What's Blooming

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

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Summer orchid season

Here it is the end of July already. Summer is zipping by. The good news is that last week and the next couple of weeks will be peak time for summer native orchids. I have seen seven species of native orchid in bloom or near bloom during the past week.
First the bad news. This hasn't been a good year for orchids along the roads. New types of mowing equipment and the need to keep the road sides clear have meant the end of some nice orchid patches for this year, perhaps longer. Those of you who have been waiting for the Yellow Fringed Orchids along what we call airport road between 220 and Clifton, aren't going to see any orchids there this year. The VDOT crews of cut from the road edge to the forest edge right down to the dirt. They don't normally cut so much and the orchids escape beyond the reach of the sickle bar. But this year they mowed the entire bank. If they had waited two weeks we would have had the blooms and if they had done the clearing in the winter the plants would have escaped. But I know they have to do the mowing periodically or the road would soon grow over. Just sad to see old orchid friends get chopped off so close to bloom. Let's hope they return next year.
The Yellow Fringed near the top of Wilson Mountain along 220 are just about ready to open. You have to look carefully since the flowers are back up the bank. Let's hope VDOT doesn't get to this patch this year. There should be more Yellow Fringed around the county. Look in wet sunny areas along roads and fields. Also watch for Purple Fringeless Orchid in wet fields and fence lines. I know of three locations in the county for Purple Fringeless and there are probably more.
Other orchids to see include the most common native orchid in our area, Rattlesnake Plantain. And the most rare orchid in non-tropical North America, Bentley's coralroot orchid. The Plantain can be found in just about any woodland around the county. The leaves are distinctive and the spike of white flowers stands out. Take a hand lens and look at the tiny flowers. Or take your digital camera and then enlarge the picture on your computer screen.
Bentley's coralroot is going to be more difficult to find. There are now five known locations for the little plants in Bath County, two of them found this year. However, among the five locations there might not be as many as a total of 100 plants or so. The plants are seldom more than six inches tall and even people who know them well and look right past them in the woods. Would be great to find more and to find them in Highland County.
Also blooming is Spotted Coralroot and Club-spur orchid. Both should be found in many locations around the county.
There are eight or more orchid species blooming in the county right now. Plus other pretty flowers and even a few Rhododendron still to be found.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Natural Wonders

On Saturday I finally had an opportunity to go on one of the hikes up on The Nature Conservancy's Warm Springs Mountain Preserve. Once again I am amazed by the wonders protected on the mountain. Brad Kreps, the local TNC director, is a great trail guide and picks varied locations for the monthly hikes that highlight the wonders on the mountain. OK, so I'm using the word "wonders" over and over. But what more can be said? While the evidence of human use of the mountain for the past few hundred years are obvious, nature is doing an amazing job of holding on to some habitats and reclaiming others. The views from the old stone overlooks perched on the side of the mountain are breath taking. We saw a huge bear tracks in the sandy road. In a wet area we found Liparis smallii, Small's Twayblade Orchid, a new species record for Bath County. The orchid was in bloom, which is weeks after the plant blooms in Giles County to the south.
I highly recommend these hikes. You can call TNC office in Warm Springs to check the schedule. There is a hike each month, open to the public. Also, don't forget the public trail that starts at the overlook on Route 39. And if you have a little extra time and/or money, the Warm Springs Mountain Preserve still needs help to pay off the debt and to help fight invasive species. Few places in the county are as special.
Not exactly nature, but don't forget to visit the Bath County Art Show this week at Valley Elementary School. Two-hundred-forty-three artist are showing 637 pieces of excellent art. You'd have to travel to a big city to see a collection as varied and as high in quality.

Friday, July 07, 2006


There is an old saying that ignorance is bliss. But then old timers also say a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. I don't know that I would be happy with the kind of bliss that goes along with ignorance, but yesterday I was reminded how knowledge can be dangerous in the sense of bringing some emotional pain that we wouldn't have had had we stayed in ignorance. And yes, this does relate to wildflowers. Doesn't everything in some way?
Two weeks ago, my friend and nature mentor Stan showed me a site in West Virginia not far from where I live for tubercled orchid -- one of those pretty little orchids with the spikes of greenish flowers that tend to get overlooked. The flowers were just beginning to bloom two weeks ago. I returned yesterday to find the site mowed to bare earth by some hard working and well meaning government employee. And I am serious about the employee being well meaning. Driving a mower along roads on hot summer days is a thankless job that we all take for granted. But one does hope that they get a little information about sites for rare plants before they just reduce the site to bare earth.
On a happier note: Along the top of the mountain on 250 west of Monterey, there is still Mountain Laurel in bloom. At lower elevations and all around Bath, the last of the great mountain shrubs is blooming -- Rosebay Rhododendron. The flowers I have seen are mostly white, but the blooms can be from white to dark pink. This weekend and the following week look to be peak.
This weekend will also be the last chance to see grass pink orchids in the Cranberry Glades. There are a few sites for these orchids in Bath and Highland counties. And probably many more sites in wet fields and wet corners of yards that have never been noticed. This is a wonderful little flower (see photo above) and worth hunting for. Over in the Glades are many thousands of Rose pogonia orchid and these too will be gone in the coming days.
Yesterday I saw five species of native orchids in bloom. So, keep your eyes open especially in wet woodlands, fields and roadsides. And maybe take a walk through those field and roadsides before you mow. Never know what wonders you might find.