Saturday, August 1, 2015

What's blooming at Craggy Gardens

The purpose of a flower is to draw attention to itself.  For my money, none of the high mountain mid-summer flowers around Craggy Gardens do a better job of that than the Turks Cap Lily

Craggy Gardens is one of North Carolina's mysterious high mountain summit balds--peaks and ridges that are free of trees even though the climate is warm enough to support them.  Nobody knows for sure why these false-tundra remnants of the ice age linger on selected summits in the southern Appalachians.  But whatever the explanation, I love them.  The Roan High Balds on the Appalachian Trail are larger and 'balder,' but as I hiked from Rattlesnake Lodge to Glassmine Falls Overlook, that section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail instantly leapt to the top of my favorites list.

Ecologically they call Craggy Gardens a 'rhododendron heath' because the prominent plant is the pink flowered Catawba Rhododendron.  What I found as I hiked through in late July was that there are also loads of blueberry bushes and the first of these yummy juicy sweet treats were ripe!

What I like most about hiking these open high ridges is that I'm out of the 'Green Tunnel.'   There are constant views of the surrounding country and of the weather.  The views were prodigious, but in this hike report I'll show just two examples--the view from Lane Pinnacle on a clear Sunday morning, and a view of Mt. Mitchell from near the summit of Bullhead Mountain.  I've put many more views and general trail scenes on the EveryTrail trip report linked to via the map at the end.  Each of the little red 'push pins' there represents a photo, and most are not shown here because ...

... because the primary focus of this report will be a photo-tour of the abundant mid-summer bloom, both along the Parkway and on the trail.  Late July at lower elevations is not so colorful.  The spring flowers are done and fall leaf change is still a distant prospect.  But up above about 5300 feet, where all the following photos were taken, I felt as though I was constantly walking through a flower garden.  At first I just looked, but as I began to note the variety and abundance of bloom, I felt the urge to begin taking photos of each new species I saw blooming, just in order to have a record for future reference.  It became a project, lasting three days--stop and smell the flowers!

The photos go somewhat beyond just flowers, as it turns out.  I've spent quite a bit of time selecting and preparing about fifty of the best shots.  All these photos were taken during three consecutive days of hiking.  Not all the species have been identified, but check the captions for my best guess at species or common name.  Enjoy.

Another attention-getter, lavender variety of bee balm.  Looks like an insect's eye or an alien space ship.
As mentioned, the blueberries were ripe and abundant.
Mossy log becomes trail marker
Bumblebee on 'Green and gold' (Chrysogonum virginianum)
Dew jewelry on airy grass seed frond
A touch of premature fall color or just a plant in distress?
Pivevine (or Blue) Swallowtail butterfly on Joe-Pye weed
Fungus 'ice cream' - that's not an identification, but an impression
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Turks Cap Lily
Blackberries were coming ripe too
Indian pipe - very distinctive because the plant has no chlorophyll.  It's a parasite that feeds on certain fungi, which themselves are dependent on decaying vegetation.  The complexity of the web of life never ceases to amaze.
Canadian Thistle
Filmy Angelica leaf - I saw a number of plants that weren't blooming doing this early color change
Distinctive blue-green dead wood, common in the Appalachians.  The color is produced by the action of fungus as a waste byproduct called 'fungal laccase' that contains an oxide of copper.
Wild hydrangea has this wild whimsical way of getting attention to its mostly green flowers
More dew-jewelry on grass seed
Red variety of bee balm - a real show-stopper
Yellowjackets seemed particularly attracted to this wild clematis, the Virginia Bower Vine
Berries of the hobble-bush, a member of the viburnum family, were just beginning to turn
The last of the rosebay rhododendron were still blooming in shady areas
Black-eyed Susan
Carolina White-Blaze ssp. MST-ensis
An amazing example of convergent evolution.  This lichen species masquerades as the Carolina White Blaze, fooling many an unwary hiker and luring them to inevitable missteps.
Fraser Fir

Filmy Angelica.  The flowers are said to be intoxicating to insects.  The ants really loved this one.
Trailside yellow birch with attitude.  This species often develops amazing character as it grows old.
Jewel Weed
Bold variety of lichen.  I thought this was called 'staghorn' or something like that, but can't nail down the identification.
Male Tiger Swallowtail on Joe-Pye weed - this guy has one missing 'tail'
Moss and mushroom
Mountain Laurel going to seed - in profusion
The parasitic vine 'Dodder' - Cuscata gronovii - in bloom.  A few of its characteristic twining orange 'tentacles' also visible
wild Phlox
Queen Anne's Lace
Good old pink clover beside the Parkway
Stinging Nettle Plant
Pink Turtlehead, relative of the snapdragon

Cutleaf coneflower
Haven't identified this one, not very common, at least here.
White wood aster
Black eyed Susan, an interesting variety.  Note the tiny little yellow florets between each petal.
Variegated blackberry leaf with a common diminutive grass weed with showy purple flowers - I should know this one, but I don't
... all brought to you by this Fuzzy Curmudgeon

Below is a map of the trails and Parkway hiking that produced the above show:

MST - Craggy Gardens, Craven Gap to Balsam Gap at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in North Carolina

No comments:

Post a Comment