First visit to Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve in upstate South Carolina — 2019-04-05

On Friday, April 5, Dan Whitten and I made a day-long visit (my first) to Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve in northern Greenville County, South Carolina. The preserve, which is state-owned and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, encompasses 1,886 acres (763 hectares), and is transected by a moderately difficult, 2.75-mile (4.4-km) foot trail. We met at the parking lot about noon; the time necessitated by the overnight into late morning rain. Our objective was the monitoring (counting, measuring, and photographing) of a couple of populations of “Jones Gap” Trillium, an odd form of Trillium catesbaei or Catesby’s Trillium first seen at Jones Gap State Park in Greenville County, South Carolina. This undescribed species is very widely scattered in South Carolina and northern Georgia and can be recognized by the upward-pointing flowers (normally nodding beneath the bracts/leaves). The largest population at Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve we estimate at about 750 plants. Of those 750 plants, less than 10% were blooming. This might sound like a lot of plants, but they are spread over a fairly large, steeply sloping area and are clustered in small to large colonies. Here is an image of one of the plants in flower:

Jones Gap Trillium“Jones Gap” Trillium

Here is another of these odd Trillium. Yes, it also comes in a pink flavor:

Along the way to visit the two “Jones Gap” Trillium populations we knew about, we spotted many colorful wildflowers. One of these is Hexastylis heterophylla or Variable-leaf Heartleaf. Update:Just now, my friend and naturalist, Patrick McMillan suggested that this image below is actually of the rare, Hexastylis naniflora or Dwarf-flower Heartleaf. I agree with his identification. It occurs in only a few counties in the foothills of North and South Carolina.

Although it is believed that many Hexastylis species are self-pollinating, the flowers are always produced at ground level for the benefit of the ground-dwelling pollinators: ants, flies, and beetles. Quite often, the half-inch (10-12 mm) to inch-wide (25 mm) flowers are not seen unless the leaf litter is removed.

Dwarf-flower Heartleaf

There are several species of Heartleaf in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains — some of them quite rare. But one is quite common. The leaves of Hexastylis heterophylla or Variable-leaf Heartleaf are variably patterned; some with very little or no pattern and some quite distinctively pattered with yellow or whitish veins – hence the name Variable-leaf Heartleaf:

Variable-leaf Heartleaf

Here are examples of the different leaf patterns which may be present in Variable-leaf Heartleaf:

Variable-leaf Heartleaf leaves Variable-leaf Heartleaf leaves

An early Rhododendron in this area is Rhododendron carolinianum or Carolina Rhododendron aka Rhododendron minus var. minus. It has been seen to bloom as early as late February, but usually by the first week of April, one can expect to see the clusters of white or pink blooms in full force. The plant as well as the flowers are somewhat smaller than the common, Rhododendron maximum or Rosebay Rhododendron which are so prevalent in the Southern Appalachian mountains:

Carolina Rhododendron

Carolina Rhododendron

In numerous places along and just beside the trail, we saw the curiously hooded flowers of Arisaema triphyllum or Jack-in-the-Pulpit. The color of this flower is quite variable, with some being almost pure green with others have dark purple stripes on the corolla and hood. All that we saw on this trip were the striped ones:

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Jack-in-the-Pulpit

There were numerous species of Violets, many of which are common to the area. But one of these, I don’t see very often. It is Viola palmata or Palmate Violet — so named because of its many-lobed leaves. Note that the older leaves are much less palmate than the newer ones:

Palmate Violet Palmate Violet

I was amazed at the number and large size of the Trillium cuneatum or Little Sweet Betsy we saw all along the entire length of the trail. This Trillium species is very common in the area, but to see them with a leaf-spread of 12 inches (30 cm) or more was astounding! Here is an image of a trio of them at the base of a tree:

Little Sweet Betsy

The flower petal color ranges from a deep burgundy to bronze and rarely to yellow or greenish-yellow.

As we neared the end of the trail at the South Pacolet River, we began to see numerous colonies of Erythronium americanum or American Trout Lily. This is not a prolific bloomer in our area, although there were many hundreds/thousands of plants growing near the river. It differs from the more common, Erythronium umbilicatum or Dimpled Trout Lily in several ways. First, the flowers of the American Trout Lily are generally twice as large as those of the Dimpled Trout Lily. In late summer, if one is able to see the seed capsules of both species, the seed capsule of the American Trout Lily will remain mostly upright while the seed capsule of the Dimpled Trout Lily will be bent over and touching the ground. There are other differences which require that the plant be dug to verify, so I won’t mention them in this blog. Here are some images of the American Trout Lilies we saw:

American Trout Lily American Trout Lily

American Trout Lily

Also present along with the American Trout Lilies, was an odd form of Trillium rugelii or Southern Nodding Trillium. It was odd because these flowers were not nodding! They were standing upright. Now, you might want to call these T. cernum or T. flexipes because they share many of the traits of these species, but T. cernum has not been reported from any site south of northern Virginia, and T. flexipes requires a much more basic soil type that is found at Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve. Much has been written about all of the Trillium species found in the Trillium erectum group (of which these are all members) and their ability to hybridize. It is not at all uncommon to find these hybrids in the Southern Appalachian Mountain region, which makes certain identification quite a challenge if at all possible. Having said that, here are two examples of these upright Southern Nodding Trilliums:

Southern Nodding Trillium

Southern Nodding Trillium

We had finished with our task for the day, and Dan mentioned that he had found a site for Corydalis sempervirens or Rock Harlequin aka Pale Corydalis “not too far away” from our present location. This piqued my interest because I had never seen or photographed this species. I was sore from the hike, already, but the possibility of seeing this “life list” plant in flower gave me renewed energy. I said, “Great, let’s go!” So we headed off to this very out-of-the-way/off-the-grid location.

After a bit of bush-whacking and false starts, we finally found the correct rock outcrop where these plants grew. I had about given up, but here we were. Here are some images of these colorful beauties:

Rock Harlequin Rock Harlequin

Rock Harlequin

This definitely does not look like anything I’d expect to see in the drab woods in early April. Thank you, Dan, for showing this plant to me!

Earlier on in the hike, we had come across a single plant of Corydalis flavula or Yellow Fumewort, which was also a “life list” plant for me. I didn’t mention it earlier, since I wanted to group these two Corydalis species together. Both of these species have traditional folk medicine uses due to their chemical constituents, treating such maladies as Pain, Insomnia, Cardiac Arrhythmia, Dysmenorrhea, and Peptic ulcers:

Yellow Fumewort

Yellow Fumewort

Finally, here is an image of a black-bodied snail we saw while on our hike. If any of you, Dear Readers, can identify this one for me, I would be eternally grateful. I have spent a lot of time with the different keys for snails, but I have not been able to come up with a satisfactory identification.

black-bodied snail

Thanks to my friend, Dan Whitten, another adventure in the upstate of South Carolina is now under my belt! And, two “life list” items stuck from my list! Even now, a day later, I’m feeling the aches from that up and down hike. It was just a 7.3 mile (11.7 km) total hike with only a 1000-foot (304 meter) elevation gain, but I’m used to something akin to “drive-by botanizing” where a known target species is less than a mile from my parked truck — more like 100 yards (100 meters)! Sadly, I’m out of shape for even moderate hikes, and I’m going to have to do something about that if I expect to see fabulous wildflowers…

It’s still early in the Spring season with more botanizing adventures to come.

Stay tuned…



Leave a comment

10 Responses

  1. Hi Jim,

    I know that you are the flower expert. But I thought that what you have named as the Catesby” s Trillium or Jones Gap Trillim, is the Carolina Least Trillium (Trillium pusillum). Frankly, I really have a hard time determining the exact name for all of the different varieties of Trillium in our area.


    1. Gordon, you and I should talk. Trillium species, especially in the Southeast, are complicated species, and they require much study to have them properly identified. –Jim

  2. Congrats on adding the two life list items. We have plain yellow common Corydalis in our garden, and it is almost a weed, the way it breeds. I recognized the leaves immediately. But the blooms you shot are so much more beautiful. And I love that shot of the snail. Sadly, I can’t help with identification there.

  3. Thanks for the great shots and information. The Trillium rugellii caught my eye because I saw a Trillium that looked like this some years back in GSMNP in the Cosby area and was confused because the flower was upright like the one you posted. I thought it was Trillium simile but now I think I may have been wrong. I’m going to try to walk up Chestnut Ridge to see the Jones Gap variety now. Hope it isn’t too far – I’ve got a bad knee.

  4. Jim, how lovely- and very interesting information on Catesby’s trillium (which I have seen only as nodding) and the variety within the Hexastylis species. What a stellar day!

  5. WOW !
    Thank you for sharing what you find in our glorious woods. Aren’t we fortunate to live here !

  6. Just gorgeous photos as always. I wonder if the trout lily is actually E. umbilicatum spp. monostolum? From the paper where this subspecies was described:
    “At high elevations, frequently on the highest peaks if moisture is sufficient, and in the high coves, subspecies monostolum is found in abundance, frequently forming a continuous ground cover. The flowers are usually larger than in umbilicatum and only a very small percentage of the bulbs produce flowers in any one year. The principal means of propagation appears to be the stolons. This subspecies fills a niche much the same as that filled by E. americanum further north in the Appalachians.”
    They also mention green coloration on the abaxial tepal surface as a distinguishing feature. Just a thought.

    1. Hey Daniel,

      Thanks for the comment. E. umbilicatum ssp. monostolum occurs at high altitudes in NC and TN at around 4,000 to 5,000 feet. I have photographed it at around 5,500 feet. At the site where my images were taken, the elevation was about 1300 feet. In addition these plants look just like the ones I photographed in the foothills of Georgia just last week — same size flowers; same color. In NC, monostolum doesn’t bloom until May, probably due to higher elevation.


  7. All so wonderful with the lush greens and the beautiful Trilliums and Corydalis. Viola palmata is in our woods and one of my favorites. Enjoyed the hike through the woods with you.

  8. Pale corydalis is so beautiful, I’ve only ever found it on the McAfee Knob Trail in Virginia on top of some of the boulders near the end of the trail.

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