Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fort Valley Plant Walk

Yellow False Foxglove (Gerardia flava).

A couple of weeks ago the Piedmont Chapter of VNPS met for a walk at a site in nearby Fort Valley. We met at the Bear Wallow parking lot, the area where Herb and I had looked for yellow fringed orchids last year with no success. I was hoping to learn the location of these elusive beauties this time, even though they wouldn't be in bloom for another month or so.

The day was hot and humid, and fortunately our walk was short, but full of interesting plants, many of which are native and might be considered nothing but pretty weeds. The Yellow False Foxglove above is not a native, but is it attractive, whereas the Blue Skullcap and the Chrysogonum below are natives.

Blue Skullcap (Scutellaria integrifolia)

Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)

Our group made its way slowly up the dirt road identifying plants, chatting pleasantly. At the place where the short road bends to the right, we stepped into the shady woods, and a few feet in, the ground became wetter. Spagnum Moss and a few Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora) carpeted the forest floor. A few feet beyond was a tiny seepage pond, and some Yellow Fringed Orchid plants with flower spikes emerging were visible.

Indian Pipe flowers (Monotropa uniflora) growing among Spagnum moss

Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaria) with flower buds.

To think that Herb and I spent hours looking for them last summer and there they were, a scant ten feet away!

One plant I was curious to identify was Tassel Rue (Trauvetteria carolinensis) and we came across some growing near the orchids, but my shots of the flowers were not in focus. In fact, my camera was having a hard time focusing in the mottled light of the forest, and many of my shots didn't come out as well as I would have liked.


With all the rain we've been getting this year, there were many colorful mushrooms all over. I have no idea what this orange fungi is, but the color indicates it's probably poisonous. We came across one mushroom tentatively identified as a King Bolete (which I've eaten before), but no one seemed inclined to test it by harvesting it.

Wild hydrangea growing by a stream.

Back at the parking lot I was amazed that VNPS members had counted somewhere between 30-40 different species of plants on this short walk.

Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata).

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Work in Progress

Shale Violet (Viola sororia) , watercolor 11"x 14".

I'm currently working on this small painting of wild violets I found growing in the rocky shale of my back yard. When I came across them the first spring after we moved here, I marveled at how they could grow in such an inhospitable terrain. They have reappeared every April since and usually are gone by the end of May.

The most salient feature other than their tiny size is how hairy these violets are--nothing like the common wood violets I was used to seeing. I figure they must be a different species, and indeed, I believe these are actually related to the mid-western hairy blue violet (Viola sororia) if not actually that species. I read recently that a variety of wild violet that grows in shale had been identified in southwestern Virginia and classified as a new species, and wondered, could these be that new species?

The hairs are the detail which I'm working on right now (not shown above), using a fine point pen with white ink to bring them out. Once the ink dries, I'll go over them with a light yellow wash, and hope it looks convincing. We'll see how it turns out.

This painting represents a departure from the conventional lighting used on botanical paintings, in which the light comes from the upper left hand of the image. Here the light is coming from the right, and is very low on the horizon (the photos were taken in the evening). And I've included a bit of the ground too, showing the shale. My image is a bit yellowish because it too was photographed at sunset; in reality the greens in the painting are much cooler except for the bits of sunlight on the leaves.