Friday, June 10, 2011

South Carolina Highlights, Part 3

The final day of our trip to the Palmetto State started out with a trip to Shealy's Pond Heritage Preserve in the sandhills province. The plant communities that we hoped to see at this preserve were Atlantic White Cedar Bog and the seepy margin around the edge of the mill pond formed by the dammed Scouter Creek.

The seepage zone surrounding the mill pond is home to three species of Sarracenia, as well as several hybrids between them. The most conspicuous of the three species that we saw was Sarracenia flava var. maxima (below). Unfortunately, the flowers of this species (which McPherson (2007)) describes as some of the largest and most spectacular in the entire genus) had all dropped their petals before we arrived on 3 May, but the nearly three foot tall yellow-green pitchers helped to make up for this deficiency. Yellow Pitcher Plant grows throughout a narrow band in the coastal plain and piedmont of eastern North America and into the panhandle of Florida and southeastern Alabama in a variety of wet acidic habitats.

In the Great Lakes and New England states, as well as in Canada, Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea can regularly be seen growing in bogs and fens. That's why I was very excited to see Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa (below), the more southern subspecies. There are disjunct populations of Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea in the southern Appalachian Mountains as well, but generally the two subspecies are geographically separated around northern Virginia. The Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa plants that we saw at Shealy's Pond were much taller than any Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea that I've seen in northern Indiana.

This subspecies is named for its veiny leaves. A major difference between this and Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea is that the leaves of Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa are too heavy for the plant to support their weight, and the pitchers therefore fall over and appear to be prostrate in growth form, curving upwards at the pitcher opening (see photograph below). Frog's Breeches, as it is known, is a federal species of concern that grows in wet, acidic habitats primarily in the Atlantic coastal plain of the southeastern United States. In South Carolina, this carnivorous plant species is rare but grows in the mountains, sandhills, and coastal plain.

The third species of pitcher plant at Shealy's Pond was Sarracenia rubra (below). This species has its greatest distribution in South Carolina, but its overall range includes several small isolated populations throughout the southeastern United States. Sarracenia jonesii, which I mentioned in Part 1 of my recap, was once thought to be a subspecies of Sarracenia rubra, but the two are now thought by most to be distinct species, with the former restricted to the mountains and the latter found in the coastal plain and sandhills.

The leaves of Sarracenia rubra (shown below) are on average a bit smaller (with smaller openings) than those of Sarracenia jonesii, but there is some overlap. Sarracenia rubra supposedly preys mostly on ants, as the opening in the pitcher is said to be too small for many other insects.

After Shealy's Pond, we started our trip back through the piedmont and stopped at Savannah River Bluffs Heritage Preserve, located along the scenic Savannah River just northeast of Augusta, Georgia. Taxodium distichum, Platanus occidentalis, and Betula nigra were dominant in the floodplain forest, in places covered with Tillandsia usneoides. In addition to the floodplain, the basic-mesic forest at Savannah River Bluffs was our targeted plant community.

At this preserve, we were excited to see another sedge in section Phyllostachyae (the section in which Carex jamesii, Carex latebracteata, Carex wildenowii, and Carex basiantha are placed), Carex superata (shown below). This interesting sedge, with tallest flower stalks less than half the height of the plant, is known from moist to dry forests and openings in the southeastern United States.

Our primary target at Savannah River Bluffs, however, was Trillium reliquum, shown below. Unfortunately, we were a bit late to see this federally endangered trillium in flower, but I still couldn't resist taking numerous photos of this amazing rarity that is known from widely separated populations in just five counties in three states (Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina). Relict Trillium, as it is known, can be identified by the s-shaped stem and silvery stripe along the leaf midveins; it grows in rich basic-mesic forests and floodplains.

After getting our fill of past-flowering Trillium reliquum, we hurried to Stevens Creek Heritage Preserve to end our trip in what some claim to be the best basic-mesic forest in the piedmont of the eastern United States. It didn't take long for us to find another of our targets, the federally threatened Ribes echinellum (shown below, in fruit). Although it can be abundant where found, the global distribution of Miccosukee Gooseberry includes just four sites in three counties: Gadsden and Jefferson Counties, Florida and McCormick County, South Carolina.

A trillium common at Stevens Creek that was still in flower when we were there on 3 May was Trillium discolor, shown below. Like so many of the other trillies, Pale Yellow Trillium has a narrow distribution, being restricted to the mountains and piedmont in the upper drainage of the Savanna River. Trillium discolor grows in deciduous forest and is known from just a handful of counties in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

To wrap up our excursion, we found one last "must see," Trillium lancifolium (below). Although it was past flowering, we couldn't resist numerous photos of this unique trillium that bares a similar appearance to the common Trillium recurvatum that grows here in northern Indiana. Lanceleaf Trillium grows in floodplains and mesic forests in widely separated populations throughout Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, the panhandle of Florida, southern Tennessee, and eastern Mississippi.

It has been fun reliving our whirlwind trip through the mountain, piedmont, and coastal plain provinces of South Carolina. As you can see, South Carolina has a lot to offer to the botanically inclined, and we had a terrific time touring the state.

McPherson, S. Pitcher Plants of the Americas. Blacksburg, Virginia: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, 2007.

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