged spike showing only buds, but with the promise of several nice flowers:

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid spike in bud

After a few more minutes of walking, we found two very nice plants within a few feet of each other. We switched off photographing these plants until we had gotten our fill. Although, I don’t think I ever get my fill of these beauties. Here are several shots of these two plants:

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

While I was working on this one, a mosquito-like insect was having its way with the flower. It is much too small to be a pollinator, so I suspect it was after some hidden nectar, perhaps?

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid Giant Crested Coralroot orchid
Giant Crested Coralroot orchid Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

While we were busy with photography, Caro was scouting out more orchid flowers. Soon, we had a few more, although they were buds that were just opening:

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid Giant Crested Coralroot orchid
Giant Crested Coralroot orchid Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

After a couple of hours of searching and photography, we decided we were done at Gary’s site. But before we left the trail, I took this shot of the 5 of us (L to R: Matt, Gary, Jim, Caro, and Walter) against a large Pinus ponderosa or Ponderosa Pine:

The five of us on the orchid trail

After the photo opportunity, Gary led us back down the trail and then to his guest house where we were treated with corn chips and hard cider. What a treat! It really hit the spot after a couple of hours of hiking over boulders and in dry washes. We had a lot of good conversation and eventually we made it back to our vehicles. We said our goodbyes and headed on back to the rental unit. Matt and Caro were camping out in the local Davis Mountain State Park campground. We had decided to meet the next morning and head over to the Davis Mountain Preserve, where we would see Gary again. He volunteers for the Nature Conservancy in his spare time.

The next morning, we had breakfast in one of the local (small town) Mexican restaurants and then met Matt and Caro at our rental unit. After getting the update on our plans, we headed toward the Preserve. I thought that the road to Gary’s place was a bit dicey, but this one was definitely not suited for my low-slung rental vehicle, so we piled our gear and our selves into Matt’s pickup truck and headed up the narrow, gravel road to our next stop.

Since Matt and Caro had been to the area in previous years, Matt sort of knew where to stop to look for decent wildflowers. He made is first stop at a small pull off where we would find some very nice Echeveria strictiflora or Tail-of-the Dragon. More about this wonderful species in Part 4 of 4. While Matt, Walter, and I were photographing the Echeveria, Caro was looking for more orchids. We were just getting down with our photography when we heard her yell out that she had found a couple of good ones. I wandered over to where she was standing and was quite bowled over at what I saw. Behind a large boulder, there was the perfect Hexalectris grandiflora! Amazing — better than I had expected. I let Matt photograph it while I sought out the other one she had found. Here are a couple of shots of that one:

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

Before we were able to switch places, the bottom dropped out. Fortunately, we were just uphill from the truck, and I managed to make it back before everything got wringing wet. There we sat for about 20 minutes while the storm passed. As soon as the rain was just a mere sprinkle, we piled out of the truck and wasted no time scrambling back up the hill to our target species. Of course, the flowers were covered with rain drops, but I wasn’t willing to brush them off or wait for them to dry, so I ended up with images of soaked flowers. Here are the results:

Wet Giant Crested Coralroot orchids

Wet Giant Crested Coralroot orchids

Wow! What can I say!?! We definitely saved the best for last. I don’t think I could have asked for a better specimen — my day was now complete. Matt had plans to drive farther up the road and hike a mile or so up a trail looking for additional wildflowers. We were OK with that, so we drove to the end of the road where we had to park because of a locked gate. When we got out of the truck, Walter took this photo of Matt and Caro:

Matt and Caro at the truck, waiting to hit the trail

As we started out on the trail, I took this shot of Mount Livermore, the 5th highest mountain in Texas. It’s easy to see the remainder of the thunderstorms in the area:

Mount Livermore from the trail

Although we didn’t find what Matt was looking for, we did manage to find another Milkweed species and some other neat stuff which will be mentioned in Parts 3 and 4. We heard more thunder and decided to turn around and head back to the truck. On our way back, I shot this image of the valley of Madera Canyon from beside the trail:

Madera Canyon valley from the trail

We finally made it back to the truck, tired and wet with sweat, but well satisfied with the spectacular finds of the day. Thanks again to Caro for spotting those hard-to-see orchids between the rocks. I want her as my spotter on every photography field trip I go on!!!

The next installment (Part 3) will cover the Asclepias or Milkweed species we managed to find. All of them were new for me, so it was a great success.

Stay tuned…



  • Virginia Craig

    Wow! What a terrific orchid. Love the color. Nice photography.

    July 18, 2018
  • Tony Willis


    July 18, 2018
  • Carol A.

    Fantastic! Thanks for taking us along!

    July 18, 2018
  • sonnia hill

    Marvelous. Marvelous. What a gorgeous location for these orchids. The people shots and scenery are wonderful.

    July 18, 2018
  • Ann McCormick

    Wonderful trip to go on vicariously! Photos incredible!

    July 18, 2018
  • Phil Draper

    THANKS for including photos of the gang. Makes it personal. You continue to dazzle us with nature!

    July 18, 2018
  • Kathy Gregg

    Hey, Jim, I wanted to see more contortions!!! Great photos!

    July 19, 2018
  • Lee Casebere

    It’s been great to read about your trip, Jim, and I’m so happy you were able to get such fine shots of two species of Hexalectris!! Both are stunningly beautiful orchids!

    July 22, 2018

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