Tag Archives: woodland wildflowers

A Garden Place (Hortitopia)

On Saturday, I had the good fortune to hike with the Greenville Natural History Association, by invitation of Bill Robertson, an acclaimed Upstate nature photographer.   I was a bit worried about the expedition to Chestnut Ridge, especially after I saw the elevation profile.

Elevation profile of Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve

Elevation profile of Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve

Bill said he was only hiking the first mile, however, and I really should come along.   I’ve been eager to hike with Bill, who’s very generous with his knowledge and encouragement, and decided to plunge in.  Once I met up with the group at the car-pooling location on Saturday, I noted I was younger than most and was optimistic I could hold my own on the trail.

On the ride to the Heritage Preserve, I met and got to know Ian and Jane, members of the Association and frequent hikers.  I later learned Ian routinely hikes 10 miles several times each week and is an excellent photographer, as well as a photography teacher for OLLI at Furman University.

The early blooms on Chestnut Ridge are mostly the same as those in my woodland garden, primarily sweet Betsy trillium (T. cuneatum) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), but it was instructive to watch the process of the photographers in the group, who true to Bill’s word, pulled up at the first area of native wildflowers while the rest of the hikers continued on towards the Pacolet River.

I took a few pics with my new camera, a Nikon D7100 which is well beyond my grasp of understanding.  On this occasion, however, I knew time was better spent watching Bill and Ian, who were taking macro shots using a tripod and diffuser.

Bill (holding diffuser) and Ian working on macro image of bloodroot

Bill (holding diffuser) and Ian working on macro image of bloodroot

Bill's bloodroot

Bill’s photograph, shown here, uses the stamens of the second flower to create a golden glow around the foreground bloom.

After a while, Ian decided to hike to the river to have lunch with Jane and, foolish in my new-found confidence, I invited myself to go with him to rejoin the group.  As soon as we topped Squirrel Mountain and began the steep decent to the river, I had serious misgivings because I knew the return trip could well get the best of me.

I love hikes that have a treat at the terminus and the Pacolet River didn’t disappoint.  Though the waterway is small, it is located in a deep valley gorge and offers a sandy bank at the river crossing that is perfect for a picnic.  When we arrived, the group was just dusting themselves off for the return hike, so Ian and I quickly ate a few bites.  Lynne, the hike leader, stayed behind to “sweep” and I was much relieved to have a second encourager as we watched the group quickly disappear up the trail.

Pacolet River

Pacolet River

On the return, as I usually do when I’m in over my head, I just put my head down and pressed the gas.  Though I was huffing and puffing, our small group was about halfway up Squirrel Mountain when Lynne spied a garter snake writhing beside the path.  Closer inspection showed the snake had snared a Southern Appalachian salamander (Plethodontid teyahalee) and we watched as the snake slowly worked its way from the amphibian’s mid-section down to the tail so it could turn its prey and devour it.

Common garter snake, about 18-inches long, with Southern Appalachian salamander

Common garter snake, about 18-inches long, with Southern Appalachian salamander

Garter snake devours its prey

Garter snake devours its prey

Needless to say, we thought this would be the trill of the trip, but we were surprised a second time only steps beyond the summit, when I discovered a Luna moth (Actias luna), just emerged from its chrysalis and drying in the warm sunshine.

Luna moth (Actias luna)

Luna moth (Actias luna)

Luna moth, drying its wings

Luna moth, drying its wings

If you look closely, the moth can be distinguished as a male by its antennae, which are larger and wider than those of the female.  Though not rare, the Luna is seldom found because its life is brief.  The adult doesn’t have a mouth or eat because its single purpose is to mate, and thus it only survives about a week.

Stopping along the way to photograph the snake and moth allowed me to catch my breath.  The return trip was strenuous, but luckily and with many thanks to Ian and Lynne, I made it back to the start of the trail without too much discomfort or embarrassment.

The name of this blog, Hortitopia, is a word (horti + topia = garden + place) made to describe, in part, the amazing region where I live.  I’m grateful every day to enjoy its unique and wonderful species diversity.  To learn more about the Upstate,  read my first blog post here.

A clump of sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) flourishing among a large patch of  spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica)

A clump of sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) flourishing among a large patch of spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica)

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.  ~ William Shakespeare

Bloom Alert

After another round of slushy snow on Wednesday and Thursday, today is bright and warm, so it’s been hard to stay focused on work.  Needing a break, I pulled my wellies on after lunch for a quick walk to see if any of the woodland natives had “endeavored to persevere” through our extremely cold winter.  I hoped to discover a sign or two of Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), my favorite spring ephemeral, but couldn’t find a trace.

Surprisingly, however, many of the Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy), which I rescued from a nearby area of development last spring, are up and already in bud.  There’s still no sign of other, established trilliums.

Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy)

Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy)

Erythronium americanum, commonly called trout lily for its speckled foliage, is even further along.  One bud has apparently been eaten by a critter, but the rest are within a few days of opening.   The plant, given to me by a friend from her garden in 2013, has bulked up since last year.

Erythronium americanum (trout lily)

Erythronium americanum (trout lily)

I also found foliage of Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid), easily identified by the dark coloring on the underside of its leaves.  The foliage will die long before flowers appear in late summer.

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

I often refer to the terraces that extend down to the Reedy River at the rear of our property.  In the upper right-hand corner of the photo below, you can barely see the retaining wall that supports the back garden.   And just to the left of the photo is a second, but shorter, retaining wall.

Woodland between house and river.

Woodland between house and river.

Each neon-pink flag marks a spot where an herbaceous plant grows.  Though unsightly now, they help me remember where it’s safe to add new natives, and they’ll be removed when the area is better established.

The garden surrounding the house contains many non-native ornamentals, while the terrace closest to the river cannot be kept clear of non-natives because of periodic flooding.  The woodland shown here, about a quarter acre, is a haven for native plants only.