This post is pretty long, so before you begin, go get yourself an adult beverage and some snacks. Here goes…
Recently, I received an email from a man whom I have known for a long time but have never met. His name is Shannon Spurling, and he is quite the naturalist. Due to his persistence and diligence, he has managed to find locations for many wildflowers which I have wanted to photograph for quite a while. When he mentioned Turtletown, Tennessee, I had to look it up, because I had no idea where it was located. Turns out, it is situated in extreme southeastern Tennessee — Polk County, to be specific, which is on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. His family is from the area, and he has spent many years roaming the mountains and hills in the vicinity of Turtletown. Many thanks go out to him for trusting me with the location information.
The wildflower species that created the most interest for me was a native orchid called, Corallorhiza wisteriana or Wister’s Coralroot orchid. The last place I photographed it was in the Francis Marion National Forest, Berkeley County, South Carolina. I know it must seem odd that a coastal plains species would be found in the mountains, but it happens more times than one might imagine. Often, orchid species in particular will have a very narrow habitat preferences that can be found only in certain locations, e.g. sandy, loamy, high pH, low pH, wet, dry, etc. Fortunately, this orchid species seems to be more tolerant of growing conditions as long as they are moist and shaded.
Here is a close-up example of this orchid species:
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Recently, Walter Ezell and I visited two special wildflower sites in the foothills of the Carolinas. They could be considered to be in the “mountains”, but technically they are at the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. The first of these sites is in the uppermost portion of Greenville County, South Carolina — spitting distance from the state border with North Carolina. It is a small site which has recently been added to Jones Gap State Park. This site is one of two or three locations for an odd Trillium species. It has been known about for a number of years, but only recently has work been done to nail down its true identity. Locally, it is known as the “Jones Gap Trillium”, but basically it looks like Trillium catesbaei or Catesby’s Trillium except that its flower is erect to mostly erect above the leaves/bracts rather than hanging below the leaves/bracts as does the typical Catesby’s Trillium.
My neck of the woods, the extreme northwestern portion of South Carolina (called “the Upstate”), is right in the middle of one of the richest Trillium regions of North America. I hesitate to enumerate the Trillium species in our region, but it is in the several dozens. And, as botanical progress moves onward, “new” species and forms are being identified.
This Upstate site is also home to a large population of Aplectrum hyemale or Puttyroot orchid aka Adam-and-Eve orchid. About a year ago, I posted a blog detailing the orchid plants from this site, HERE. Since they aren’t in flower until mid-May, all that was present on this visit is the large, single leaf, which generally withers before bloom time. There were also several other typical Spring ephemerals in flower at the time of our visit. But again, the target species was the Jones Gap Trillium.
A few years ago, my good friend, Kelvin Taylor (aka “KT”) posted some excellent images of Trillium pusillum or Carolina Least Trillium which he had been studying at a preserve called Turkey Creek Preserve near the small town of Middlesex, Nash County, North Carolina. This is not a Trillium species that I see with any frequency at all. In fact, it had been many years since I had been fortunate enough to photograph it, or ones like it. We also found a number of Neottia bifolia or Southern Twayblade orchids. This orchid has been renamed from Listera australis a bit ago as all of the plants in the genus, Listera had been moved to Neottia for reasons known only to the taxonomists… In a minute, I’ll attempt to explain the problems associated with naming the Trillium species we saw, but for now, here are examples of the two target species:
This past weekend, several of us made separate field trips to Peach Orchard Branch, Nine Times Preserve, and Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve, all in Pickens County, South Carolina. The Spring ephemeral wildflowers were in perfect bloom. I have managed to visit these sites every Spring for several years, and I am never disappointed in what is displayed before me.
Several of my photography friends have said that this is an early Spring, and a few have said it is a late Spring, but what I found this year is that everything is blooming pretty much right on schedule. I chose to visit Peach Orchard Branch, because it is one of the few sites for Pachysandra procumbens or Allegheny Spurge in South Carolina. We visited Nine Times Preserve (owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy) to see the beautifully colored Hepatica acutiloba or Sharp-lobed Hepatica, as well as Sanguinaria canadensis or Blood Root, and the ever-present Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily. That bad boy seems to continue to produce flowers for a couple of weeks. I was even invited to join a few friends on a long hike to Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve near Lake Jocassee to look for Shortia galacifolia or Oconee Bells.
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This past week, I (and a few other interested parties) made two trips up the mountain at The Nature Conservancy’s Nine Time Preserve in Pickens County, South Carolina. It was a very strenuous hike for me, but it was worth it being able to photograph a new-to-science variety of a plant species which is found farther north in the higher reaches of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. So far, this new plant species variety is endemic to this single mountain. This plant variety has been known about for around a decade or so, but it was only recently described by the authors: Laary Cushman, Vincent P. Richards, and Patrick D. McMillan — all of nearby Clemson University. The species variety was named after Dr. Harry E. Shealy, Jr., Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina in Aiken.
Here are a couple of images of the plant in flower: