Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Perfect Day

The day had arrived to set out on a search for the Yellow Lady Slipper. I knew that if I waited much longer it might be another year before I would get a chance to see this spectacular flower growing in the wild.

Chau-Ram Falls, aka "the falls on Ramsey Creek” just above its confluence with the Chauga. Until this very moment I had been wondering why they named it “Chau-Ram Park.” NOW, I get it.

As best as I can tell, two slightly different species are referred to as Yellow Lady Slipper. In this case, turning to the Latin name only muddies the waters. My guide books apply these names to the Yellow Lady Slipper:

Cypripedium pubescens
Cypripedium calceolus
Cypripedium calceolus var. parviflorum
Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens
Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum

Despite the confusing nomenclature, and the fact I’d never seen one in the wild, I was confident that I’d recognize one when I saw it, regardless of the official name.

After a bit of research into where they grow I decided to head south. Last year, I found very detailed directions that led me to the Pink Lady Slippers on the Rabun side of the Chattooga River. This time, I was only able to obtain generalized reports of the habitat for this flower.

Playing hopscotch with the rain all day, I managed to avoid getting caught in any downpours. I spent some quality time at one possible site, the Chauga River. I’ve crossed this river many times on the US 76 bridge between Long Creek and Westminster, SC, but had never explored it. The stretch of the Chauga flowing through Chau Ram Park was rich with spring wildflowers including some that were new to me and some I have yet to identify.

No cypripedia, however.

A couple of more stops at supposedly likely locations yielded similar results.

Pink Lady Slipper, Cypripedium acaule

Returning to one of my favorite spots on the Oconee side of the Chattooga, I revisited a patch of Pink Lady Slippers I had seen on May 8, 2009. On that date, the wild gingers were also in flower, with their peculiar blooms that hide in the leaf litter at the base of the plants. But on May 2, 2010, I couldn’t find any gingers in bloom.

Wild ginger, Asarum canadense

The final stop on my agenda was another trail near the Chattooga, one that I had never hiked before. You couldn’t ask for a better trail. The area is dominated by rhododendrons and centuries-old hemlocks, which are now just gray ghosts.

I did see some flowers along the trail, but no lady slippers.

Although I had devoted a whole day to finding the Yellow Lady Slipper I couldn’t claim disappointment at coming up empty. It had been a lovely day. The time had come, though, for me to turn back and head for home. But not before seeing what I might see around one more bend in the trail. After crossing a dry creek bed, I looked up the hillside from the trail and noticed a subtle interruption in the rhododendron-hemlock vegetation. This area must have been a clearing some years ago. Grass grew thinly here and there. A few pines and other small trees were well on their way to closing the canopy.

Bushwhacking up the hillside, I did see various lilies with shiny, broad leaves, but no blooms.

I did not see any lady slippers.

The place was so nice I sat down for a few minutes of rest before my return trip.

When I stood up to take one last look around, I detected two yellow dots of color about fifty feet up the hill. The light bouncing off them suggested blooms with a spherical shape.

Could it be?

Yes, indeed!


Jim Parker said...

I have at various times biked and run the trails at Shelby Bottoms here in Nashville which right now are under water. This spring I started walking the trails. I have seen more walking than I ever did in my other modes of transit. And you post has proved my idea that the slower we go the more we see and when we stop we can see everything.

GULAHIYI said...

It has been a long time since I was in Nashville, but that flooding must be disconcerting to say the least. Good luck!