In the company of friends Anne and Lezlie, two enthusiastic hikers and wildflower experts, I headed to Yellow Branch Falls yesterday in search of the elusive Grass of Parnassus. Also called bog-stars, but known scientifically as Parnassia glauca, the plant is actually an herbaceous dicot rather than a grass.
Anne had seen Grass of Parnassus on the trail in years past and we were in luck, finding the showy plant in flower along the banks of the waterway only a short distance into the hike. The stunning blooms, pure white veined with green, are held aloft on upright stalks, roughly 15 to 20-inches tall. Glossy green foliage, including one stalkless leaf clasping the flower stem, is similar in shape to a lily pad.
Grass of Parnassus is found in various types of moist habitats (fens, swamps, woodlands, etc.) in calcareous soil, typically where there is low canopy cover and high plant diversity. In the Upstate, it flowers in October.
We had other good luck too, sighting an impressive group of rare Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) on our return journey from the falls. Also known as the ghost plant, this herbaceous perennial is parasitic (specifically a myco-hypopitys), so chlorophyll is absent. Stems bear a single flower that droops like a bell and then turns upright when it begins to fruit. The plant also fades from white to pink as it ages.
Monday morning’s rain ensured a dramatic cascade of water at the falls and we enjoyed our lunch and a well-deserved rest on one of the massive rocks at its base.