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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Camassia Slopes Wildflower Field Trip

Camassia Slopes Field Trip
Northampton County, NC
April 7th, 2015
Preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy 

My friend Jim Fowler(you can ck out his blog here) sent me an email about this field trip. It is a place I'd been wanting to visit for years and for good reason. The preserve contains wildflower species considered rare in North Carolina including sessile Trillium(Trillium sessile), purple larkspur(Delphinium tricorne) and three birds orchid(Triphora trianthophora). Camassia lily(Camassia scilloides), for which the preserve is named, grows abundantly in hardwood forests and is rare east of the Appalachians. In all, more than two dozen species of endangered, threaten, or rare species are found at Camassia Slopes. 

Sessile Trillium (Trillium sessile)

We arrived at the meeting place and after a brief overview by the field trip leader Harry LeGrand, we set out to the preserve. Our group consisted of wildflower enthusiasts and members of the Plant Conservation Program who help protect native plants throughout North Carolina. 

At the designated parking site, we entered woods boarding the preserve. With the abundant rainfall in recent days, the swamp forest was inundated with water.

It was damp walking from the early morning rain, but the overcast conditions made for excellent lighting. From the swampy woods we trekked along a narrow floodplain boarded by steep slopes near the Roanoke river.  

Mesic mixed hardwood forest with calciphilic herb slope

In the wet areas between the bluffs were an abundance of spring beauties, Claytonia virginica, varying in color including deep pink. This was just the beginning of what was to come....

Claytonia virginica typical color form

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) deep pink
We climbed the steep slopes finding many botanical treasures along the way many I had never seen before. The abandance of wildflowers was outstanding! The sessile Trillium is limited in NC to the slopes of the Roanoke River where is grows in very rich, basic soils.

 Sessile Trillium (Trillium sessile)

Sessile Trillium (Trillium sessile)

Close by was dwarf larkspur(Delphinium tricorne), a striking wildflower with deep purple flowers.

Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne)

Close up of the flower

The next “my first find” was a small, delicate, but showy wildflower called Isopyrum(Enemion biternatum). It is similar in appearance to the much more common windflower(Anemonella thalictroides). There are about three distinguishing characteristics for Isopyrum the two most obvious is Isopyrum has 5 petaloid sepals vs 5-10 for windflower. Also Isopyrum has trifoliate(three-lobed) compound leaves on short petioles while windflower has 3 separate leaflets on a single long petiole.

Isopryum (Enemion biternatum)

Windflower (Anemonella thalictroides)

Our goal was to see(and photograph) the prize plant Camassia. We found large areas covered with the slender, glossy leaves of Camassia, but no flowers to be seen. After searching up and down the slopes we did find a few plants in bud. While this species is more common in the Midwest, it is found in only three locations in North Carolina, and Camassia Slopes is the premier location to view them in the state.

Grassy foliage of Camassia Lily

Camassia scilloides in bud

Rob Evans photographing Camassia buds

 This is Camassia in bloom:

Camassia scilloides in flower
Photo credit: "Camassia scilloides Ozarks" by Eric in SF - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Although we were too early to catch the Camassia in bloom, a couple other wildflowers didn't disappoint.

Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)  

Trout Lily (Erythronium sp.)

Trout Lily (Erythronium sp.)

Taking pics of the Trout Lily

What is makes this place special?

An unusual assemblage of plant species are found here. It is thought to be a remnant from the ice age some 300,000 years ago. The preserve's higher pH soils and terraced slopes, varying from 15 to 35 degrees, enable these unique species to thrive here.

Located on the north bank of the Roanoke River in Northampton County, Camassia Slopes has unusual soil types for the Coastal Plain, with highly basic soils more commonly found in the Midwest. This site was first discovered by the Natural Heritage Program in 1979, and in 1981 the Union Camp Corporation donated the property to The Nature Conservancy, which helped establish the Conservancy's first preserve in the lower Roanoke River floodplain.

This trip was nearly perfect(minus the flowering Camassia). Several new species for me made this field trip exceptional. I enjoyed the afternoon with friends and met some new people who also share the same passion for native plants. There are more hidden gems yet to be found along the high slopes of the Roanoke River. I want to go back another time to see if I can find them.

*This Nature Conservancy preserve is only accessible through the North Carolina Chapter field trip program.


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