|View towards WV from SR613.|
On Saturday evening at dinner, comparing notes with the folks I had met, Professor Henry Wilbur and his wife Becky mentioned that they had seen some Yellow Fringed orchids and another orchid with white flowers they hadn't identified yet, at two locations further down the mountain, outside of the Biological Station boundary. Naturally I was interested, and they agreed to give me instructions so I could find the orchids the next day .
After dinner, Mark told me about the high-powered microscope in Lewis and offered to show me how to use it. He gave me a specimen of Goodyera that I could examine, showed me how to mount it using toothpicks as makeshift pins, and explained about the herbarium collection in the same room. He didn't want to linger too long in the room with the herbariums open, since from long previous exposure he was sensitive to the mothballs used to preserve herbariums, so he left immediately after and I was on my own. The close-up look at the Goodyera flowers was fascinating and I wanted to sketch them, but was too tired to go back to get my sketch book. I decided to put that off until the morning and perused the herbarium files of the orchids--some of the specimens dated back to the 1930's and 40's! I did this until exhaustion overtook me, then I returned to my cottage for what I hoped would be a better night's sleep. I'd kept the windows closed all day and it was warmer in the bedroom--I was soon asleep.
The next morning at breakfast I met Dr. Rytas Vilgalys, from Duke University, and several of his students. He is a mycology expert and we chatted about the fascinating associations of native orchids with mycorrhizal fungi. He told me that the Coral Root orchids seemed to associate with the Russula genus of mushrooms in particular. Other native orchids, he said, actually parasitized the mycorrhizal fungi that had aided them in earlier growth stages and ended up eventually entirely consuming the fungi--who would have guessed?
After breakfast I went back to Lewis with my sketchbook and specimen and completed my sketches of the miniature flower's details then obtained detailed instructions from Becky about how to locate the orchids she and her husband had seen. Guests were supposed to check out by noon, so it seemed best to get everything ready before going out to search for orchids.
I gathered all my gear including the bag of garbage generated over the weekend, leaving the cottage ready for its next occupant, and packed the car. I figured it would be best to be able to start back home directly from the last site, leaving more time for exploration.
I rode off on the gravel road going down the other side of the mountain, passing by some folded bird capture nets on the outskirts of the station. Huge stands of rhododendrons hugged the mountainside, and a few driveways marked private led into seeming wilderness as far as I could see--these must be private hunting campsites.
A few scary hairpin turns awaited farther down. After one particularly hairy turn the view opened up at a clearing and I took several shots. The road dead-ended at another gravel road with no route numbers--I debated which way to turn--the right hand side seemed to go downhill, and I correctly guessed this was where 613 continued. I passed an area marked as White Rock Recreation Area, and eventually found a paved road where I turned left as instructed.
On my right there was a stream--Stoney Creek. I should have stopped to get some photos, it was so quiet and lovely, but my aim was to find the bog where the Yellow Fringed orchids were. I passed Glen Alton, and looked for the bog just before the Mohawk Flats sign. I passed the sign but there was no place nearby where I could pull off to park. I drove past the sign and turned around at the first opportunity, then found a place with a shoulder I could pull off on and walked back about 200 yards towards the area.
I looked for the dark flower heads of a sedge, the clue I'd been given about the location of the bog and they were all around. I stepped onto a mound of spagnum moss oozing water, but managed to not sink--so far, so good. Peering into the brush I caught a glimpse of several orange spikes--here were the Yellow Fringed orchids, lush and plentiful. I went farther in to photograph the best-looking ones. There was one that was seemingly huge, but on close examination, it was two of them intertwined--beautiful!
|Two Yellow Fringed Orchids intertwined|
|Closer view of Yellow Fringed Orchids|
|Stream at Glen Alton|
About half a mile down, there was the seep, surrounded by large rhododendrons, but I couldn't remember if the white orchid was supposed to be on the right or the left. I looked for any traces of recent footsteps and followed what appeared to be a recently-trod path on the right. That vanished quickly and I continued downhill until I came to a thicket of ferns which seemed too dry for orchids, so I turned back, exploring underneath the rhododendrons along the seep, but nothing turned up. Back at the main path I tried the left side, stepping on some rhododendron roots along the bank of the seep, but that seemed to lead to impassable forest. I looked at my watch--twelve-thirty. I was loath to give up now, but I should be turning back to start the drive home soon. One set of great orchids out of two wasn't bad; it was time to call it a day.
I started to drive back up the gravel mountain road and then thought, why go up the gravel road again, when I might be able to get to the main road from this one? I turned around again and drove on--not a single road marker or route number, I had no idea where I was heading. At last a truck passed me and I hailed them to ask. The driver said I was about 15 miles from the main road--knowing I was on the right track, I pushed on and came out at Pembroke, just a few miles beyond where I'd turned off on Friday afternoon. It was about two o'clock, there was just enough time to stop by Pandapas Pond to look in on the yellow pinesap. I wanted to see how the specimens I had photographed two days before were developing. The flowers of the pinesap were unfolding and the stems more upright, but as you can see here, insects had begun to mar the pristine beauty of the tiny shoots.
I hope to visit MLBS again next year, perhaps in the springtime when the pink lady slipper orchids bloom. There is so much for a botanical artist to explore in this area of southwest Virginia!