by Walter Ezell
Jim Fowler did a great many memorable things in his 74 years, but the way he left us is among the most memorable. He left us while returning once again to Mt. Mitchell to appreciate the wild profusion of the purple fringed orchids that bloomed, once upon a time, in early July but of recent years in late June. We have this photo of him rejoicing in the profusion on the slope below the Mt. Mitchell restaurant, July 1, 2006,
Summer Wildflowers and Purple Fringed orchids on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina — 2021-06-25
James Alexander Fowler
October 6, 1946 to June 25, 2021
The following photographs were taken by Jim on June 25, 2021 in a four-hour window that likely began in the North Carolina mountains and ended at Mount Mitchell State Park. Since there is no geolocation metadata associated with the photographs, we are unsure of the exact location at which they were taken.
Jim’s husband Walter and I (Jim’s son Dylan) make no assumptions that we would do Jim justice in the post-processing of his photographs. As such, the following collection has had minimal processing. Also, instead of writing new text to accompany the photographs, we have decided to include a block quote from a previous blog post. By designing the following post in this manner, we are keeping the blog authentic and in Jim’s own words.
Staying for a few days at our tiny-house mountain cabin in western North Carolina, and it being the Summer Solstice, I figured this would be a great time to check out what was going on along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Walter Ezell and I had lots of chores to do at the cabin, but a break in the routine was just what I needed, especially since I had not had a good field trip in weeks. So, we arose early on Solstice Day, ate breakfast in the sleepy little town of Newland, the county seat of Avery County, North Carolina, and headed toward Grandfather Mountain. Most of the images included in this blog post were taken in the “shadow” of this well-known landmark.
Rain was predicted late that afternoon and during the following day, so getting an early start was a must. Of course, a few clouds are always welcome to cut down on the harsh shadows that direct sunshine can cast.
We entered the Parkway at about Mile Marker 305, and not much farther north was our first stop. A few years ago, my friend Meng Zhang had located a large population of Liparis loeselii or Loesel’s Twayblade orchid along the roadside, and she later told me the location. Each year, I attempt to photograph these orchids, noting that there are some good years for them and some not so good years. The past couple of years, the mowing team employed by the National Park Service (the Blue Ridge Parkway is a national park), did not mow the woody vegetation as closely as in previous years, and the growth of Rhododendron had shaded out most of the orchid plants, causing the numbers to decline precipitously. I was hoping for a better outcome this year, so upon arriving at the site, I was both pleased and disappointed at the same time. The mowing crew had mowed the woody plants — almost to the ground — but the orchid plants had not taken advantage of the added sunlight. I’m guessing next year should be a banner year for them. XX (fingers crossed).
We managed to find 4 blooming plants in a spot where many dozens had been growing just two years ago. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, I set up my tripod and took a few shots. Here is what we saw:
There’s not lot going on around here the first week in June, so I decided to visit a couple of nearby South Carolina state Heritage Preserves to try to find something to photograph. The first place I decided to visit was Ashmore Heritage Preserve just off of Persimmon Ridge Road in upper Greenville County. The nearest town, if you can call it that (there is a post office and trading post) is in Cleveland, SC. Yes, we have a Cleveland! If you’ve followed my blog for any time at all, you will know that this is one of my favorite locations. Persimmon Ridge Road has a riot of wildflowers bloom in March and April, and I try to never miss the show. It’s also the best way to get to a couple of outstanding state Heritage Preserves.
Today, though, I would be following the trail to the pond (Lake Wattacoo) at the center of Ashmore Heritage Preserve. I parked at the primitive parking area just off of Persimmon Ridge Road. Gathering my camera gear and water and snacks for the 2-mile round trip hike, I set off on the loop trail that has the pond as its apex point. At this point, I have to say that I did not see a single soul the entire trip. More about this later…
Soon after I hit the trail, I saw my first photographable wildflower. It was Scutellaria elliptica or Hairy Skullcap. It is hairy and the top portion of the flower does somewhat resemble a cap of sorts, so it is aptly named. Here are a couple of shots of this beautifully strange wildflower:
Yes, I was just down there two weeks ago, but my good friend, Jeff Jackson, gave me a few well-placed hints that there were some nice orchids in full bloom in a spot we had looked at earlier, and that I should make another trip down. I debated with myself whether or not I should create a blog post about this trip, because I had just posted images of the same orchids just two weeks ago, but I decided that I’d do it anyway. On this trip, the natural lighting varied from direct sunlight to heavy overcast (there was even a sprinkle or two early on), and I thought that it made for some interesting shots.
Except for the always-present construction on the Interstate, the 4-hour trip down was quite pleasant. I suppose that most travelers had already arrived at their Memorial Day Weekend destinations, and that made for some reasonably light traffic. So, once I was off the Interstate and on Alt. Hwy. 17 headed toward Moncks Corner, I stopped at the gas station/McDonalds to top off my gas tank (both gasoline and a bite to eat).
The drive in was filled with anticipation because I didn’t know for sure that the plants Jeff had seen and photographed earlier would still be in decent shape. In retrospect, I should not have worried. After I arrived at the trail head, I gathered my camera gear and headed off on the short hike to the Carolina Bay where the plants were growing. Fortunately, I remembered how to get there. It’s off trail and, for good reason, not marked by a path or flagging tape. But, it wasn’t too difficult for me to locate.
This site, as with many other orchid sites in the Francis Marion NF, is only slightly lower in elevation than the surrounding land. The elevation at this point is about 75 feet (23 meters) above sea level, and there are few hills — just some slightly sloping terrain. Any minor deviation in the terrain is enough to allow widely varying vegetative associations to gather. Both orchids and carnivorous plants tend to inhabit these depressions, and a Carolina Bay is the perfect representation of a local depression. Although Carolina Bays can be very large, this one was perhaps an acre (.4 hectare) in size.
The target species for this trip was Cleistesiopsis divaricata or Large Rosebud orchid. Here is the BONAP (Biota of North America Program) range distribution map:
(Counties in Yellow => present/rare; light green => present/not rare)
It is sometimes called the Large Spreading Pogonia orchid. I’ve seen it down in the FMNF in Berkeley and Charleston Counties, South Carolina as well as the Green Swamp Preserve in Brunswick County, North Carolina about this time of year. I have noticed, though, that the South Carolina flowers can be a darker shade of rose pink than the ones in North Carolina. They may also have delicately striped petals on occasion. In any case, here is an example of this beautiful orchid: