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Sunday, August 30, 2009

In Search of a Rare Orchid

July 19, 2009
Today’s adventure was a revisit to an area I first explored in July 2006 then again in 2007.
Dial Creek – part of Hill Demonstration Forest owned by North Carolina State University.

My route took me through the city of Durham via NC-147 and US-501. With a right turn onto Bahama Road (SR 1616), I suddenly found myself far removed from the city swarm. Here the gentle hills and wide expanse of open land are in stark contrast to the multilane superhighways, shopping centers, and busy intersections. This is the scenic part of Durham County.

Once on this two-lane country road, it did not take me long to spot a scenic view. After crossing the bridge over Lake Michie, I pulled over at a small gravel parking area on the right shoulder. From here you can see the lake. I followed a short trail down to the lakeside to take a few shots. Up the road from here is the boat access area. Located near the town of Bahama, NC Lake Michie is a reservoir within the Neuse River watershed, and is the primary water supply for the city of Durham.
Lake Michie
Bahama Road meanders through the gentle rolling hills dotted with woodlands, hayfields and old farmhouses. One such place caught my eye. Off in a hayfield was a small farmhouse flanked on one side by bales of hay, and boarded on the back by woods. I couldn’t resist a stop for a shot here.
Country Farm House

My next stop was at my destination Dial Creek. Located on Hampton Road (SR 1603), Dial Creek is a small waterway boarder by woods on both sides with an extensive seepage area upstream.

My mission was to locate the purple fringeless orchid (Platanthera peramoena). This was my third visit to the site. After an unsuccessful attempt in 2006, the following July I hit pay dirt. Finally, I found the rare and elusive orchid!

Would I be lucky again this year?

Entering the woods from the roadside requires some pruning of the dense vegetation. Once inside the dark woods the understory is quite open. As I continued a short distance upstream, I saw the bright, sunny overgrown thicket. From this point getting around was at times very difficult even painful. The prickly covered stems of Smilax and Rubus made for a painful walk. I have the scratches to prove it. Combine those with the tangle of honeysuckle, poison ivy, and Wisteria, I wondered how any low-growing herb could survive against all the fast growing competition.

Overgrown Thicket
After over an hour of trampling, cutting, fighting, and crawling through the jungle of dense impenetrable green, I finally found one blooming plant. It appeared weak and fragile yet still had enough energy to send up a flower spike despite the thick canopy of woody shrubs. Despite the scars from the fight, it was well worth the effort to see, and photograph this beautiful plant.

Purple Fringeless Orchid

I emailed my contact Misty Buchanan at the NC Natural Heritage Program, and she told me the area had been burned in March 2008. Usually a fire reduces the thick vegetation clearing the understory, but now the seepage was more overgrown than before. Perhaps another burn later in the season is necessary to keep the woody plants under control.

This is a neat place. A rare plant calls it home. Some effort to make it more suitable is certainly in order. Otherwise, another species will disappear thus becoming more rare than before.

For more photos check out my photo galleries In Search of a Rare Orchid  and To Bahama and Back

Next stop Spruce Pine Lodge and nature trails.
Access to Hill Demonstration Forest property requires a user permit which can be obtain by completing an application, and paying a fee for the activity of interest.
From Wikipedia:
Located in northern Durham County, Bahama was originally settled around 1750 as the community of Balltown until the name was changed to reflect three leading families of the community: (Ba)ll, (Ha)rris, and (Ma)ngum. Another unusual name associated with the community is Hunkadora, a name for the post office here during a period of the 19th century (Powell 1968, p. 19).

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