Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Beauty in the Weeds...

Through the efforts of the Nature Conservancy and many of their friends and allies, a significant swathe of North Carolina's unique southeastern coastal plain habitat is maintained and protected in Brunswick County's Green Swamp Preserve. While best known for its fantastic array of carnivorous plants and orchids, the Preserve boasts a bevy of other botanical wonders as well, 
including a number of nifty "weeds".

In our years of meandering and musing about all things wild and wonderful in North Carolina, we've developed a great admiration for the native milkweeds (Genus Asclepias). We're fascinated by the genius of their flower structure, and the remarkable variety of blossom colors and arrangements to be found in the dozen or so species native to our home state.

So we were thrilled to encounter two milkweeds in the Green Swamp Preserve this weekend that were new to us at Hoot Owl Karma; 
Asclepias lanceolata, Fewflower Milkweed, and Asclepias rubra, or Red Milkweed.

The bold red-orange blossoms of A. lanceolata, pictured above and below, brought us to a screeching halt as we traversed a recently burned tract of longleaf pines between Lake Waccamaw and Supply, NC on Highway 211. 

While "Fewflower" is an apt description, the outrageous colors of this native beauty are impossible to overlook, perched atop their tall slender stems, sparsely decorated with opposite pairs of equally slender lance-shaped leaves, gently swaying in the warm summer breeze...

And, ironically, dancing right alongside her bright red kin, 
we spy Asclepias rubra, 
RED Milkweed,

in a half-dozen color forms, 

from the most delicate pale pinks,

to lovely magenta and purple,

all of which pale in comparison

the bold red hues of their few-flowered fellows!

Yes, in the heat and humidity of mid-summer down east,
there is beauty in the weeds...

Seventy-five miles or so to the north, and a bit further east, 
in the sandy soil of Croatan National Forest,
we encountered a third native milkweed,
also making its first appearance on Hoot Owl Karma,  
Asclepias humistrata
commonly known as Pinewoods or Sandhill Milkweed.

This fine example of Pinewoods Milkweed, appropriately enough, 
was lounging with a few friends beneath the longleaf pines 
near the trailhead for the Patsy Pond Nature Trail in Carteret County.

This individual also offers a great example of the sprawling habit of Asclepias humistrata, whose leaf and blossom laden branches rarely stand more than a few inches above the ground. 

The specific epithet, humistrata, roughly means "covering the ground", 
an accurate assessment of the plant's typical prostrate posture.

We camera-toting wanderers are far from the only ones drawn to these weeds;
pollinators flock from far and near, 

while pollinator predators patiently bide their time,
all but invisible in their cloaks of white.

Nature in all her splendor,
beauty in the weeds...

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