Week of July 5th

Pardon me if I need to curtail my enthusiasm. For me, the week of July 5 was outstanding. I am thankful to those who provided me with information and helped me out.

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sabatia-foliose-white-formOn Wednesday, July 8, I was traveling to a site near Stillmore, Georgia where the superb State botanist, Tom Patrick, had mentioned finding a bunch of Marsh Rose Gentian (Sabatia foliosa).As I was driving to that site, I noticed some pink flowers, that the mowers had spared, growing beside the road. Fortunately, I turned around and found a large patch of Slender Rose Gentian (Sabatia campanulata). Farther along, at the aforementioned S. foliosa site, after a short walk, I encountered those beautiful                                   plants, still in prime bloom.


sabatia-dodecandraTraveling on to Darien, Georgia, Wednesday afternoon found me staring at blooming Large Marsh Rose Pink (S. dodecandra) along the highway. There were about 20 plants growing beside the road in an ecotone between a flat of “brackish” wetlands and the mowed, wide, road shoulder. When I tested the water in the nearby “swamp” the reading indicated slight brackishness.


The next day, Thursday, still in the Darien area, included several breathtaking events. The excellent naturalist and Altamaha Riverkeeper, emeritus, James Holland had previously found Hog Plum trees (Prunus umbellata) in fruit. I had wanted to see the trees in person because of my interest in plums of the Eastern U.S. Thursday morning was spent in an area near Darien where James pointed out several other plants in addition to the plum trees. We also saw four Gopher Tortoises and a wild turkey hen with her brood. Also encountered in this area was a beautiful, but initially unnamed, wildflower. With her incredible botanical knowledge, Linda Chafin quickly identified the plant from the photos James sent her as the very “cool” Feay’s Prairie-Clover (Dalea feayi). On Thursday afternoon, James took me on an impressive boat trip up the Altamaha and some of its tributaries where he pointed out, growing along a bank, a group of beautiful white form of Marsh Rose Gentian (S. foliosa) flowers he had previously found. They were growing among other S. foliosa, some with light pink and others with darker pink flowers. We also saw several other wildflowers and birds during the river trip. James is also an excellent birder as well as a fine photographer.

sabatia-artamii-white-formAfter traveling eastward, I spent Thursday night in Waycross, Georgia. Friday morning began a long day of botanizing. An early morning hour was required for viewing the rare Night-Flowering Petunia (Ruellia noctiflora). It seems this reticent plant only produces flowers at night and drops them shortly after sunrise. The rest of the morning was spent independently botanizing along various roads around Waycross. Nice examples of Bartram’s Rose Gentian (Sabatia bartramii) and Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) were found. During Friday afternoon the amazing Rich and Anita Reaves allowed me to tag along on their scouting trip in advance of their weekend Georgia Botanical Society outings. Several species were found including, among others, a vast field of Mohr’s Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia mohrii), some stems of Snowy Orchid (Platanthera nivea), and more S. bartramii. In mid-afternoon, I departed Waycross heading home, leaving Rich and Anita still scouting. About forty-five minutes into my journey I received a cell phone call from Rich informing me they had found a white form of S. bartramii and a stem of the rare-for-Georgia Largeflower Rose Gentian (S. grandiflora). Without hesitation, I turned around and headed back toward Waycross. Based upon Rich’s detailed directions, I was able to locate and photograph both species in time to leave early enough to arrive home at a reasonable hour. Isn’t life wonderful!

Spring Wildflowers

The warmer weather of spring will bring out an array of wildflowers. Many species will herald spring’s arrival. Among the most beautiful are the Lady’s Slippers. These members of the genus Cypripedium are some of the best known and most loved members of the orchid family. This genus is represented by 45 species worldwide with 12 of those existing in North America. Counting hybrids would increase these numbers greatly. For the Eastern United States, six species including three variations within one species totaling eight separate entities have often been described.

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Pink Lady’s Slipper

Pink Lady’s Slipper or Stemless Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), is one of the more frequently encountered species. A widely recognized orchid, finding Pink Lady’s Slipper is a mainstay of spring wildflower outings. In Latin, the specific name “acaule” means “without stem.” Inhabiting much of the eastern third of the U.S., these mid-spring beauties seem to prefer oak-pine woods in dryer areas, although they are sometimes found in wet boggy areas.


Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper

Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum) is a strictly northern species. This is an extremely rare and highly unusual Cypripedium. In Latin, arietinum means “like a ram”, an apparent reference to the shape of the flower. Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper’s range extends from Canada south only as far as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and east to New York and New England. Flowers are typically small and solitary.


White Lady’s Slipper

Predominantly a more northerly species, the extremely rare White Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium candidum) has a range extending from Canada south to Nebraska and Missouri and East to isolated spots in Kentucky and Virginia, and disjointedly to a very limited area in northern Alabama. The specific name has a Latin origin meaning “white” or “shining” referring to the predominant color of the pouch.


Kentucky Lady’s Slipper, Southern Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium kentuckiense) is a species known from several sites throughout its range covering about ten states. One of the largest Cypripedium of the Eastern United States, this pale-yellow flowered orchid is impressive in appearance. The specific name was drawn from the state where it was originally discovered.


Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper

Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens) has a range extending from Alaska south throughout much of Canada and extending eastward into much of the eastern half of the U.S. Habitat is typically rich moist forests, openings and moist areas along roadsides. An individual plant may have one or sometimes two flowers. In some locations plants group to form large showy clumps.


Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper

For the Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum) small flowers are a principal characteristic that separates it from Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper. The flowers of Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper are sometimes less than one inch in length. In areas where the range of Large and Small Lady’s Slipper overlap, distinguishing between species may be difficult. A more northerly variation of Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper is Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin.


Showy Lady’s Slipper

Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) is one of the most flamboyant members of this genus. This Cypripedium certainly earns its specific name meaning “queenly.” Although reportedly found in isolated spots as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina, this plant is truly a northeastern species with a range covering much of the upper east quadrant of the U.S., and extending north into southern Canada. Preferred habitats are wet areas, such as bogs, swamps, moist woods, and roadside seeps.

Holiday Wildflowers


This is an adaptation of Jim Drake’s article which first appeared in the Hendersonville Times News (North Carolina) newspaper on December 12, 2005. Check back for periodic articles on this page.

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Christmas Fern                    Missletoe                 American Holly

At the Holiday party, Holly Ilex looked lovely dressed in leathery green with red sequined accents. Phora Dendron, also in green, was accessorized with pearlesque teardrops. Fern Polystichum, on the other hand, elected a more subdued appearance featuring fringed accents with studded fronds. While this could be a description of attendees to a gala ball or a debutante party, it really applies to three members of our native flora.

At Christmastime, most Southern Appalachian plants are dormant, awaiting their spring resurgence. However, American holly, Ilex opaca; mistletoe, Phoradendron flavescens; and Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, appear to be more colorful than ever. All three of these plants have rich histories related to holiday traditions and lore.

Each individual American holly tree is either male or female, with female trees adorned with bright red berries during fall and winter. In the United States, hollies have been a holiday symbol from the time of the Pilgrims, when the tree reminded settlers of English holly, a symbol of Christmas for centuries in England and Europe.

The wide range of Ilex opaca includes the Appalachian region plus larger surrounding areas. Flowering normally occurs during April and May in its Southern range. Pollination is accomplished by a number of insects, and berries ripen in fall and last well into winter. The berries, serve as an important food source for birds and other wildlife.

Mistletoe, unlike holly, depends on trees for its existence. A flowering plant, Phoradendron flavescens, is a parasite which usually perches on hardwood branches and trunks. Still able to accomplish photosynthesis, the plant must acquire water and other nutrients from its host. More visible in winter after the host’s leaves have fallen, mistletoe is a common sight in oak and other hardwood trees in the Southeastern region.

The lore associated with this plant is centuries old. Similar species were described by Greek philosophers, and the plant’s legacy was enhanced by ancient Celts. The Druid priests believed the leafy stems of mistletoe were endowed with mystical powers since they grew from highly regarded oak trees. Other cultures associated the plant with fertility and powerful traits in general. From ancient times, sprigs have been hung inside dwellings for good luck. Theories abound attempting to explain the custom of “kissing under the mistletoe.” Some of them subscribe to the belief in mistletoe’s effects on fertility. Other theories simply relate it to a gesture of friendship during holiday gatherings. However, for several generations, any person caught “under the mistletoe” was fair game for a kiss from the opposite sex.

christmasfernsoriChristmas ferns are widely distributed throughout much of the eastern United States. Although ferns are vascular plants, meaning they have water-carrying tissues, they are non-flowering in the traditional sense. Ferns belong to the plant division Pteridophyta, whose members reproduce by specialized reproductive bodies called sori on the underside of fertile leaves, and not by flowers. This fact does not diminish the beauty and complexity of these plants.

Christmas ferns have been used for holiday decorations for years due to their evergreen nature. Although their fronds, or leaves, stay green all winter, new ones called “fiddleheads” appear in springtime to replenish the plant.

Since wildflowers need our protection, please look at and enjoy their beauty, but do not pick or disturb the plants. Hopefully, the reader will enjoy and preserve our wild heritage.