by Crystal Cockman

June 11, 2018

Carolina thistle

On Sunday May 29, I had the opportunity to go on a botanical adventure with Bruce Sorrie, botanist, retired from the NC Natural Heritage Program. The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program is a program of the Division of Land and Water Stewardship within the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Bruce has over 30 years of experience and is an expert in his field, and can name just about any plant you can point out. He has written “A Field Guide to Wildflowers of the Sandhills Region,” which also has many plants you’d expect to see in the Uwharries. His guidebook is arranged by habitat, and features over 600 wildflowers, flowering shrubs and vines.

Bruce allowed The Land Trust to auction off a morning with him looking for unique plants as part of our fundraising event, RiverDance, last year. The winner of the botanical tour brought along a friend and we met at the Eldorado Outpost Sunday morning on our adventure.

We drove mainly in the Badin Recreational Area of the Uwharrie National Forest. Our first stop was a site of a recent prescribed burn. Here we spotted skullcap in bloom. Also flowering were some milkweed plants, which look like popcorn balls with stars in the middle of each popcorn piece, and they were a little scorched from the fire, but otherwise doing fine. We saw some nonnative plants as well, including microstegium and queen anne’s lace, the latter of which most people think of as native but it is actually from Europe. There were native passionflower vines just about to bloom, as well.

The next place we stopped had fire pink and light pink bee balm in bloom, along with delicate yellow sundrops. Typically you see fire pink more along rocky slopes, but this was right in the roadside. A little further along we spotted coreopsis and goat’s rue. We walked into the woods a bit among towering chestnut oaks, and saw striped wintergreen in flower. Another stop by a small creek resulted in us spotting some jack-in-the-pulpits in bloom.

At yet another location, we found some of the state endangered Carolina thistle. We were unsure at first what thistle it was, especially because there was so much of it, we questioned whether it could be the rare one. However, we found out later that this is probably the best population of Carolina thistle found in the state. There were bumblebees and a Zabulon skipper gathering pollen from these plants. A grey petaltail dragonfly made a stop on Bruce’s hat, also an uncommon find.

At our last stop, we got to see maidenhair fern, native clematis with its pretty bell shape, and wild hydrangeas in bloom. This was along a roadside with a rocky outcrop and steep elevation. A lace-winged roadside skipper was perched atop the wild hydrangea in one of my pictures. They are also uncommon and are a specialist on rivercane.

All in all, this was an excellent way to spend a morning, searching for these unique wildflowers along the roadsides in the Uwharries. Many spring wildflowers have already bloomed and set seed, but there were still plenty in flower for us to spot and enjoy. You don’t need an expert like Bruce to enjoy these beautiful wildflowers, though, as they are just as lovely whether you know the name of them or not. You can even purchase your own field guide of your choice and learn how to identify them yourself if you so desire. Botanizing is just another great excuse to spend time outside enjoying the beautiful sights and scenery that nature has to provide.