Tuesday, July 16, 2013

From Sandhills to Sand Dunes, Wildflower Surprises

On a recent ramble through the Sandhills, we paused to ponder this pastoral panorama from a rural roadside. As our focus shifted from the vast vistas to the verdant vegetation at our feet, we spied a pair of fantastic flowering plants.

A mass of bright pink petals rose a foot or more above the berry-laden blackberry bushes lining the ditch.

 And just a few steps farther along, a dazzling white counterpart. Breathtakingly beautiful; unnamed yet not altogether unfamiliar; the not-phlox, not-soapwort, not-meadow beauty posed patiently for picture after picture.

As the glorious pink and white petals flashed like bee and butterfly beacons in the bright midday sun, the flowers' reproductive organs thrust upward and outward, eager to embrace the pollinators upon their arrival. Such striking and distinctive flowers should not be too difficult to identify. 

 One of the joys of Hoot Owl Karma is the quest for additional knowledge which follows the time in the field. Perusing field guides, comparing notes with kindred spirits, or perhaps cutting corners when a deadline looms and consulting the oracle of Google Images can greatly expand the amateur naturalist's vocabulary and familiarity with the natural world.  In this case, the oracle suggested that our mystery plants belonged to the Gentian family, genus Sabatia. Our lovely ladies closely resembled a couple of the dozen or more species of Sabatia referred to variously as rose pinks or rose gentians. 

Alas, the quest for more definitive solutions to our mystery went by the wayside as more the more pedestrian concerns of earning a living encroached once again upon our limited time...

Fast forward to a brief getaway to the coast on the weekend just past, about three hours east of our abode near the fall line in central North Carolina. As Hunter and I stood by the boat ramp and admired the rapid advance of a squall across Bogue Sound in Carteret County, we spied somewhat familiar petals of pink in the edge of the salt marsh, right along the high tide line.

Rose gentians, perhaps?! Much less densely flowering than their piedmont kin and a much hotter pink, but the greatest distinction lay in the unnaturally bright star-like pattern at the heart of the flower.

Such a distinctive flower should be a cinch to identify to species; but that can wait. For now, we're content to ponder how it is that we've stood in this very same spot dozens of times over the years and never before noticed these nameless natural treasures.

Do yourself a favor. Go outside. Take a look around. 

Nature might just show you something new...

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