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.
Farther back from the shoulder of the road, the unmowed portion of the edge of the woods provided excellent habitat for one of the reddest wildflowers imaginable — Silene virginica or Fire Pink. This year, especially, the flowers of this cousin of the domesticated Carnation seemed to be larger and deeper in color. This is probably due to the quantity of rainfall so far this year. They really appear to be thriving on the roadside:
We finished up, packed our gear, and headed back toward home. About 20 minutes later, I spotted some bright red flowers along the roadside, so I found a spot to pull off, and I parked the truck. We gathered our gear and headed back up the road to where I had seen the flowers. These were the beautiful, Aquilegia canadensis or Eastern red Columbine, in glorious bloom! There were several large clumps of these plants along the road, so we set up to take some pictures.
Inspired by this find, we plodded up the trail until we reached the summit. We had been told to continue over the top of the ridge until we began the decent to the east. We did just that, and it was here that we began to see what remained of the Rhododendron calendulaceum or Flame Azalea display. Flame Azalea usually puts on its best show early on, before the plant is fully leafed-out. The leaves on the plants ahead of us had already put on its summer leaves, but many of the plants still held their vibrant flowers. The colors range from a pure, lemon yellow to a deep, scarlet-orange — and everything in between. Here are some of the Flame Azalea flowers we were able to photograph. Also note the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain scenery that is its backdrop:
Update 2017-06-29:I have been told (by someone who really knows their stuff) that these gorgeous Azaleas are probably Rhododendron cumberlandense or Cumberland Azalea. They don’t bloom until their leaves are present, and they generally prefer full sun, whereas Rhododendron calendulaceum bloom before their leaves are present and prefer to be in the woods or just on the edge of the woods. I really appreciate my knowledgeable readers — you guys never let me down.
There were a couple of species of wildflowers which were numerous along the roadside. These are Oenothera tetragona var. fraseri or Sundrops… The bright yellow flowers of Sundrops are hard to miss. They usually do not fully open except in bright sunlight, which there was plenty on this day:
I finished with the photography of these beauties, knowing that I had a very good day out in the field. So I packed up my camera gear and headed home. By this time, you know that I’m always open to capturing additional wildflowers that I come across on my forays into the field, so as not to disappoint, I’ll show you one last sighting — Aruncus dioicus or Goat’s Beard.
These particular plants were very easy to spot along the roadside. Where they were growing, however, posed some logistical problems. First, there was no where nearby to park, so had to travel on about 1/2 mile (~800 meters) to find a suitable pull-off. Once I unpacked my gear and walked back up the road to the plants, I realized that they were on a steep hillside about 10 feet (3 meters) above my head. Not only that, but to get close enough to them, I’d have to stand in a muddy, water-filled ditch which was precariously close to the road. Automobile traffic was whizzing by me, creating strong wind currents that made the plants sway vigorously to and fro. Finally, I managed to get a few shots of the flowers and decided that I had taken all the risk I was going to take to get them images. I would have liked to get a closer shot of the flowers, but with the wind and the traffic, it was virtually impossible.
Editor’s Note: Though I am no expert, I believe that all the following orchid photographs are of the Small Purple Fringed orchid. -Dylan Fowler
For botanical geeks only: The Small Purple Fringed orchids at Mt. Mitchell range in height from 8 inches (20 cm) to 24 inches (60 cm); the taller ones are generally found growing in the shade. The flowers are usually around one-half inch (12 mm) wide. There has been much discussion about the difference between Platanthera psycodes or the Small Purple Fringed orchid and Platanthera grandiflora or the Large Purple Fringed orchid; mostly concerning the size of the flowers, but at least in our southeast region, the flowers are about the same size. There is an insignificant color difference that can be discerned after seeing the flowers over a number of years, but it is not a characteristic that is determinative. I have noticed more variability in the color of the Small Purple Fringed orchid, but again, that is not determinative.
There is one feature that is significant in determining the difference, and that is the shape of the nectary opening, which is found in the center of the flower. For the Small Purple Fringed orchid, the nectary opening is partially hidden by the male reproductive parts (the pollinarium), but is generally considered “pinched” and in the shape of a barbell. For the Large Purple Fringed orchid, the nectary opening is larger and almost round…
You might also notice differences in the polliniaria structures in front of and to either side of the nectary opening. The differences (larger and spaced wider apart for the Large Purple Fringed orchid and smaller and spaced closer together for the Small Purple Fringed orchid) are readily apparent upon inspection. This difference in structure dictates a pollination mechanism that is more suited to different pollinators. I have observed on many occasions at this site that the Small Purple Fringed orchid is pollinated by Epargyreus clarus or the Silver Spotted Skipper, while I have seen Battus philenor or the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly visit the Large Purple Fringed orchid. That is not to say those are the only pollinators of these orchids.
The larger, wider spaced pollinaria of the Large Purple Fringed orchid are situated such that the pollinia will be stuck to the head/eyes of the pollinator as it jams its head forward to reach the nectar, while the more closely spaced pollinaria of the Small Purple Fringed orchid will be stuck to the proboscis of the pollinator. It is also thought that the barbell shape of the nectary opening of the Small Purple Fringed orchid is designed to cause the pollinator’s proboscis to shift either right or left, thereby positioning the proboscis more closely to either of the pollinia.
‘Nuf said about that. Now, back to our scheduled programming…
My favorite color form is the scarce pink form. On this trip, we saw just 3 or 4 of them out of the thousands flowering plants along the roadside.
Jim took this photo of a Purple Fringed orchid at 3 pm June 25, 2021. The medical examiner estimated his time of death from a heart attack as 3:15 pm. He was near the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
Since Jim was always focused on the art and the object in front of the camera, he infrequently published photos of himself. I decided it would be good to share with you some “action” shots of the person behind the camera. -Dylan Fowler
Jim through the years: