Part 2 of 2 – Wildflowers and orchids along the Blue Ridge Parkway — 2017-07-26

As I mentioned in my previous post – Part 1 about the wildflowers I had recently photographed in the Pisgah National Forest, the remainder of the trip consists of those species I saw and photographed at relatively high altitude (at or above 5000 feet/1500 meters) along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Transylvania County, North Carolina.

After I finished photographing the orchids and wildflowers as shown in Part 1, I proceeded to get onto Hwy. 276 and to gain altitude by heading toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. Along the way, I had to pass a rather large population of Sabatia angularis or Common Rosepink by the side of the road. These bright pink flowers have a very sweet fragrance and are quite visible as they line the shoulder next to the wood line:

Common Rosepink Common Rosepink

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Part 1 of 2 – Orchids and wildflowers in the Pisgah National Forest – 2017-07-26

As I mentioned in my previous post about the Three-birds orchids in the Pisgah National Forest, I had been in the area the day before and had photographed wild orchids and other wildflowers in the Pisgah NF and along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Today’s blog discussion will cover those species I saw and photographed in the Pisgah NF near Brevard, North Carolina.

Passing through the Pisgah National Forest on my way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, I stopped to visit an area that is rich with Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis or Southern Slender Ladies’-tresses orchids as well as Platanthera ciliaris or Yellow Fringed orchids, both species growing within a few feet of each other along a half-mile (~1 km) of a gravel, forest service road. This year, the roadside grasses were especially plentiful, making it somewhat difficult to spot the delicate Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis hiding among the thick grass. Even so, there were more of this species than I had seen in previous years – many dozens. I may have missed a few of them, but the ones I saw were quite spectacular with their tiny, white, tubular flowers arranged in a vertical pattern along the slender stem. Right off, I spotted a bit of unusual color on one of the flowers. It was a crab spider, waiting patiently for a meal:

Southern Slender Ladies'-tresses orchid with crab spider Southern Slender Ladies’-tresses orchid with crab spider

Southern Slender Ladies'-tresses orchid with crab spider Southern Slender Ladies’-tresses orchid with crab spider

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Huge Triphora bloom cycle in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, North Carolina – 2017-07-27

I don’t usually sequence my blog posts out of order, but in this case, I’ll submit this one ahead of the one reporting a trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway I made the day before. I’m doing this because the intensity of this bloom cycle of Triphora trianthophorus or Three-birds orchid was so exceptional that I want to share it with you right away!

According to Wikipedia:

Triphora trianthophoros is a small, terrestrial, semi-saprophytic orchid. The showiest member of its genus, T. trianthophoros has 1-8 (often 3, thus the name) nodding flowers that are roughly 2 cm in size and sit atop stems 8–25 cm tall. Leaves are small (~1 cm X 1.5 cm) and typically dark green to purple. The orchid blooms from July through September, but is infamous for its elusive nature, with ephemeral flowers lasting for only several hours on a few days of the year. It has further been reported that populations across a region synchronize blooming on specific days, making observation of flowering specimens even more difficult. Several forms of T. trianthophoros exist, including forma albidoflava (Keenan) with white flowers, forma caerulea (P.M. Brown) with blue flowers, and forma rossii (P.M. Brown) with multi-colored flowers.

Three-birds orchid Three-birds orchid

Three-birds orchid Three-birds orchid

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Orchid Rescue — epiphytic Green-fly orchid in bloom in my front yard — 2017-07-11

This is not the first time I have rescued an orchid from its pending doom, but this time, it seems to have worked out quite well, so far. Sort of a win-win… Later on in this blog report, I will mention the first time I rescued a specimen of this species, but for now, let’s stick to the present. In late October of last year (2016) Walter Ezell and I were down in the Francis Marion National Forest checking out the Spiranthes odorata or Fragrant Ladies’-tresses orchids in the Wambaw Swamp. We finished up with a very successful day, but since we were already down there, I wanted to check out the Epidendrum magnoliae or Green-fly orchids in a church yard about 30 miles east of our current location.

This particular orchid species is the only native epiphytic orchid in the Carolinas. Epiphytic means that it grows on trees (and rarely on rocks in some areas) and tree branches. It, however, is not a parasite, but uses the tree bark as an attachment so that it can capture rain water and nutrients from the air. The second part of the botanical name seems to indicate that it grows on Magnolia grandiflora or Southern Magnolia trees, and it does, but locally, it prefers to grow on the large horizontal limbs of Quercus virginiana or Southern Live Oak. These trees can grow to be very old, in fact, not far away is the Angel Oak, which is thought to be over 400 years old. Those trees in the church yard have to be a couple of hundred years old — they are huge!

We packed our gear and drove to the old brick church (built in 1768) and parked the truck outside the gate. As soon as I entered the church yard, I was struck by the number of large oak limbs littering the ground. Apparently, a huge storm had caused several large limbs to break and fall, just missing the portico and some of the grave stones in the church yard cemetery. A few of the limbs had already been sawed into manageable logs. I quickly noticed that quite a few of the logs had been host to large groups of the Green-fly orchid as well as its constant companion, Pleopeltis polypodioides or Resurrection fern. It is called Resurrection fern, because during drier seasons, it withers and turns brown, only to “resurrect” and turn green during the next rainy period. Here is a neat YouTube video showing a time-lapse of this process.

Note: All of the logs are long gone, so don’t expect to go there and find more orchids on the ground. The remainder of the orchid plants are in the trees, about 15-20 feet (4.5-6 meters) off the ground. Never remove living orchids from their natural environment. The only reason I took the limb, which was home to the one group I found, was that it was destined to be used as fire wood.

I didn’t want to see these orchids burned in some fire pit, so I “rescued” one of the smaller logs which had a relatively large group of plants growing on the tree bark. Here is an image of me and the limb on my way back to the truck:

Jim with the rescued oak log Jim with the rescued oak log

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Summer wildflower adventure along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina — 2017-07-04

There is never a dull moment for anyone travelling during any season on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My intended goal on this brief trip was to photograph the flowering (I hoped) of an orchid that I had seen a week before beside a trail just off the Boone Fork overlook. This overlook allows easy access to several wonderful hiking trails in the area. The particular orchid I was revisiting, Platanthera orbiculata or Pad-leaf orchid is quite rare in the Carolinas, having its southernmost range just into the high mountains of North Carolina. It is more commonly found in each of the states bordering Canada, from Maine to Minnesota. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, the high mountains of the Southern Appalachians provide remnants of the flora that existed before the last ice age, especially at higher elevations. Many species along the peaks and ridges of these mountains, are commonly found much farther north and into Canada.

Back to the orchid in question… I was anxious to photograph it, IF it was now in flower. Because I am not intimately familiar with this orchid species, I did not know how long it would remain in bud. But first, I had to get there. The past few days had been spent in our mountain cabin which is, fortunately, only about 40 minutes from the trailhead.

I got an early start, about an hour after sunrise, and headed to the intersection of Hwy. 221 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. One I reached the Parkway, I headed north, with the thought that I might very well be disappointed. Just after I joined the Parkway, I passed an overlook that offered a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Southern Appalachian Mountain range. From this overlook, it is easy to see why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s also easy to see how the Smoky Mountains got its name, as well. Here is that view:

Blue Ridge Mountains Blue Ridge Mountains as seen in early morning from the Blue Ridge Parkway

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