|Wild Orchids of Eno River Valley
Fieldtrip Report by Kelvin Taylor
May 1, 2005
The headwaters of the Eno River begin as small tributaries in the rural countryside of
northwest Orange County North Carolina. As the river meanders eastward over the gentle
sloping hills of the Piedmont, it merges with the Little and Flat Rivers to become the Neuse
which flows into the Falls Lake Reservoir.
In 1965 a group of concerned citizens organized a campaign to save the Eno River from a
purposed reservoir building project. The resulting organization called the Association for the
Preservation of the Eno River Valley proposed the establishment of a state park and in May of
1972 the state of North Carolina approved the idea. Through the efforts of the Eno River
Association, The Nature Conservancy and the state, the Eno River State Park became a reality.
The park is located northwest of the city of Durham and encompasses over 1,000 acres of
river valley, mixed hardwood forests, and floodplains. The Eno drops some 250 vertical feet in
its forty-mile course and has carved out deep channels with steep forested bluffs. These
habitats along the river are home to a rich diversity of plant life. More than 200 species of
trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are known to exist including at least 19 native orchid
species. In this report I will focus on a few the orchids that bloom in the spring.
I began to notice early on that the spring of 2005 would be different than many in past
years. Usually the wildflower season arrives in mid-March with the blooming of bloodroot
(Sanguinaria canadensis) and trout lilies (Erythronium americanum). Not so this year because
abnormally cool temperatures delayed many flowering plants including orchids.
My goal was to locate and photograph Cypripedium
parviflorum var. parviflorum or yellow lady's slipper.
Although I had seen this species in the mountains of
North Carolina and Tennessee in previous years, I had
yet to see any in the Piedmont. The first place to
investigate was Eno River State Park. After contacting the
ranger office to inquire about trail maps, I circled the date
of May 1 to visit the park in search of orchids.
I arrived around 11 a.m. at the Pump Station section of
the park. After parking along the gravel road south of the
trailhead, I started out to see what I could find. The
weather was perfect for hiking. Since I wasn't sure exact
where along the trail the orchids would be, I found myself
stopping frequently and looking through the woods for
anything that looked interesting. Luckily the trail was well
traveled so it wasn't difficult to stay on course. I knew the
orchids would most likely occur along the wooded slopes
verus the more open areas along the river.
Just inside the woods I spotted the
leaves of rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera
pubescens). Anthesis was about four or
five weeks away, but this species is easy
to identify from the evergreen rosette of
striped and patterned leaves. After hiking
for about five minutes the trail turned to
the right and continued parallel with the
river. I continued for another ten
minutes or so stopping along the way to
check out what was in bloom along the
riverbank. These moist embankments are
prime habitat for showy orchis (Galearis
spectabilis). This orchid has bicolored
flowers borne on short stalks that arise
from a pair of glossy, pale green leaves.
The lip or labellum is white while the lateral petals, which form a helmet or hood over the
opening to the nectary, vary from pink to purple, but occasionally are solid white. As I
continued down the trail the next botanical find was Liparis liliifolia or lily-leaf twayblade. This
small yet attractive woodland orchid has a mauve labellum that uncurls from a tight spiral
exposing the rest of the flora parts inside.
A short distance from the spot where the Liparis was
growing I noticed the topography of the land was
changing. About 20 ft off to the right of the trail was
a steep bluff. I could not see anything from the trail
so I followed a faint footpath that lead into the
woods nearer to the bluff. As I got closer I saw my
first C. parviflorum in bloom. It was a stately plant
with a bright yellow flower atop a pubescent stem
with alternating oval leaves. The slightly twisted
lateral petals spiraled downward along the sides of
the inflated pouch forming a frame around the flower.
After spotting the first one suddenly more appeared
from the shady woods like shiny rocks in a stream.
Up and down the bluff these fine orchids were in
perfect bloom. Most grew as single plants, but I did
find several clumps of two or more plants. I counted
28 plants in bloom with at least another dozen or so
plants that were not in flower.
|Two Yellow Lady's Slippers
Each plant was a unique individual differing in the size, shape and coloration of the flowers. One of
the striking characteristics I noticed was the red markings around the top edge of the pouch on
some flowers (Figure 1) and their absence on others (Figure 2).
I spent the next couple of hours photographing and admiring this collection of wild orchids. It was
hard to leave that day. Each time I encounter this beautiful wildflower the excitement is equally as
strong as what I felt the very first time I saw it. After this season's experience, I will definitely
return to see what additional treasures nature has to offer along the banks of the Eno River.
I would like to thank the Eno River Association for providing the historical information about the park used
in this article, and Eno River State Park for granting me permission to visit this protected site