What's Blooming

Ongoing post with pictures of nature in the Allegheny Highlands of Virginia and the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia.

Monday, May 29, 2006

rattlers and rhododendron

Wow!! That doesn't even begin to describe the past ten days or so and especially the past three days. Catawba Rhododendron is in bloom all around the county. There is one who hill side along Dry Run Road along the creek that is magnificent. Also nice plants on the east side of Warm Springs mountain along route 39. I really love the buds of this rhododendron. They look so much like a big brush dipped in paint ready to spread glory across the landscape.
One of my favorite shows of the year continues along Route 39 from the Jackson River bridge over the mountain to Blowing Springs. So many variations and colors of Flame Azalea with some that clearly live up to the flame name. I don't think the Parkway can match the show along 39. But with warm days and warm nights here at last, flowers won't last long
including the azaleas. Some Yellow Lady's Slippers and a few other flowers have held on longer than normal with the cool nights last week. But all the early orchids will be gone in the next few days I suspect. We are beginning to show the need for rain again, so hopefully some mid-week showers will arrive. The Lily Leaved Twayblade orchids are just beginning to bloom. Over the
weekend I saw plants with the lower flowers open. Like many orchids that have multiple flowers on a stalk, the twayblade flowers open from the bottom up. Also blooming now is Puttyroot orchid. You might still see the leaves of this orchid that appear in the fall and die back as the plant blooms.
On Friday, while walking out a gated Forest Service road to check on some orchids, I was reminded of a couple of things. On my way back I met a couple of fishermen heading up the road to tangle with the native trout in the small stream. A worthy challenge I'm sure given the thick rhododendron along the stream. However these men had chosen to take a short cut to their quarry and were riding motor powered dirt bikes. While I'm sure they didn't think two little motorbikes would do any damage to the gated part of the road, the fact is the road is closed to motor vehicles this time of the year.
These gates make life hard on all of us who enjoy the forest at one time or another. But they are closed for good reason and should be respected. Two of the reasons are the tiny little flowers I went out to look for which could easily be destroyed by a passing vehicle a bit too close to the edge of the road.

And the other reason is the critter pictured here. I was busy looking down the hill on the right side of the road when a bit of movement caught my eye off to my left. And there ten feet away was this beautiful rattlesnake. I was about two miles from my truck on foot and my truck was two miles from the state road, so I kept my distance. But a motor vehicle could have been quick death for the snake. Out in the open like this, even poisonous snakes are no match for humans anyway.
A big part of enjoying the wild outdoors is respect. Seeing the rattler reminded me of a simple rule I was taught many decades ago -- always know what is around where you put your feet and hands.
Just as important as rules for personal safety and respecting the dangers in the wild, it is important to remember that humans are the guest. We are much more dependent on these wild creatures than we realize. And even the most careful of us cannot go into the wild without having some impact. Enjoy, be careful, be respectful.

Monday, May 15, 2006

When it rains....

Two weekends of rain yet I was out taking photos at some point during both weekends. Many spring flowers are currently in decline and the next couple of days may be the last chance to see them for this year. Bleeding Hearts here, in Highland and over in West Virginia put on a good show this year but are now setting seed and fading away. There are some amazing sites for these flowers in the area. This is a good time to begin a notebook if you haven't already so that next year you will know when and where to look to catch Bleeding Hearts and other flowers at peak bloom.
I was surprised yesterday (Mother's Day) to see the Marsh Marigolds are still in bloom along 220 and 84 in Highland County. I think the cool nights have helped extend the season for these and some other plants. But again, the early part of this week could be the end of the season for these beauties that love water.
Pink Lady's Slippers should be looking good most places this week after a bit of a late start. Large Whorled Pogonia and Showy Orchis will both be in decline. The Showy Orchis remained spectacular all week last week. I photographed all white flowers to almost all purple flowers and most combinations in between. The site on Forest Service land over near Douthat State Park is truly amazing.
Some of the Leather Flowers are still around but not for much longer.
Keep an eye out in the edge of the woods for Pinkster and Flame Azalea. These showy flowers, called honeysuckle locally, are some of our most spectacular. The colors range from almost white to dark flame red and many combinations in between.
And if it is raining when you want to head out, take an umbrella or enjoy the view from your vehicle - but don't miss the chance to see the flowers.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinco de Mayo

Keeping up with anything this time of the year seems to be impossible. This year I get a break from mowing grass and trying to get a garden planted. One I miss, one I don't. I'm going to have to find some garden fresh tomatoes some place this summer.
Last weekend in WV was wonderful. The Greenbrier River Trail is a treasure in many ways. Our group of nearly two dozen people including two Ph.D. botanist who provided identification skills managed to find and identify over seventy flowering plants. The plants ranged from the little one-flowered cancer root to some wonderful patches of Showy Orchis. And we covered only about ten miles of the trail.
Over here in Bath County the show continues and expands everyday. The Yellow Lady Slippers at my traditional site haven't even opened yet. But up the road on Pig Run the patch has peaked. The odd little orchid Large Whorled Pogonia (pictured) began to bloom this week on the east side of Warm Springs Mountain. This flower is almost impossible to find unless you already know where to look. If you want to see this flower, the next seven days will be your opportunity
around here. Contact me for directions if you don't know a site.
Showy Orchis is at peak at some sites in the county this weekend. The patch on Forest Service 194, Lime kiln Road, doesn't seem to be as big as last year. I'll be there this weekend taking pictures if it doesn't rain. Speaking of rain. We had a few showers, but this part of the state still needs rain. So I won't complain if I get rained out this weekend. I'm sure I'll see lots of interesting things even if I can't get out with a camera.
One of the nicest spring wildflower drives in the county is the ten mile Lime Kiln Road, Forest Service 194. This is a forest service road, gravel, dirt and mostly single track. There are two small stretches that get really messy if we have a lot of rain. When the conditions are dry, these two places can have some pretty deep ruts. So I don't recommend the road for a family van or other low vehicle. But many cars and all trucks and SUVs should be able to manage the entire ten miles. The road begins and ends on State Route 629, Douthat Park Road. The north couple of miles of often have hundreds of Pink Lady Slippers mixed in with the low huckleberries. I didn't see any in bloom on Friday (May 5). But it shouldn't be long. Next week probably. I was surprised to see that the Lupine is still very fresh with some still opening. There are some nice patches along the first few hundred yards at the north end. Along the road look for bird-foot violets in many colors. Also vernal iris. Near the southern end is a large are with many Showy Orchis. And there are plenty of other things to see. The Pinkster is just opening and it is really amazing.
And don't forget the Leather Flower along 615 below Hot Springs. There are three separate species scattered along the shale barrens on the north side of the road starting across from the water treatment plant and running down to across from Moe's. Most of the plants are the more common White Haired Leather Flower. But I also saw a few of the rare Millboro Leather Flower and a couple of the C. ochroleuca. This coming week will probably be the end of the season for these flowers.
Remember to enjoy the flowers where they are. Please don't pick and especially don't dig. Plants like orchids and Leather Flowers aren't going to make it in your garden anyway.