Two days in the field with Barry and Beth — 2016-07-11 and 2016-07-14

This is a rather lengthy report of a two days spent at locations within the Carolinas and Georgia with good friends from California.

This week, my California friends Barry Rice and Beth Salvia made a visit to the Carolinas and Georgia to photograph rare carnivorous plants which are found in a few secluded sites in the mountains. Barry has a recent, past history with The Nature Conservancy, and has kept contact with those staff who are able to give permission to visit these sites. The sites are extremely remote and quite fragile — a good reason for requiring permission for access. I have to thank Barry, Beth, and the site managers for allowing me to tag along. I had visited these sites the last time Barry came through the area in 2007, and I wanted to photograph the plants and see how much, if any, the environment had changed at each site.

All I am able to provide as far as location is concerned is the county and state name. These plant species are quite rare, and therefore they are in demand for collectors. That, and the fragility of the sites make it impractical for the site managers to issue access permits.

Barry Rice and Beth Salvia
Barry Rice and Beth Salvia sitting next to Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plants

Monday, July 11, 2016:

Our first location was an upstate Greenville County, South Carolina heritage preserve to study and photograph the federally endangered, Sarracenia jonesii or Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant. There are a couple of sites for this species in the upstate of South Carolina, and Barry wanted to see if he could locate any additional sites.

I got to our appointed meeting place a bit early and took this shot looking down the gravel road while waiting for them to show up:

Waiting for Barry and Beth...

They finally arrived, and we proceeded into the heritage preserve and located the first population of plants. Beth had never seen them in situ, so it was a special occasion for her. We then hiked farther into the preserve to the second population. That is where the above picture of Barry and Beth was taken. The plants grow in an extremely fragile environment of just an inch or so of soil on a bald, exposed granite outcrop. The plants seem to be doing well, but it would not take a big change in hydrology for them to disappear.

These two sites are fairly well-known among the naturalists/botanists who have visited this area to study the plants. But, are there more sites for these plants in the area? From this point, we hiked further into the preserve, fighting our way through Rhododendron hells and dense patches of a Smilax species called Cat Briar. No matter what style or thickness of pants and shirt one wears into the field, Cat Briar will manage to find a way to inflict bloody scratches onto arms and legs — it is pretty much unavoidable. As I write this blog entry, my legs and arms show numerous red lines representing my visit to the woods of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. In a way, it represents a rite of passage, although this is not the first time your author has been in a fight with this environment.

Our visit being in mid-Summer, these Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant specimens are beginning to turn brown around the edges, only showing their best face in the Spring and early Summer. Here is an example of this carnivorous plant species in flower and at its best in late April:

Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant in flower in mid-April

We ended up finding at least 4 or 5 additional sites for this rare carnivorous plant. These new sites contain from a dozen to nearly 100 plants. It’s a very good sign to show that the plants are managing to hold on to their delicate environment. Again, any significant change in hydrology could be disastrous to these rare plants.

After traversing a couple of miles (~3 km) of dense woods, we eventually were able to circle around and come out on a highway where were reunited with our vehicles. We drove a short distance to the next carnivorous plant site. We walked down an abandoned forest service road to a wet granite outcrop/seep that is home to a small but healthy population of Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plants. I had never been to this particular site in July, so I was happy to see that there were other wildflowers in bloom. One species, in particular, was evident in large numbers. This species is Sabatia campanulata or Slender Rose Gentian. Here are some shots of the bright, bubble-gum pink flowers:

Slender Rose Gentian Slender Rose Gentian

Slender Rose Gentian

This is one of my favorite mid-Summer wildflowers because of its bright color and the 5-pointed yellow star located at the center of the flower.

As I mentioned, this site does not support a large population of the Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant, but it does provide suitable habitat for a couple of nice groups of this carnivorous plant. Here is an image of the largest of the groups:

Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant group

The day was blazing hot, and it was just about the time we were about to leave this location that we heard thunder. In a short while, the wind picked up and it began to rain — really rain. By the time we made it back to the car, we were soaked. Beth even had water in her rubber boots. Shortly after we stowed our gear, it stopped raining. It was just a heavy, summer shower. At this point, we discussed what to do next. I told them that just a few days before, Walter and I had found Goodyera pubescens, a native orchid with the common name, Downy Rattlesnake Plantain orchid, in full bloom. They were excited to see this species, because it is not found on the west coast. We drove to the trailhead and stayed in the car a bit just to make sure that it would not be raining any further.

Even though we were still hearing thunder in the distance, we headed off down the trail to the spot where I had seen the orchids. On the way down the trail, I spotted a few of them in the woods, so we stopped to check them out:

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain orchid Downy Rattlesnake Plantain orchid

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain orchid

The leaves of this native orchid are some of the most striking of any of our North American native orchids:

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain orchid leaf rosette

We spent some time among the orchids, still soaking wet and talking about our day in the field and making plans about the upcoming few days of their trip. It was time for them to head back to their motel headquarters. We decided to get together in downtown Greenville for a good meal and a tour of the downtown, before spending some time at the house discussing our day with Walter, who could not make it on the field trip.

Tuesday and Wednesday took Barry and Beth to some other sites in the upstate for carnivorous plants. Barry had visited these on a prior trip, so he did not require a guide, and I had other chores to do, so I stayed around the house.

Thursday, July 14, 2016:

On this day, we had a long drive ahead of us, so we got an early start. I met them at their motel and we packed all of our photography stuff into their rental vehicle for the trip north into North Carolina, then west into Georgia.

Our first stop was in Jackson County, North Carolina for the rare, Sarracenia purpurea subspecies venosa variety montana also known as Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant. I had been to this site with Barry when he visited in 2007, and I was very curious as to the status of the plants. They were being encroached upon by woody shrubs on that visit, and I had heard that the overgrowth had been cleared out in the intervening period of time.

We arrived at the site and parked on the road side. Both Barry and I were a bit surprised to see how much the woods had filled in since our previous visit. So much so, that we were a bit unsure just how to find the site which was about 100 yards (100 meters) into the woods. There had been a path to the site at one time, but there seemed to be no sign of it on this visit. So, we entered the woods and proceeded in the direction of the bog. Once we reached what we thought was the entrance to the bog, we began to see several large clumps of the pitcher plants at the edge of a very dense growth of Alnus serrulata or Smooth Alder. This is a native, invasive species that branches underground and produces dense thickets of shrubs that are difficult to control. Trimming it above ground is only a temporary removal measure, because it will regrow from its base. Uprooting or treatment with chemical herbicide provides the only permanent solution.

While Barry and Beth searched for the entrance to the bog, I busied myself taking pictures of a couple of very large clumps of the Mountain Purple Pitcher Plant. Here are a couple of those shots:

Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants

Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants

The pitchers of this species variety usually show some dark red veining in the inside of the pitcher and sometimes up into the hood, but these were almost entirely bright green because of growing in the shade. I find this color fairly pleasing, but the ones with distinct veining are quite lovely. More sunlight would be very good for these plants.

Soon, I heard Beth say that they had found the path into the bog. I could hear that they were in front of me, just a few feet on the other side of the alders, so I plowed my way through the shrubs and 10 feet (3 meters) later, I was standing next to them. The numbers of large groups of Mountain Purple Pitcher Plants was quite impressive. Some of the clumps were several feet across, and they were all growing on Sphagnum moss hummocks. The “soil” was quite mucky and our feet and tripods easily sunk into the mush. I was very glad that I had worn my calf-length rubber boots. This is a very fragile environment, so we did our best to not disturb the slow-growing Sphagnum moss or pitcher plants.

We wasted no time in selecting the best of the pitcher plants to photograph. There were enough of them so that each of us had a group of plants to photograph without getting in the way of each other. I made several dozen shots of these gorgeous plants. Here is a selection of those photographs:

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 Plant

Although there are a handful of sites for this carnivorous plant species in the Carolinas, it is still a very rare plant and its threatened, fragile environment deserves to be protected.

We finished up at this site, and with some excitement and drama (I lost a boot in the deep muck and was smeared with mud while trying to retrieve it), we made it back through the woods to the car. We decided to proceed on to our next location, also in North Carolina, but this one was in Clay County. We arrived at the site after phoning the neighbors who live next to the bog and saying that we were expecting to be there within an hour or so. These neighbors are very protective of the site and monitor it 24/7 for unwanted visitors — especially those of the human persuasion.

This bog is not technically a bog, but rather it is a large, slightly dipping seep. When we made our way from the road to the seep, we each commented on how dry it appeared. The region has been hit with a 6-month drought that has had a drastic effect on the environment. Fortunately, the drought has not seriously damaged the plants, but they were showing significant signs of stress. The top portions of the pitchers were already turning brown — something that I would not expect to see until early autumn. However, it appeared that the seep had been burned during the previous couple of years for the purpose of woody shrub removal. The interior of the seep looked like a grassy meadow with large clumps of pitcher plants scattered here and there. This endangered species, Sarracenia oreophila or Green Pitcher Plant is found only in Alabama, at a single site in Georgia, and at a single site in North Carolina.

One of the first things we noticed as we entered the site is that the site managers have installed a motion sensor, wildlife camera for the purpose of monitoring any visitation by wildlife or humans. This is the first time I have seen such a device used at a monitored site. I’m sure that I just overlooked those cameras, probably because they were hidden. This one was in plain view a mere few feet in front of some spectacular clumps of the pitcher plants:

Camera monitoring several large clumps of pitcher plants

Again, I have visited these plants during an earlier time of year, and it was in a year with plenty of rain and lower temperatures, so the plants were in much better shape. Even so, they were in pretty good shape, although they were stressed. Here is a selection of some of the dozens of shots I made at this site:

Green Pitcher Plants Green Pitcher Plants

Green Pitcher Plants

Some of the plants in one group showed evidence of grazing, probably by deer, although I don’t recollect reading about deer predation in reference to pitcher plants.

Green Pitcher Plants

Green Pitcher Plants

Here we are for our posed, trophy shot:

(L-R) Barry, Jim, Beth

Due to the searing heat, I had to leave the seep a couple of times and seek the coolness of some shade at the edge of the woods. I was soon joined by Beth, then Barry. Mid-summer, even in the mountains can be draining… But when I eventually returned to the seep, I found examples of a particularly beautiful wildflower species, Polygala cruciata or Drumheads. This is a low-growing plant with a small cluster of pinkish-purple flowers at the terminus of its stem:

Drumheads Drumheads

We finished up at the seep and made our way to the last of our stops for carnivorous plants. This was a site in Townes County, Georgia, the only site in Georgia for Sarracenia oreophila. This is also a seep site which is closely monitored, although not by camera (that I know of). The plants at this site seem to be a bit smaller (shorter), which may be due to the soil conditions. In any case, there are a number of clumps of Green Pitcher Plants. Although the plants are doing quite well, this site is in need of shrub removal. I understand from the site manager, that there is to be some shrub clearing as well as a prescribed burn within the next week. That will nip the pitchers, preventing further growth this year, but it will hopefully kill the large number of privet and Maple that are beginning to crowd out the pitcher plants. Here is a wide-angle shot of the pitcher plant area:

Green Pitcher Plant site in Georgia

Here are a few close-up shots of the pitcher plants at this Georgia site:

Green Pitcher Plants Green Pitcher Plants

The pitcher plants were nestled, for the most part, in thick grasses and were being shaded by the overgrowth of woody shrubs. But what I noticed right off was the profusion of colorful wildflowers. Here is a shot of the meadow at the edge of the pitcher plant plot, showing pinks, yellows, and whites:

Colorful wildflower meadow

Here are close-ups of some of the wildflowers in the meadow. First, there were lots of Sabatia campanulata or Slender Rose Gentian:

Slender Rose Gentian Slender Rose Gentian

I even found a couple of examples of the rare white form of this species:

Slender Rose Gentian - white form Slender Rose Gentian - white form

There were large number of a yellow composite which I later discovered is Helenium flexuosum or Purplehead Sneezeweed:

Purplehead Sneezeweed

There were examples of two other striking wildflowers in the meadow. One is the beautiful rose-colored flowers of Asclepias incarnata or Swamp Milkweed:

Swamp Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed

The other striking wildflower species is Cephalanthus occidentalis or Common Buttonbush with its starburst explosion of white flowers:

Common Buttonbush Common Buttonbush

The heat had just about had its way with us by mid-afternoon. We were drained and hungry, so we decided to pack it in and head toward Dillard, Georgia for an early supper. Barry had heard that the Dillard House was a good choice, so that’s where we headed. We arrived, all dirty and sweaty, and we were concerned that we may not be “welcomed” customers. Our fears were for naught though. We were seated and soon discovered that this was a family-style restaurant where food was brought to the table in large bowls. We didn’t have a choice of food or a menu, but when the food was brought out, it was like a buffet. There were a dozen different vegetable dishes, three meat types, breads, and even a delicious dessert. What a meal! Each of us over-ate, I’m sure, but we did not leave hungry. On the drive back, we recounted our wonderful adventure, and we hoped we would be able to do something similar soon.

I love going out into the field to discover and photograph new species. But there’s always something missing when I go alone. Having friends whom I haven’t seen in years to share the adventure is very special to me. It had been a while since I had a chance to do wildflower photography, so I was eager to get back in the saddle. Thanks to Barry and Beth, I was able to quench that thirst…

Until next time,

–Jim

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0 Responses

  1. What a wonderful trip. Have you written any books Jim?
    i sure do enjoy your reports.
    Deloris Smith

  2. Thank you for braving the heat to bring us these extraordinary photos. Your narrative is so engaging I feel like I was on the expedition with and your pals.

  3. Fascinating, the way you write it was a virtual visit (minus the heat :), thank you for taking the time to write your trips up so the rest of us may enjoy it, too.

  4. Wonderful! I’ve grown Sarracenia and other carnivorous plants since first discovering Australian Tuberous Sundews in the paddock over our back fence as a child. One day I hope to visit the USA, and with luck see your amazing CPs in the wild – and that terrestrial orchid is stunning too (another of my floral loves) 🙂

  5. What a successful trip for you guys. I love the wild flowers. As usual, your photography, the flowers and plants are gorgeous. You and your friends are surely dedicated and passionate about these flowers. No one I know would tackle that sort of heat. I’ve eaten at the Dillard house and it’s true, you won’t leave hungry! Now, stay in the AC for a few days. You make me nervous. Lol!

  6. Your concern to protect these plants from poaching or accidental destruction by trampling (by not posting location details) is so appreciated, and your gorgeous photos mean we don’t have to be there “in person” to enjoy them. And just think of the carbon emissions we save by having your work to be our eyes 🙂
    Thank you!

  7. Wow, and double wow, Jim. What gorgeous views of the plants at the seep and elsewhere. I almost missed seeing these beautiful photos. I am catching up on your blogs.

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