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:
The trail is nicely maintained, and it winds around and crosses a small creek over which a bridge was built several years ago. This is to prevent you from having a blast wading through the clear, shallow water of the creek. You can still do so if you prefer or just take the bridge.
Once past the bridge, I began to see lots of Lysimachia quadrifolia or Whorled Loosestrife. This is an easy wildflower to identify. It has 4 star-shaped flowers poking out from the attachment of 4 (sometimes 5) leaves formed in whorls around the stem. As I said, it was quite plentiful in this area, and I enjoyed just sitting down and studying the leaves and flowers. Here are a couple of shots of them:
Nearby, were about a dozen blooming plants of Polygala racemosa or Racemed Milkwort. This plant is not very remarkable until you look at a magnified version of the flowers. I just love the little white pompom that forms the lip of the flower. Here are a few shots:
I soon broke out of the woods and found myself on the path that crosses the earthen dam at the southern end of Lake Wattacoo. It was a beautiful day, and I soaked in the sun as I walked around the lake. Soon, I entered the woods again. I saw signs of Cypripedium acaule or Pink Lady’s-sipper orchids that were all bloomed out. All that remained were the large, fuzzy, leathery leaves and bare flower stems. Here is a similar shot of what I saw from a site in the nearby Pisgah National Forest:
After a short hike, I came out of the dappled shade of the woods and found myself right next to the lake. Here, I saw a couple of native orchid species: Calopogon tuberosus or Common Grass-pink orchids and Pogonia ophioglossoides or Rose Pogonia orchid. The Common Grass-pink orchids were almost past bloom, but I did manage to find a couple of plants with nice flowers:
That rosy-magenta color is always an eye-grabber.
The Rose Pogonia orchids were growing within inches of the lake, and that made them a challenge to photograph because I had on only my hiking boots. But there were enough of them so that I had a choice of blooms to photograph:
In the image, upper left, do you see the little yellow crab spider on the dorsal sepal of the flower? More often than not, I manage to capture images of little creatures such as this without finding out about them until I process the images the next day…
On the east side of the lake, there were numerous patches of a brightly yellow-flowered carnivorous plant called Utricularia cornuta or Horned Bladderwort. It has a decidedly sweet fragrance, but the interesting part about this plant is what is underground. This is a carnivorous plant because underground, there are many tiny bladder-like traps that catch tiny, submerged critters. That’s how it gets its nutrition. The traps are exceedingly small — difficult to see with the naked eye, but they manage to do the job! There are so many critters underground that we don’t even know exist, and these plants take full advantage of the wealth of life underground. The first image also shows a few pitchers of another carnivorous plant, Sarracenia jonesii or Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant. These plants are federally protected and digging them can result in a very hefty fine. So forewarned is forearmed… Don’t be a loser; leave the plants where you found them. There are those, like me, who will report your sorry self if we see you molesting the plants. ‘Nuf said…
Rounding the lake, I began making my way up the steep trail and back to my truck. Along the trail side, I spotted the beautifully variegated leaves of Hexastylis heterophylla or Variable-leaf Heartleaf. Its ground-level flowers had already bloomed a couple of months ago, so I’ll also provide an image of the flowers as they would have looked at peak bloom:
Farther up the trail, I spotted an Hydrangea arborescens or Wild Hydrangea blooming just next to the trail. Those pretty white flowers around the perimeter are not the “true” flowers — they are just for show. The true flowers are those in the center of the inflorescence. The buds were not fully open at the time I took this picture:
Just as the end of the trail was almost in sight, I spotted an Asclepias variegata or Red-ring Milkweed plant with three “snow cones” on top. It was in full sun, so it was difficult to photograph without getting harsh shadows, but here is what I came up with:
Don’t those flowers look really otherworldly? I just love the spiked protrusions pointing inward, seemingly to protect something. But they are harmless. However, I have seen the legs of certain pollinators remain behind because they got stuck in the crevasses created by the flower parts.
I finally reached the end of the trail, and I managed to make it back to my truck, partially exhausted. I’m not nearly as young as I think I am, and the climb back up from the lake really took its toll. But I still had another place to visit, and that place was up the mountain from my present location.
Driving up Persimmon Ridge Road had become a dusty affair, especially since we had not had any appreciable rain in quite a while. So everything roadside was covered in a fine layer of dust. As I rounded a particular corner of the road, I had to stop to check out a plant I’ve been photographing for years. It is Matelea carolinensis or Carolina Milkvine. It is closely related to the Milkweed family, and the seed capsules look very much like those of a Milkweed. I’ve seen this particular plant in this particular spot for at least 7 years, maybe more. Some years, it cannot find a suitable taller shrub to attach to, so it manages to ramble along the ground. It is growing on a rather steep slope, so photographing it is not easy. Even with my tripod fully extended, the first flowers were still about 2 feet (60 cm) above my camera. In addition, there was a pesky layer of road dust covering the flowers and leaves so that the full, glossy mahogany color of the flowers did not show up properly, However, I had to photograph it for documentation purposes, so here is what I got:
The end of Persimmon Ridge Road intersects with US Hwy. 276. And US Hwy. 276 has a roadside site that is one of my favorites. This site is directly on the Blue Ridge Escarpment which rises some 2,000 feet (~600 meters) in elevation from the Foothills and Piedmont. US Hwy. 276 is a very winding, mountain road which constantly rises for many miles. One roadside site, my favorite, provides spectacular drifts of Spigelia marilandica or Indian Pink during the first week in June. These bright red, tubular flowers have a star-shaped set of petals which reveal the bright yellow inner covering of the flower when they open. What a sight! I managed to find a few blooming plants near the road so that I didn’t have to climb the steep slope where the larger masses of plants bloom. Here is what I got:
Well, my day in the field was finally done. I could now go home and enjoy my memories captured on “film”. And, share them with you, Dear Readers.
But, allow me to digress…
First, I’d like to philoso-ramble a bit about what the day meant to me. I went out early, entirely by myself, with no one else around the entire day. This allowed me to sample nature and in turn, center myself in a way that I could not do by any other means.
As humans, we tend to anthropomorphize things — we put them into terms that seem to make sense to the human expression. What I discovered (I probably knew this all along, but never thought of it in such a way), was that nature and I have a lot in common. I see nature in the same way as I see my house. It becomes cluttered with things to an extent that I can no longer bear it, so I spend a day or so feverishly cleaning it up, putting things away (hopefully where I can relocate them) until I’m reasonably satisfied that it is somewhat presentable. Nature, in the same way, uses its forces (fire, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.) to sweep away the debris of life so that it can have a new start. It puts things away in what is called a seed bank, so that when disaster or calamity strikes, there is a fallback version of what used to be.
I have an upstairs room where my son stores the “stuff” of life that he has accumulated over the years. I liken it to invasive plants in nature. As long as I can keep the “invasion” under control, all is well. Eventually, when the invasive material is removed, my seed bank consisting of favorite furniture and knick-knacks will, again, occupy the same space.
Often (or maybe not often enough) we help nature out by performing prescribed burns of an area to give it some rejuvenation. The mountain areas I visit frequently have been spared this rejuvenating force for too many years. Much of it has pockets of civilization consisting of homes, small businesses, and vacation and hunting cabins which make it difficult to control prescribed burns like once existed in our past history. Also, we are missing the mega-fauna/ mega-herbivores that used to crash through the forests while trying to escape the mega-carnivores in prehistoric times. Crashing through the forests and even large-scale grazing would keep the lower-level vegetation at a level where forbs such as orchids and other wildflowers could co-exist with the mature woodland canopy. What we have that somewhat provides this now is roadside mowing and power line rights-of-way — a sorry excuse for what nature used to provide for free. But, in some cases, it’s all we have.
Well, that’s my philoso-ramble for now. I’m not attempting to sway you to my way of seeing things, but I thought I’d offer you a brief glimpse into how my mind sees things. I hope you found it at least thought provoking…
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be hitting the road again along the Blue Ridge parkway in western North Carolina. Some early orchids and other wildflowers should be in bloom, and I’ll greatly enjoy having you tag along for the ride.