Summer Wildflowers and Purple Fringed orchids on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina — 2021-06-25

In Memoriam
James Alexander Fowler
October 6, 1946 to June 25, 2021

The following photographs were taken by Jim on June 25, 2021 in a four-hour window that likely began in the North Carolina mountains and ended at Mount Mitchell State Park. Since there is no geolocation metadata associated with the photographs, we are unsure of the exact location at which they were taken.

Jim’s husband Walter and I (Jim’s son Dylan) make no assumptions that we would do Jim justice in the post-processing of his photographs. As such, the following collection has had minimal processing. Also, instead of writing new text to accompany the photographs, we have decided to include a block quote from a previous blog post. By designing the following post in this manner, we are keeping the blog authentic and in Jim’s own words.

Purple Fringed orchid
Purple Fringed orchid



Fire Pink quote from blog entry dated 29 June 2020:

Farther back from the shoulder of the road, the unmowed portion of the edge of the woods provided excellent habitat for one of the reddest wildflowers imaginable — Silene virginica or Fire Pink. This year, especially, the flowers of this cousin of the domesticated Carnation seemed to be larger and deeper in color. This is probably due to the quantity of rainfall so far this year. They really appear to be thriving on the roadside:

Fire Pink

Fire Pink



Eastern Red Columbine quote from blog entry dated 20 June 2020:

We finished up, packed our gear, and headed back toward home. About 20 minutes later, I spotted some bright red flowers along the roadside, so I found a spot to pull off, and I parked the truck. We gathered our gear and headed back up the road to where I had seen the flowers. These were the beautiful, Aquilegia canadensis or Eastern red Columbine, in glorious bloom! There were several large clumps of these plants along the road, so we set up to take some pictures.

Eastern Red Columbine



Cumberland Azalea quote from blog entry dated 27 June 2017:

Inspired by this find, we plodded up the trail until we reached the summit. We had been told to continue over the top of the ridge until we began the decent to the east. We did just that, and it was here that we began to see what remained of the Rhododendron calendulaceum or Flame Azalea display. Flame Azalea usually puts on its best show early on, before the plant is fully leafed-out. The leaves on the plants ahead of us had already put on its summer leaves, but many of the plants still held their vibrant flowers. The colors range from a pure, lemon yellow to a deep, scarlet-orange — and everything in between. Here are some of the Flame Azalea flowers we were able to photograph. Also note the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain scenery that is its backdrop:

Update 2017-06-29:I have been told (by someone who really knows their stuff) that these gorgeous Azaleas are probably Rhododendron cumberlandense or Cumberland Azalea. They don’t bloom until their leaves are present, and they generally prefer full sun, whereas Rhododendron calendulaceum bloom before their leaves are present and prefer to be in the woods or just on the edge of the woods. I really appreciate my knowledgeable readers — you guys never let me down.

Cumberland Azalea

Cumberland Azalea Cumberland Azalea



Sundrops quote from blog entry dated 15 July 2020:

There were a couple of species of wildflowers which were numerous along the roadside. These are Oenothera tetragona var. fraseri or Sundrops… The bright yellow flowers of Sundrops are hard to miss. They usually do not fully open except in bright sunlight, which there was plenty on this day:




Goat’s Beard quote from blog entry dated 9 June 2014:

I finished with the photography of these beauties, knowing that I had a very good day out in the field. So I packed up my camera gear and headed home. By this time, you know that I’m always open to capturing additional wildflowers that I come across on my forays into the field, so as not to disappoint, I’ll show you one last sighting — Aruncus dioicus or Goat’s Beard.

These particular plants were very easy to spot along the roadside. Where they were growing, however, posed some logistical problems. First, there was no where nearby to park, so had to travel on about 1/2 mile (~800 meters) to find a suitable pull-off. Once I unpacked my gear and walked back up the road to the plants, I realized that they were on a steep hillside about 10 feet (3 meters) above my head. Not only that, but to get close enough to them, I’d have to stand in a muddy, water-filled ditch which was precariously close to the road. Automobile traffic was whizzing by me, creating strong wind currents that made the plants sway vigorously to and fro. Finally, I managed to get a few shots of the flowers and decided that I had taken all the risk I was going to take to get them images. I would have liked to get a closer shot of the flowers, but with the wind and the traffic, it was virtually impossible.

Goat's Beard



Editor’s Note: Though I am no expert, I believe that all the following orchid photographs are of the Small Purple Fringed orchid.  -Dylan Fowler

Purple Fringed Orchids quote from blog entry dated 29 June 2018:

For botanical geeks only: The Small Purple Fringed orchids at Mt. Mitchell range in height from 8 inches (20 cm) to 24 inches (60 cm); the taller ones are generally found growing in the shade. The flowers are usually around one-half inch (12 mm) wide. There has been much discussion about the difference between Platanthera psycodes or the Small Purple Fringed orchid and Platanthera grandiflora or the Large Purple Fringed orchid; mostly concerning the size of the flowers, but at least in our southeast region, the flowers are about the same size. There is an insignificant color difference that can be discerned after seeing the flowers over a number of years, but it is not a characteristic that is determinative. I have noticed more variability in the color of the Small Purple Fringed orchid, but again, that is not determinative.

There is one feature that is significant in determining the difference, and that is the shape of the nectary opening, which is found in the center of the flower. For the Small Purple Fringed orchid, the nectary opening is partially hidden by the male reproductive parts (the pollinarium), but is generally considered “pinched” and in the shape of a barbell. For the Large Purple Fringed orchid, the nectary opening is larger and almost round…

You might also notice differences in the polliniaria structures in front of and to either side of the nectary opening. The differences (larger and spaced wider apart for the Large Purple Fringed orchid and smaller and spaced closer together for the Small Purple Fringed orchid) are readily apparent upon inspection. This difference in structure dictates a pollination mechanism that is more suited to different pollinators. I have observed on many occasions at this site that the Small Purple Fringed orchid is pollinated by Epargyreus clarus or the Silver Spotted Skipper, while I have seen Battus philenor or the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly visit the Large Purple Fringed orchid. That is not to say those are the only pollinators of these orchids.

The larger, wider spaced pollinaria of the Large Purple Fringed orchid are situated such that the pollinia will be stuck to the head/eyes of the pollinator as it jams its head forward to reach the nectar, while the more closely spaced pollinaria of the Small Purple Fringed orchid will be stuck to the proboscis of the pollinator. It is also thought that the barbell shape of the nectary opening of the Small Purple Fringed orchid is designed to cause the pollinator’s proboscis to shift either right or left, thereby positioning the proboscis more closely to either of the pollinia.

‘Nuf said about that. Now, back to our scheduled programming…

Purple Fringed orchid Purple Fringed orchid
Purple Fringed orchid Purple Fringed orchid
Purple Fringed orchid Purple Fringed orchid

Purple Fringed orchid

Purple Fringed orchid Purple Fringed orchid

Scarce pink form of Small Purple Fringed Orchid quote from blog entry dated 29 June 2018:

My favorite color form is the scarce pink form. On this trip, we saw just 3 or 4 of them out of the thousands flowering plants along the roadside.

pind form of Purple Fringed orchid

Purple Fringed orchid Purple Fringed orchid
Purple Fringed orchid Purple Fringed orchid
Purple Fringed orchid Purple Fringed orchid

Purple Fringed orchid

Jim Fowler’s last photograph. Sourced from Jim’s Flickr and authored by Walter Ezell:

Jim took this photo of a Purple Fringed orchid at 3 pm June 25, 2021. The medical examiner estimated his time of death from a heart attack as 3:15 pm. He was near the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River.



Since Jim was always focused on the art and the object in front of the camera, he infrequently published photos of himself. I decided it would be good to share with you some “action” shots of the person behind the camera.  -Dylan Fowler

Jim through the years:


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47 Responses

  1. I never met Jim, but I will miss his wonderful photography, his blog posts and trip reports, and his help with wildflower identification. I was so very sad to hear of his death.

  2. I am shocked and saddened to hear about Jim’s death. I have always enjoyed his posts and trip reports with all the wonderful photos that he took of nature’s beauty.

  3. I am so sorry to hear about Jim’s passing. He will be sorely missed–his blog posts and photos were so wonderful! I had always hoped to be able to join him and his friends on one of his photo expeditions in SC on day…so sad that is now an impossible dream. May he rest in peace.

  4. Jim was so generous with his time and talent. Through his writing and photos I’ve learned so much. His images allow for both art and botanizing. May he go forth shining and be eternally gambolling across fields of heavenly orchids. My prayers of support go out to his family and friends. Though we never met, his life has had a strong impact on mine.

  5. So sorry to hear of Jim’s death. His photos and comments have been a wonderful inspiration and I was thrilled with each one. He will be sorely missed.

  6. This is devastating news. I am saddened to hear this and send my thoughts to his family and friends.
    I met Jim on the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoyed talking flowers and photography with him and have been following him for many years now. I will miss learning from him and seeing his amazing wildflower images. He was a master of his art.

  7. My heart goes out to his loved ones. I hope his passing was easy. He was so generous with his time and art, and for me, an inspiration. It is also enjoyable to figure out where his secret places are.

    He is sorely missed.

  8. I agree this is devastating news. I never met Jim but I followed his good work and have met many others who he touched with is art and thoguhtfulness. We will miss him greatly.

  9. Beautiful Dylan and Walter. Thank you so much for putting this final blog together and adding the photos of Jim. I am so sorry for your loss. He surely will be missed!

  10. To Walter and Dylan and Jim’s other loved ones, I’m so sorry to read of his passing. I am a hiker and photographer myself, and though I never met Jim I enjoyed his photography and his blog. His passion and knowledge of wildflowers was extraordinary and he will be missed.

  11. It is indeed sad.

    Thank you for this post, like everyone else I always looked forward to the next photograph, story, and insight. I hope this site can somehow remain available for a while, it is a great resource and repository of fantastic information.

  12. My heart goes out to Walter and Dylan. Thanks for posting some of his last photos. Jim was my favorite plant photographer. I will miss his blog posts and seeing him at orchid symposiums. I always got a kick out of his photographs of me in unusual positions when I was taking photos. He will be sorely missed.

  13. Truly heartbroken to learn of Jim’s passing. While I was never priviledged to meet him in person, I always so enjoyed his wonderful photographs. Know that I’m holding you, Walter and Dylan, in my heart.

  14. I met Jim on the trail a few years back, he gave me some pointers to get better results from my camera/flower efforts. Have been following his blog ever since. I am saddened to hear of his passing. A remarkable and intelligent person indeed.

  15. What a lovely photographic tribute to Jim. My condolences to Walter, Dylan, and the rest of the family. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to view Jim’s exquisite photography of our very special native plants. We all mourn his passing.

  16. Thank you, Dylan and Walter, for spending the time to put together this tribute to my brother. I will have his last photographs and these many images of him to comfort me and remind me of his splendid life.

  17. So sad to hear of Jim’s passing! I really enjoyed following his blogs and aspiring to have such dedication. His passion, knowledge, and generosity will not be forgotten. Like the wildflowers and their stories he shared, what a gift of beauty and joy he was upon this world.

  18. I am so very sad to hear that Jim has left us. I knew him only through his Blog which has helped me through so many rough times. I will miss his beautiful photos and. Interesting commentary more than I can express. My sympathy to Dylan, Walter and all who knew and loved him. I am bereft.

  19. There’s a Captcha down at the bottom, which is there to check on the human authenticity of the responder. This final Captcha for me is poetic: “Solve 1 + 1 = “. Although I shall have to enter “2”, for Jim and Walter, 1 + 1 was 1!

  20. What a wonderful memorial to a wonderful man. I am sure that members of the South Carolina Native Plant Society will agree that we will miss Jim Fowler individually and as an organization. This is a wonderful tribute from his son and his life partner.

  21. I never met Jim Fowler in person but felt like he was a friend who let me come along on his journeys. It was through discovering his blog several years ago that I first read about the beautiful wildflowers along Persimmon Ridge Road, and I soon drove there to see for myself and also explored the Ashmore Heritage Preserve which is right there off the road. I would return to both several times, sometimes with a friend. It has been such a joy reading Jim’s posts and seeing the exquisite details of the flowers he photographed. Beautiful man, beautiful flowers, and although far too soon, what might even be described as a beautiful death on a mountainside while doing what he loved.

  22. Thank you Walter and Dylan for creating this post. I hope that putting this together provided you with some sort of comfort. It is a shock to all.

  23. My deepest condolences to Walter, Dylan and your families. I found Jim’s blog a few years ago and it has given much joy and helped to identify and recognize wildflowers of this region. I may not have always commented but couldn’t wait to view his amazing phots and read the dialogue. I lost my husband of 46 years last May and Jim’s blog really helped me through this past year. I feel like I have lost another dear friend. Thank you so much for this wonderful memorial post. ?

  24. Very sorry to hear of Jim’s passing. As others have said, Jim was so generous with his time and skills and will be very deeply missed. My wife Sharon and I were very fortunate to join Jim and a couple of his friends for two days of photographing orchids and carnivorous plants in August, 2019. We will always cherish our memories of that trip. We send our condolences to Walter, Dylan and the rest of the family.

  25. Jim identified a flower for me two weeks ago— I was appreciative of his generosity in taking the time to email me. I am saddened to learn of his passing. He was doing the work he loved in a glorious place. Heaven must be newly planted with wildflowers, orchids especially, to honor his coming.

  26. I met Jim at the first NOC meeting in 2002. I purchased his book (he signed it for me) on the wild orchids of South Carolina at that event – even though there is slim chance that I might someday travel there. I enjoyed reading his blog and admired his photography. I wish I had the opportunity to know him better.

    Although I am saddened by his passing, I can’t think of a more fitting way for him to die than to die photographing orchids and wildflowers and doing that near the summit of the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

  27. What a lovely memorial to Jim! I am so sorry for his family’s loss – and for the loss for orchid community at large. I only met Jim a few times in association with the Native Orchid Conference, but he was alway willing to help me find orchids in my own travels with coordinates of likely places. Thanks Jim, I will miss your lovely photographs and kindness.

  28. I will surely miss Jim’s blog and wonderful photographs! What a huge mark he has made on all who love wildflowers. As said above, how fitting that he left doing what he loved!

  29. Thank you for putting this together. I am a newcomer to his blog admired his work greatly and loved every issue. I hope the archives will remain available.

  30. Dylan, Walter–
    Our sincere condolences; we are very saddened to learn of Jim’s passing. We were lucky enough to attend Jim’s Mountain Bog presentation in Cedar Mountain several years ago, and began following his blog after that. His amazing photography and his wonderful descriptions made every flower special and helped us learn more about the beautiful world in our back yard. He shared several specific flower locations with me, and I told him of a couple DuPont State Forest sites of interest. Thanks for the beautiful tribute to Jim, and know that many share your loss.

  31. I am so grateful to Jim for allowing me to see the heart and sould of the flowers so beautifully. I am saddened by his passing. I send my condolences to Walter, Dyland and family. His photographs and descriptions should be made into a book. I will dearly miss Dylan and his beautiful photographs.

  32. Jim has been an inspiration to me and to all native plant enthusiasts. What a wonderful teacher with such a humble and entertaining approach. I hope his blogs will be saved in a publication for the whole world to enjoy. My sincere condolences to Jim’s family and friends. Such a treasure is gone but his mighty works remain.

  33. The world lost a wonderful person who so freely shared his view of nature. I hope that you will maintain his blog so that others can continue to discover and enjoy his wonderful view. My condolences to Walter, Dylan and his extended family of nature lovers.

  34. Walter and Dylan, my sincere condolences to you both. I “met” Jim through Flickr years ago and followed him there and through his blog. His photographs and descriptions were beautiful and informative, and I also got a chance to enjoy his humor (through some back and forth comments) and his helpfulness when he would respond to my plant questions. Even from a distance, he will be missed. Every year when the spring ephemerals come out I’ll think of him as he used to tease me a bit about how late they came out here in Michigan. My thoughts go out to you.

  35. Dylan and I are grateful and deeply moved by all the kind comments. We do plan to keep the blog available for the foreseeable future. And there will be at least one more entry.

    1. I met Jim several years ago in the early spring on the Oconee Bell trail in Jocassee State Park …. ever since I found his web site I have followed his wildflower walks and stunning photographs with great joy! This spring I will take that trail again in his memory and will ever continue to miss him.

  36. I’m stunned and saddened to hear of Jim passing. He was a wealth of information and his photos were absolutely stunning. He inspired me to hike places I had never been to look for these beautiful wildflowers. I will miss his beautiful pictures and his teachings. We lost a kind and generous soul. May he rest in peace and may your hearts heal. God Bless.

  37. I was fortunate enough to meet Jim while on the search for yellow lady slippers. My husband Bernie saw him headed up the trail with camera and tripod on his shoulder, and he hurried to catch up to him and said “are you by chance Jim Fowler?” Then Bernie shouted excitedly to me “hey, it’s Jim Fowler!”, knowing that I would be thrilled to meet him. And it WAS a thrill. Just through a short chat, it was clear that he gave much of himself through his craft, and his talent left me nearly speechless. I loved following his blog over the years, reading his book on SC orchids and gleaning so much from his enthusiasm and knowledge. I was always inspired by the quality and intensity of his images, and his relentless pursuit of native orchids in a variety of habitats. I can only imagine the grief and loss experienced by Walter, Dylan and other family members. Go in peace, Jim.

  38. My sincere condolences to both of you, Walter and Dylan. Jim’s photography and blog have given me much joy for many years. I’ll look forward to reminiscing through the archives, but tonight I’ll pick up his orchid book again.

  39. Dylan and Walter,
    I am so sorry to hear of Jim’s passing. Thank you for posting this posthumously, especially at what is no doubt a difficult time for you.
    Like a number of others, I did not have the opportunity to meet Jim in person, but I connected through his blog. I loved his photography of wild orchids and other flowers, and he most definitely inspired me to want to learn more about wild orchids. On June 10, I discovered a tiny wild lady’s tresses orchid growing in my yard, and I immediately thought of Jim. Had it not been for information I learned from reading his blog, I would not have recognized this tiny flower as being a precious wild orchid.

    Jim may be gone from this realm, but his memory, societal contributions, and his positive impact on others will live on.

  40. Walter, Dylan getting this posted…had to be a labor of love and it certainly shows. Especially with the repeated efforts to get it out there! Walter, glad to hear this blog will remain for a while. As you already know, it’s obvious that this was an endeavor that Jim spent untold hours on…and he did so with the painstaking detail that is very, very much Jim. Dylan, we’ve never met but your dad always spoke highly of you. Always. I recall him talking about you when you were in the oilfields of the Dakotas.

    For me, there will never be another trip to the Green Swamp, or the coastal Carolinas without thinking about Jim, our conversations, the shared excitement of a new discovery and the mutual admiration for the old discoveries. Orchids, of course, were a consideration but there were no flora that went unacknowledged to this true naturalist…this lover of nature.

  41. I never met Jim in person. I often saw his posts of wildflowers and always enjoyed them very much. I contacted him on June 11th asking some questions about his observations of the sundew Drosera rotundifolia along the Blue Ridge Parkway . He answered me very quickly and was very kind! I wish that I could have met him and learned more. I will think about him when I get to make my trip to the parkway. I am sad that I will not be able to tell him the results in person. I send my sincere condolences to both of you! It is very evident that Jim was a very talented, kind, and giving man.

  42. Thank you so much for sharing this work and the sweet photos of Jim. Condolences to Dylan, Walter and all those who loved and admired Jim. I will always treasure the “secret” places he told me about and his incredible generosity in sharing his beautiful view of the world

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