|The other-worldly Indian Pipe|
One amazing thing about living in the mountains is that just about every time I walk out the door I see something new and different.
After missing a number of cool photo ops because I don’t like to drag my heavy Nikon around, I invested in a small pocket camera I carry with me all the time. It’s the best $99 I’ve ever spent.
The other day I was out walking when I spied a most unusual plant growing underneath a fern. From afar it looked like a skeleton’s bony fingers. I incorrectly assumed it was a fungus.
|Some stems have a pinkish hue|
After consulting my trusty wildflower book I learned this unearthly looking specimen is called Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora.) Unlike most plants it doesn’t have chlorophyll so the stems and “flowers” are white and waxy.
Small wonder it is also referred to as the corpse or ghost plant.
Experts reckon the plant evolved during the Jurassic period at the peak of the dinosaur era.
Although I’d never seen one in all my years visiting the mountains, this relative of the Rhododendron can be found throughout the country with the exception of the desert southwest. (However the US Forest Service says it is not commonly encountered.)
Indian Pipe provides food for small bumblebees and food for thought for those of us who stumble across the mysterious plant for the first time.
Emily Dickinson, called the Indian Pipe “the preferred flower of life” and used an illustration of it on the cover of her book Poems.
North Carolina mountain folklore tells us Cherokee Indians believed that plants appeared where the ashes from peace pipes had been scattered.
Another legend says Indian Pipe emerges in woodland locales where relatives have quarreled without resolution.
I’d love to know what happened on the site where I found this perennial wildflower.
Lilies and Orchids…
|The Carolina Lily|
Further down the road I saw what looked like a Turk’s-Cap Lily growing all by itself in a wooded grove.
Once again my research showed it was actually the Carolina Lily, also known as Michaux’s Lily, named after the French Botanist who made many expeditions to the mountains and discovered the Catawba rhododendron.
Carolina Lilies are much smaller than the Turk’s-Caps and produce fewer flowers –sometimes only one or two.
|It isn't a plantain at all but a wild orchid|
Heading home I noticed the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain I pass each day had thrown out spikes of tiny white flowers. Some say the striking plant got its name because the spike looks like a rattler’s tail. Others say the silvery markings on its leaves resemble snakeskin.
No matter how it got its name, this member of the orchid family is easy to spot because of its distinctive leaves -- each one can live as long as four years. The flowers supposedly look like tiny orchids but I’d need a magnifying glass to prove it.
Perhaps because of the unusual markings, early medical practitioners and Native Americans used the leaves and roots to treat snakebites. Native women thought rubbing the leaves on their skin made them more beautiful (in the interest of science I must give this a try.)
… and Bears (oh my!)
After a long day of finding, photographing and researching local wildflowers, I like to sit on my deck with a large glass of shiraz and listen to some of my favorite tunes.
Recently, just before pouring my adult beverage, I heard something strange going on outside and saw the head of a black bear appear just over the deck railing.
Junior had climbed up over 30 feet to see what hors d’oeuvres were being served. He placed his order for bird seed and I gladly let him pull the finch feeder out of the wall and take it away.
Sometimes the things I see in the mountains make my heart sing.
Other times, they make my heart stop.