In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. Margaret AtwoodWho could disagree? Especially on the first day of the season, when wildflowers are blooming in abundance along the trail to Station Cove Falls, not too far beyond Table Rock on Hwy. 11, just an hour or so from Greenville.
I want to keep spring with wet knees in pursuit of wildflower photos and a dirty bottom from picnicking under a waterfall on an immense, lichen-covered boulder.Station Cove, located between the steep slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the rolling hills of the Piedmont, is the perfect place to do so. In March, this unique habitat is one of the best spots to find a wide variety of indigenous species, as well as enjoy the natural beauty of our region.
The mostly-flat trail, just three-quarters of a mile long, offers an easy hike among large communities of sweet Betsy trillium and mayapples, plus smaller groups of bloodroot, liverleaf, rue anemone, little brown jugs, rattlesnake orchid, and several species of violets.The mayapples produce umbrella-like leaves on two types of stems: singles and forks. The forks have a branched stem with two leaves and a single flower at the junction of the leafstalks. In the photo above, you can see the flower bud between the foliage. As the plant continues to grow, the leaves will reach inches above the white flower which turns downward as it blooms. I’m completely enamored with the short-lived but cheerful blooms of bloodroot. Though flowers are fleeting, the shade-tolerant herb retains its leaves through the summer, which actively grow and, in time, reach four to eight inches in diameter. Liverleaf gets its common name from the distinctive shape of its foliage. Interestingly, each flower stalk lengthens and bends to the ground as its bloom fades, making it easier for ants to collect and disperse the seeds. When flowering is complete, the reddish-brown foliage dies and the plant produces a new set of green leaves which persist until the following spring. The small, delicate-looking rue anemone is actually quite hardy and will survive hard frosts. The species is easy to differentiate from others in our region, as it is the only one which produces umbels of flowers, with each stalk offering one central and up to four lateral blooms. I removed the surrounding leaf litter to find the unopened bloom of this Hexastylis, which gives the plant its common name of little brown jugs. Alternately, some folks call them “little pigs.” Seedlings of this species develop slowly; it can take seven or more years before the first flower is produced. When not in bloom, the Halberdleaf violet can be identified by its arrowhead-shaped leaves mottled with silvery blotches. The rattlesnake orchid’s distinctive network of white veins and broad stripe on its midrib do the same. But while the violet blooms in early spring, the orchid produces its 15-inch tall bloom spike in July or August. The reward at the trail’s turn around is a stepped 60-foot waterfall. Swollen with water from recent rains, Station Creek splashed over the mountain’s face in a dramatic cascade. Anne, my hiking companion, and I enjoyed our snack lunch of crackers, cheese, and fruit, on an immense boulder at the base of the waterfall. We spotted a number of birds in nearby trees, as well as a bat scooping insects just above the surface of the creek. The many buckeye trees near the waterfall had already sprouted foliage. By leafing out early, the tree gets a boost from unimpeded sunlight. Flower clusters, which typically begin to open in April, are said to lure hummingbirds north on their spring migration. Though salamanders proved elusive, I was able to capture two fair images of the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis), the first scampering from under doghobble (Leucothoe) in spring green dress, and the second cloaked in drab brown atop a log, warming itself in the sunshine.
It was a happy, satisfying hike; an exercise I hope to repeat many times in the coming weeks as the season progress and more wildflowers come into bloom. And yes, I must have smelled like dirt at the end of the day.
How did you celebrate your first glorious day of spring?