Saturday, May 31, 2014

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Whew.  Here it is the last day in May and I have no idea where the time has gone.  It seems like just last week I was admiring the reemergence of snow trillium and the slew of spring ephemerals to follow and in the blink of an eye they are done and gone until next spring.  Working full time during the week along with my weekends filled with events, conferences, and road trips has left your blogger exhausted and in desperate need of a breather but I really can't complain as I've enjoyed each and every minute of it.

To truly capture the mood and colors of the month of May, I'd need a dozen separate blog posts, so in the interest of saving time and taking advantage of the remaining energy I have, here's a photogenic ensemble of some of my favorite wildflowers and plants from this past month.  There's no real rhyme or reason to what I've decided to share other than they are all species you can find in our fine state of Ohio as spring swings into summer.

Tuliptree (Liriodendron tuliptera)

Few, if any other native tree in our state has as showy and spectacular a floral show as the stately tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera).  Despite being an incredibly common tree throughout the state, few get the chance to see their stunning show as their flowers are often out of sight and out of mind in the canopy above.  The tuliptree has the distinction of being the tallest deciduous tree east of the Mississippi, with some specimens topping out at over 200 feet tall in the primeval forests.

Wherry's Catchfly (Silene caroliniana var. wherryi)

One of my most anticipated of late spring's wildflower shows is the annual explosion of pink from the state threatened Wherry's catchfly (Silene caroliniana var. wherryi).  They are certainly hard to miss when blooming en masse along select hillsides of exposed Ohio shale bedrock in the Adams county area.

Puttyroot pale form (forma pallidum)
Puttyroot Orchid (Aplectrum hyemale)

Despite being one of Ohio's more common species of orchid, the puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale) is a specialist in camouflage and blending in and thus not something many get to see in flower.  To make matters even more complicated, it can be a fickle bloomer from year to year and you just never know when a plant will decide to send forth its flowering culm.  An almost alien-looking lemon-lime colored form occurs sporadically as well throughout the state.

Guyandotte Beauty (Synandra hispidula)

One of my favorite aspects of this blog is getting the opportunity to share and introduce my readers to wildflowers and plant species they potentially didn't even know existed.  The stunning guyandotte beauty or sometimes simply called synandra (Synandra hispidula) is one that I think fits that bill.  It's rather uncommon throughout the southern half of the state and was once included on our rare plant list.  It hails from the mint family (Lamiaceae) and is one of my absolute favorites.

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

When the word 'honeysuckle' is mentioned among the ecological savvy, thoughts of hatred and malevolence quickly arise and rightfully so as many members of the Lonicera genus stand as one of our greatest invasive species threats but let's not be too quick to judge as there are a handful of native honeysuckles (all vines) that deserve our attention and good tidings.  My favorite is the trumpet honeysuckle (L. sempervirens) which some Ohio botanists will argue isn't truly indigenous to our state, which is something I don't fully agree with.  Regardless, its rich and bold color certainly stands out when in full flower.

Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

The woody plants or our trees, shrubs, and vines were my first botanical love and few get me more excited than the rare fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) in full glorious bloom.  Typically a multi-trunked shrub or small tree, this relative to our ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) only occurs in a handful or so of our southernmost counties.  This is the epitome of a "boom or bust" plant as it's quite easily picked out when in flower but is nigh on impossible to detect when purely in its vegetative state.

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

From one of my favorite shrubs to one of my favorite vines in the crossvine (Bignonia capreolata).  This relative to the much more common and weedy trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is largely restricted to the river counties along the Ohio River and is rather local in its distribution.  This particular patch has made quite a home for itself on a sheer rock face overlooking the mighty Ohio River.

An assortment of spring wildflowers in a limestone barrens in Adams county

Prairies are typically thought of as summer and fall attractions and that mindset is certainly not wrong but you'd be missing out on some spectacular flora if you only paid attention to them during those seasons.  Down Adams county way in its famed dolomite limestone barrens and glades, spring can be just as exciting a time to visit when the browns and grays give way to bouquets of new life.  Wildflowers like prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa), scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens), white blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albidum), and heart-leaved Alexanders (Zizia aptera) dot the landscape in their respective shades of pink, red, yellow, and white.

Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum)

It just wouldn't be May without some fire-orange blossoms from the flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), at least in my book.  There's just something about the way their color explodes off the branches and catches the eye.  It's unfortunate this species is so rare in Ohio and only occurs in a few naturally-occurring populations, as it definitely deserves a spot in anyone's landscaping let alone Mother Nature's.

Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala)
Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala)

Before you accuse me of cheating and using a species from the tropics, let me assure you the wondrous leaves and flowers of the umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is indeed native to Ohio and right at home here in our northern-ish state.  Much more common further south, this species barely made it into Ohio, where it most frequently occurs in the southernmost counties and is more than likely here thanks to the influential Teay's River millions of years ago.

Vernal Iris (Iris verna)

The rare and state threatened vernal iris (Iris verna) is one that I anxiously await every early May in the dry, acidic slopes and ridges of Shawnee state forest.  There's just something about its electric purple-blue color and vibrant spear-shaped green leaves that set it apart from so many others.  Seeing a whole hillside ensconced in this scarcity during peak flower is sure to impress and wow even the most apathetic of by passers.

Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)

The lushness of the spring time is perhaps best captured by the succulence of a thick patch of wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides).  It's by no means a rare or uncommon occurrence but they always make me stop in my tracks anytime I see an especially impressive display.  Their short-lived flowers match the fleeting nature of spring to a tee as well.

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

While not a spring bloomer nor an attractive bloomer when it does do its thing, it's always a pleasure to come across a small colony or even a lone plant of the increasingly uncommon American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).  Some take pleasure in hunting this herb down for its root's medicinal value and worth but I get my pleasure and worth out of just seeing it still occur in wild areas across the state.

Drooping Sedge (Carex prasina)

I'd be remiss if I didn't include at least one spring flowering sedge in this post.  The drooping sedge (Carex prasina) is one of the more graceful and aesthetic of our sedges and is a lovely sight to see when growing in dense clumps along forested seeps and springs.  Spring is just as exciting a time for self-diagnosed sedge-heads like me as for the wildflower and birding aficionados.

Lance-leaved Violet (Viola lanceolata)

Rounding out this post is one of Ohio's nearly 30 species of violets in the rare lance-leaved violet (Viola lanceolata). Along with orchids, milkweeds, and trilliums, the violets are one of my favorite plant families to study and photograph in the wild.  They can be a difficult and frustrating group but that's half the fun...or at least I'd like to think so.

Hope you've enjoyed this slideshow-esque post on some of my favorite spring wildflowers and plants and I certainly hope to bring you more of summer and fall's bloomers as time inexorably marches forward and leaves us all wondering where the time and days went.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Botanizing Chattahoochee National Forest

*Part I* *Part II*

I'm returned and ready to lace the hiking boots back up to continue on with northern Georgia and what Chattahoochee National Forest had to offer your narrator this past weekend.  If you'll recall, I posted the initial part of my trip a few days earlier that encompasses the experiences and luck my friends and I had finding and photographing one of North America's rarest orchids in the federally threatened small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides).  You can check out that post by clicking HERE.  The pogonias were the primary reason for my trip and I thought they deserved their own separate post and attention.  This time around I'd like to share the rest of the wildflowers and stunning scenery the southern Appalachians in northern Georgia graced me with.

Rolling forested mountains of the southern Appalachians in northernmost Georgia

Chattahoochee National Forest is located in extreme north-central Georgia and sprawls out over 750,000 acres and is accompanied by a dizzying array of biodiversity.  Rolling forested mountains thousands of feet in elevation rose and fell in a seemingly never ending undulation of topography.  A northerner from the glaciated till plains could certainly get used to this kind of environment!

Rocky mountain stream running through a tangle of rhododendron

One of the most charming aspects to the forest was the number of rocky mountain streams that flowed ferociously down slope through tangles of rhododendron and under the watchful gaze of some mighty hemlocks. Unfortunately, the hemlock woody adelgid (Adelges tsugae) has reeked havoc on these fine hemlock-dominated forests and the mortality rate has reached worrying levels.  As the hemlocks defoliate and die and eventually fall to the ground, more and more sunlight reaches the cool spring water of the streams and gradually causes an increase in temperature.  Add in the soil erosion, siltation, and massive log jams and you have a completely altered aquatic ecosystem that hardly operates or looks like its former self.  A sad reality the region will have to get used to as the years and damage go by.

Vasey's Trillium (Trillium vaseyi)

One of the most anticipated of wildflowers I was hoping to catch hanging around was any number of the assortment of native trilliums the southeast is known for.  Ohio can only claim eight species of indigenous trillium while Georgia takes the diversity cake with over 20 different species!  At the lower elevations nearly all the trillium were setting to seed or at best severely past flower and hardly photogenic but fortunately the higher elevations allowed for another chance and it did not disappoint.  One species that really took my breath away was the sweet wakerobin or Vasey's trillium (Trillium vaseyi).  I was rather taken aback by the size and deep maroon color of its flower/petals.

Catesby's Trillium (Trillium catesbaei)
Catesby's Trillium (Trillium catesbaei)

Of the half dozen or so trillium species I managed to sniff out, Catesby's trillium (T. catesbaei) proved to be my favorite.  Their flowers start off a virgin snow white color before progressively changing to a darker and darker shade of pink as they age.  It's a shame such a gorgeous plant would think to hide its wonderful wildflower under its leaves on a long peduncle; they deserve to be held high and proudly displayed as a sign of its regal qualities.

Sweet White Trillium (Trillium simile)

Yet another trillium still clinging to its petals in select spots along cool, moist slopes was the sweet white trillium (T. simile).  This particular trillium is an endemic to the southern Appalachians (like many others) and is rather rare throughout its entire range.  So many trillium, so little time; the southeast is truly a lucky place to be at the heart of it all when it comes to this genus.

Babbling brook coming down the steep mountainside 

At just about every sharp turn in the bumpy gravel road we spent a large portion of our late morning and afternoon on, there seemed to be another small waterfall or babbling brook coming down the steep slopes and mountainside.  Their noise and foamy, rushing water was music to my ears and something I wish I could have in my backyard to enjoy and relax to whenever I wanted.

Speckled Wood Lily (Clintonia umbellata)

While exploring a very rich, mesic slope for what trillium species we could find in passable shape, this Ohio rarity came into view and elicited a small shriek from me as the speckled wood lily (Clintonia umbellata) was something I'd long wanted to witness in person.  The flowers were past peak and on the verge of falling off but it was still a real treat to see such a desired life plant in the field.

Primrose-leaved Violet (Viola primulifolia)
Primrose-leaved Violet (Viola primulifolia)

When traveling far distances on a botanical foray, it's always fun to take notice of what plants you might find quite commonly at home but are exceedingly rare in your current location and/or vice versa.  "One man's life wildflower is another man's weed", as I like to say.  While an endangered and seldom-seen species back in the buckeye state, the primrose-leaved violet (Viola primulifolia) was very frequent all throughout the different habitats and areas my group explored.  Such cute little plants!

Large flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum)

Sometimes your timing cannot be any better for a specific thing and during my visit to Chattahoochee, it was the flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum) that couldn't have been in more impressive shape.  Their unmistakable orange glow lit up the surrounding green landscape and alerted the world to their peak blooming presence.

Such a stunning native shrub
Blood red flowered color form

Flame azalea is another great Ohio rarity that only occurs in a handful of localities along the ancient Teays River watershed.  This extinct waterway brought many southern plants up into Ohio via its winding route and I can only wish that it had brought more stuff with it, or at least more azaleas.

Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum)

Dozens upon dozens of stately shrubs and small flame azalea trees lined the roadside on the acidic upper slopes of the forest. Their flowers ranged from a very soft orange-yellow to deep blood red and kept Jim and I's attention on the road sides more than anything else.  It can be hard to botanize and drive at the same time on occasion, that's for sure.

Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum)

I couldn't resist getting one more look at and photographing the flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum) before we climbed back into the cars and slowly but surely made our way to another small whorled pogonia site.  If we didn't have such pressing and vitally important plans for the day, I could have just as easily immersed myself among the flame azaleas and photographed them all day.

Fresh black bear scat!

Wildlife sightings were largely absent during my time down in northern Georgia with the most exciting discovery of all belonging to some fresh black bear scat in the same vicinity as the phenomenal flame azaleas we decided to stop and photograph.  Who knew finding fecal matter in the woods would end up being such a fun and exciting discovery.

Beetleweed (Galax urceolata)
Cliff Saxifrage (Hydatica petiolaris)

Underneath the azaleas was large patches of the bizarrely named beetleweed (Galax urceolata), an endemic of the southern Appalachians and just on the verge of breaking bud during my visit.  I know the leaves are very popular in the floral trade and can easily be collected/harvested into local extirpation.  From in bud to in full flower, you'd be hard pressed to miss the show the cliff saxifrage (Hydatica petiolaris) was putting on.  This particularly impressive clump was growing on a rock shelf alongside a woodland seep and gave off the most lacy of appearances.

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) in full bloom
Chinkapin (Castanea pumila)

A hard to miss woody plant in full bloom during my visit was the aptly-named sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus). Its deep maroon flowers emit a sweet, spicy scent when rubbed/crushed between your fingers and lifted to the nose.  I'd never seen this common southern shrub before and was pleased to finally mark it off the life list. Another fun woody shrub I came across was chinkapin or dwarf chestnut (Castanea pumila), a taxon we don't get this far north in Ohio and once again a new plant for my life list.

Large-flowered Heartleaf (Hexastylis shuttleworthii)

At first look it's evident this next crazy wildflower is related to our common wild ginger (Asarum canadense) which doesn't even come close in looks to these large-flowered heartleaf (Hexastylis shuttleworthii) blooms.  Each one was about the size of your thumb and decorated with an elaborately detailed pattern on its petals.  The southern Appalachians and their countless millennia of plant evolution and adaptation has led to some pretty stunning examples and representations.

Large trees in an incredibly lush mixed mesophytic cove forest

One of our last stops for the day was a well-known site in Chattahoochee known as Sosebee Cove; an absolutely incredible mixed mesophytic Appalachian cove forest with plenty of impressive tree specimens.  I've been to few places more lush and vividly green than Sosebee Cove and could not have walked away more impressed or enamored with its beauty.

Umbrella-leaf (Diphylleia cymosa)
Umbrella-leaf (Diphylleia cymosa)

The herbaceous layer was alive with several species of trillium, spotted mandarin (Prosartes maculatum), green mandarin (P. lanuginosa), false Solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosum), and Goldie's fern (Dryopteris goldiana) to name but a few but it was the southern Appalachian endemic umbrella-leaf (Diphylleia cymosa) that stole the show for me.  It's related to our mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and looks quite similar when you examine the leaves, albeit they are much, much larger and taller.

The narrator and one exceptional yellow buckeye!

If anything other than the small whorled pogonias and the company of Jim, Alan, and Max was singly worth the seven plus hour drive down, it had to be this gargantuan yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) growing on a steep slope in Sosebee Cove.  I've seen my fair share of nice yellow buckeyes including our state champ but nothing holds a candle to this behemoth.  I stood in awe of its presence for quite a while before I could even get any words out.  I initially thought it was a tuliptree due to the sheer size of it and a majority of its bark hidden with bryophytes but once I looked up and saw the leaves along with a sliver of bark my mouth dropped open in shock.

Your narrator and an exceptional tuliptree

As expected the tuliptrees within the cove were impressive as well with some individuals approaching five feet in diameter and well over one hundred feet high.  There's just something about being in a place with such a primeval feel and presence that makes me feel alive.  Standing alongside such giants is a truly moving and somewhat spiritual experience each and every time.

Looking up into the mighty tuliptree
Such an impressive old-growth tree

Sosebee Cove was a classic example of the mixed mesophytic Appalachian cove forest type with the aforementioned tuliptree and yellow buckeye abounding along with basswood, black cherry, black birch, red oak, white oak, white ash, hemlock, and hickory in the canopy.  In the understory smaller trees and shrubs such as flowering dogwood, silverbell, serviceberry, redbud, striped maple, American chestnut sprouts, and rhododendron/azalea occurred as well.  

Our last stop and site of the day found some of the uncommon buffalo clover (Trifolium reflexum) waning in flower and starting to set to its characteristic reflexed fruit.  While not nearly as rare this far south, it was still an exciting find and allowed me to compare Georgia's stuff with what we locally have back home in Ohio.  This population had the same striking red flowers I've seen at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and at a newly discovered site in Pike county, Ohio that Dan Boone, Brian Riley, Dave Minney and I found a couple Junes ago.

All in all, I'd have to rate this trip as one of the most successful and enjoyable I've ever partook in and can't believe how many incredible plants I got to make acquaintances with after so many years of wishful thinking and gazing endlessly at them on the interwebs and in botany manuals.  I hope to get down there again sometime in the near future as I barely even scratched the surface of what all lies within Chattahoochee National Forest.

*Part I* *Part II*

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Hunt for the Small Whorled Pogonia: one of North America's Rarest Orchids

*Part I* *Part II*

Everyone has a dream that seems just beyond the reach of reality.  It's not out of the realm of possibility per se but rather something that has been more or less relegated as a thing of daydreams and wishful thinking.  For your narrator, few, if any thing on the botanical bucket list exceeds the lust and desire to see one of North America's rarest of orchids in full, spectacular flower.  The small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides) is a taxon of legend when it comes to chasing orchids and rare plants in general.  Its fickle and unpredictable flowering cycle mixed with an encompassing scarcity make it a plant lucky few have witnessed in the flesh.  In my never-ending drive to see and photograph all of Ohio's indigenous orchids, the small whorled pogonia was one I thought might haunt my goal for years to come...

Mountains on the horizon at sunset in northern Georgia

Fortunately, that's where two of my fellow orchid aficionado Flickr friends in Alan Cressler and Jim Fowler come into play.  Both are marvelous photographers and have a very in-depth knowledge of the botanical world around them.  I highly encourage you to check out Alan's work on Flickr by clicking HERE and Jim's by clicking HERE.  Jim also writes and publishes a nature blog on his travels and discoveries which is second to none and accessible by going to

Around this time last year I noticed both of them publish phenomenal photos of the small whorled pogonia that I couldn't take my eyes off of nor keep myself from salivating at the computer monitor.  If anyone was going to be able to help me finally cross this monumental lifer off my list, it was them.  Fortunately, Alan, Jim, and I were able to arrange a rendezvous in northern Georgia this past weekend to see if we could find these delightful wonders in flower.  It was over a seven hour drive to the town of Ellijay on the edges of Chattahoochee National Forest for me and with each mile my excitement grew tenfold.  I arrived into town on Friday night in anticipation for our Saturday morning meet up and enjoyed a fine dinner in a local establishment where I struck up some entertaining and enlightening conversation with the bartender and a few locals.  They were pretty intrigued a Yankee would drive so far south for a plant but their interest was genuine and I enjoyed filling them in on my passion and the details of my trip.

Saturday dawned bright and cool with a clear blue sky but by the time Alan, Jim, myself, and esteemed Georgia botanist, Max Medley met up at our predesignated meeting spot, dark clouds promising rain loomed on the horizon.  I greatly prefer overcast conditions when out to specifically partake in wildflower photography but rain rarely makes a photographer's life any easier.  Luckily the only rain that ever materialized was some light drizzle or passing showers and never caused much delay or problems for us.

After packing my gear into Jim's car and Max's into Alan's, we headed out for the first of two potential sites for the small whorled pogonia deep inside the mountains and valleys of Chattahoochee National Forest.  It produced a handful of blooming individuals last year and has proved to be pretty reliable in years past so we had high hopes of finding our bounty in good shape.  After pulling off at a very nondescript spot on the road, we shouldered our loads and headed off into the woods.  I had come a long way and spent countless hours dreaming of a moment that now seemed only minutes away.  Not long into our search, Alan and Jim located the specific spot for the orchids and beckoned Max and I to them and delivered some good and bad news...

Flowering and sterile specimens of small whorled pogonia

The good news was the location had produced five flowering individuals and a number of other sterile stems but the bad news was our timing could have been a little better.  The plants were four or five days past peak with some looking better than others.  I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't at least somewhat disappointed but by the same token I'd be called a liar too if I didn't say I was still enthralled with our discovery.  Not everyone is likely to find this green orchid very attractive and some might even think, "you drove all that way for that?!", but it was priceless to me and one of the most gorgeous plants I ever have or ever will see.

Federally threatened Small Whorled Pogonia (Isotria medeoloides)

I broke out my camera equipment and proceeded to attempt to capture what freshness the flowering plants had left and found myself in constant awe of just how tiny they were.  I knew they would be small, it's in their name after all but nothing quite prepares you for seeing them with your own two eyes.  As the rain started to patter down, we decided to make for the second site where we might have better luck at finding fresher orchids due to an increase in elevation.  It was only known to harbor a few individuals in any given year but I'd come too far to not enthusiastically and confidently move forward.

Alan led us through the mountains of Chattahoochee on a dazzling route full of hemlock and rhododendron-lined streams, acidic upland oak woodlands ensconced in flame azaleas at peak flower, and forested seeps full of alluring plant life and I will bring all that to you in my next post.  For now, I want to focus on the primary goal of my journey and devote this entire post to the splendor of the small whorled pogonia.

After several hours of exploring the roadsides and accompanying forest on our way to the second site and new lifer after new lifer photographed and scribbled down on my life list, we finally pulled into what would be my last hope at seeing an orchid that I would have driven 5,000 miles to see and not just the previous day's 500.  I had no idea what to expect and my stomach was in knots as we hiked up into a white pine forest where the plants were known to occur.  In the end my worries and nervousness were for naught as Alan, Jim, Max, and I found three pogonias in unspoiled, newly-opened condition!  Alan's hunch on these being in better shape due to cooler temperatures at a higher elevation was spot on.

Federally threatened Small Whorled Pogonia (Isotria medeoloides)

The small whorled pogonia is a federally threatened species and only occurs in a select number of locations throughout eastern North America, where populations usually only exist as a handful of plants or even just a lone individual.  Its habitat of second-growth, semi-open acidic woodlands is hardly a rare occurrence throughout its range and shouldn't act as any kind of limiting factor in its scarcity.  I believe it to be genuinely rare regardless of habitat availability but am under the impression there are still quite a few unknown stations left to discover.  Being tiny, green, and flowering during the awkward floral transition of spring to summer adds up to create quite the proverbial "needle in a haystack" scenario.

Federally threatened Small Whorled Pogonia (Isotria medeoloides)

Even at first glance it's easy to see the physical similarities and relations to its brethren, the large whorled pogonia (I. verticillata).  Both have succulent-esque stems with an emerald skirt of whorled leaves and are adorned with a dragon-like inflorescence.

Small Whorled Pogonia next to a nickel

As previously mentioned, I was flabbergasted at the miniscule nature of this lime green orchid.  If anything should get across the size and dimensions of the small whorled pogonia, it's the photograph above that shows a nickel placed alongside the plant.  No photoshop trickery or sorcery here, they legitimately can be that teeny and puny.  It makes you wonder how anyone, looking or not could ever come across these things.

Can you see what Jim is photographing in this capture?

Three small whorled pogonias in flower, three photographers itching to get some lens time with them; I'd say those numbers worked out perfectly.  We took our time carefully capturing the essence and character of each pogonia and moved in a circular fashion, trading off between plants.  Above is Jim admiring the dainty pogonia before him with his camera setup. Even when you know it's there and can follow the camera's stare down to it, it's still somewhat tricky to see the orchid.  Tiny things indeed!

The small whorled pogonia is ready for its closeup 

The history of the small whorled pogonia in Ohio is a very short and relatively recent story.  It has only ever been seen within the buckeye state at two sites: one in Shawnee state forest discovered by the late orchid great Fred Case in 1985, and the other discovered a few years later in the Hocking Hills region.  Only the latter occurrence is still "extant" today but hasn't been seen since 2008 when a single sterile stem came up.  A pipe dream of mine is to stumble across a new site in Shawnee state forest one time and know I could then die happy as a successful and accomplished field botanist and naturalist.

So tiny, so rare, so absolutely beautiful

The already darkened conditions of the white pine forest combined with the sullen gray clouds overhead made for some rather tricky lighting conditions but that hardly did anything to stop the onslaught of photographs being taken by the trio of orchid obsessers.  Even though Jim and Alan had photographed these very plants just a year ago, I wasn't the least bit surprised to see them enjoying another round with the treasures.  Small whorled pogonias are notorious for being able to go dormant and disappear into a subterranean holding pattern that can last for multiple years.  It's definitely best to take advantage of every opportunity with these unpredictable orchids as you never know if or when it could be your last.

Small Whorled Pogonia
Shot of the pogonia's habitat 

Of Ohio's 48 species/varieties/hybrids of naturally-occurring orchids, I have now had the pleasure of seeing 47. Being just barely shy of 98% complete with one of my most passion-driven and desirable botanical goals is something I take a lot of personal pride and happiness in and can't believe the long awaited small whorled pogonia is no longer orchid enemy #1.  I still have the highest of hopes to see this species within Ohio's borders one day in the near or far future but seeing it in the mountains of northern Georgia is undoubtedly the next best thing and a moment I'll cherish and treasure for the rest of my life.

Small whorled pogonia dwarfed by Alan's camera setup

While the first site's orchids were well past peak flowering condition and left something to be desired, I didn't realize just how unsatisfactory they were until I made the acquaintance of the second site's blooming plants.  They were so crisp, so detailed, so richly highlighted, we hypothesized they might have broken bud within the past 24 hours or so.  In the photo above, Alan's camera set up dwarfs one of the three pogonias at the second location. If only these orchids were sentient and could sense just how famous they were to us three Orchidaceae lovers.  The stories they might be able to tell of past visitors and what exactly makes them tick is an intriguing thought.

Jim, Alan, and myself (camera pictured) all with a pogonia each, attempting to capture its essence

After hundreds upon hundreds of photographs it was time to depart the site and allow the pogonias to return to the mists of the past.  I could not have had more fun out in the field with Alan, Jim, and Max, and am forever indebted to their efforts, knowledge, and willingness to share locations and information.  I hope I can repay them in the near future by playing host for a trip up north to explore what Ohio has to offer that Georgia lacks.  The same is to be said about heading back down to visit them again sometime this year.  Despite only meeting them in person for the first time earlier that day, I walked away feeling like we'd been old friends for years and went out botanizing and photographing once a week like clockwork.  It will be a long time before I forget what happened on this memorable weekend of botany in a place I'd never been before.  There's plenty more to share and talk about so stay tuned to more from my time spent in Chattahoochee National Forest.

*Part I* *Part II*