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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wildflower Exploration at Turkey Creek

Sunday April 5th, 2009

Highways lead us to destinations. We are unaware of what is lurking beyond the edge of the asphalt. Let us see what I found today…

Hwy near Turkey Creek
Most people wouldn’t think a stretch of two lane country road in rural Nash County would be a home to rare plants, yet in late March to early April there is indeed a show to be seen. At first glance, there is not much to see from the highway, but a thick tangle of the woody shrubs and leafless trees. That is until you step inside the woods.

I arrived at the site just after 1 p.m. It was a warm, sunny day. After parking my car, I walked up the road, a short distance figuring out exactly the best place to cross. You see there is a large ditch separating the shoulder of the road, and the utility right-of-way adjacent to the woods. The ditch was nearly full of water so selecting a good spot to cross was a bit tricky. I soon found an easy place to cross then entered the woods.

Once inside I noticed the ground felt soft or more specifically spongy. This is due to an underlay of sphagnum moss plus a high water table. Several small creeks meander through the site. A typical plant of low woods is cattail or Typha, which resembles – at this stage of growth – Iris leaves.

(Typha  sp.)
Wondering back towards dried ground the landscape changed. Here growing amongst last autumn’s fallen leaves was a carpet of spring ephermals numbering in the hundreds. The common trout lily(Erythronium americanum) with its dainty yellow flowers had since past bloomed, but the glossy mottled leaves were still evident. The name trout lily comes from the resemblance of the plant’s leaves to brook trout, a fish of mountain streams.

What was a surprise to find was the small yet stately Listera australis or southern twayblade! In three visits to Turkey Creek, this was the first time I had found the uncommon orchid.  Listera finds its home in low, swampy woods in eastern North Carolina. The orchid starts to bloom while temperatures are still chilly. Its tiny reddish brown flowers blend into the background of the shady forest thus it is easily overlooked. By May the entire plant has bloomed, set seed and disappeared until next spring.
Listera australis
If finding the orchids were not enough, the best prize of all was a large colony of the Carolina Dwarf Trillium – Trillium pusillum. This attractive wildflower is rare, and lives only a few spots in the entire state. Reminiscent of a tiny Great White Trillium, it is the smallest of the trillium species native to North Carolina. Growing to a height of 6 to 8 inches with flowers about 2 inches or so wide, Carolina Dwarf Trillium blankets the wet woods near the Turkey Creek floodplain. The property is protected by the N.C. Nature Conservancy.

Trillium pusillum var. pusillium
After spending a couple of hours enjoying the botanical bounty, I left Turkey Creek then made a short stop by Flower Hill. Not much blooming here yet just give it another week or so. Here is what I saw on my trip.


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