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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Field Trip to Green Swamp for Summer Wildflowers

June 2, 2016

Early morning pond reflections

It's early June. Prime time for the late spring/early summer wildflowers to be blooming. My destination was to a favorite stomping ground the Green Swamp Natural Preserve. I left home before sunrise with foggy, overcast conditions. I was hoping this weather would hold once I reached my destination. As I turned onto Hwy 211, the foggy conditions were starting to fade. I knew as the morning progressed, the fog would lift completely changing the entire feel of the landscape, so I needed to act fast to capture this mood in the land of the longleaf pines.

First stop was Big Island, a large savanna across the road from the parking area for Green Swamp. I stopped along the side of the road, jumped the ditched with gear in hand, and waded through the tall, wet grass to get a good view of the landscape. What first caught my eye was a ocean of white flowers.... blooms of the Venus Flytrap or Dionea muscipula. There were literally thousands of flowers hiding amongst the tall grass. It is hard to capture the real in person view, but here's my attempt to capture the scene.
Big Island with Venus flytraps in bloom

Foggy conditions often provide a mystical mood to a landscape. I turned from where I was standing shooting the Venus flytraps and captured this scene through the trees.

Big Island on a foggy morning

After spending some time here taking in the beauty, I headed to the parking lot at the pond and hit the main trail. My goal was to hike to Shoestring Savanna, which is the first savanna past the boardwalk, and where you can find many floral delights. It didn't take long to spot more Venus flytraps in bloom. I found a nice one growing in a patch of red sphagnum moss.

Dionaea muscipula

I continued down the trail and found more goodies including orchids! There is a side trail to the left of the main trail that boarders a pocosin. Here you find a ecotone or a transition zone between the open longleaf savanna and the shruby pocosin, which is essentially a evergreen thicket. With less woody competition in the ecotone, herbaceous plants flourish. 

Just in a short walk I found quite a number of rosebud orchids or Cleistesiopsis divaricata in prefect shape. The colour range for this species is usually light to deep pink, but a very pale white form occasionally occurs.

Cleistesiopsis divaricata
 A pair of Cleistesiopsis divaricata
Cleistesiopsis divaricata

A pale white flowered form

 I couldn't resist taking a shot from the back side.

backside view

Calopogon tuberosus
While admiring these fine orchids, I glimpsed something pink in the distance. I took a closer look and it was a single grass pink orchid, Calopogon tuberosus. One flower was open with few more closed buds above. This species usually opens a single flower at a time starting from the bottom then progresses up. It is our largest Calopogon species in terms of flower size.  

The uppermost petal on the flower is covered with hairs resembling pollen-bearing anthers found in other species. This mimicry attracts visiting bumble bees, which are the primary pollinator. For a complete discussion about the interesting pollination technique in Calopogons, check out Jim Fowler's blog. 

This orchid is one of our most photogenic species. It occurs in the coastal plain growing in pine savannas, meadows and along wet roadsides, and in mountain seeps and bogs. The colour ranges from pink to deep magenta to solid white. 

While I was excited to see this one, I knew a place along a roadside about 20 minutes away where there would be dozens in bloom. That spot I will talk about in another posting.

Not far from the orchids I found quite a few rough-leaved loosestrife or Lysimachia asperulifolia, a showy wildflower, and rare endemic to the Carolinas. This plant is unmistakable. The pointed leaves are arranged in a whorl usually in 3's sometimes 4 up the stem. Atop the stem is the inflorescence, which is a raceme of bright yellow, star-shaped flowers interspersed with green bracts. Nearly always found in ecotones between longleaf pine savannas and pone pine pocosins.

Lysimachia asperulifolia in bud

Lysimachia asperulifolia in flower

I could have spent more time here, but I had another destination to reach before this day was done. One last view before heading back to the vehicle and onto the next stop....

A window view of the savanna

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