Some years ago I left the flatlands here in South Carolina and went on a botany expedition to the Blue Ridge of Virginia. As you know, in setting off on such travels, there is a considerable change in elevation, and in temperature. It was a warm July even in western Virginia, but nothing like the steamy confines of my beloved hometown, nestled there on the banks of the mighty Congaree. In fact, July evenings in Rockingham County were downright cool, even chilly at dawn. So there I was, boots and all, ready to go early in the morning, setting off from the eastern end of the lovely town of Buena Vista (which is not to be confused with Alta Vista, another Virginia town, but some considerable distance removed to the south from where I was). Driving east toward the Parkway was an unworldly experience: the farther and higher I went, the harder it was to see, due to the blanket of fog. Up at the top of the mountain, visibility was next to nothing, so I was inclined to wait: slowly the sun came, it took about an hour for the fog to lift. This is one of the plants I saw.
It's a northern shrub, found commonly in eastern Canada and New England, and then dribbling farther south in the high elevations...the plant seen in this image were photographed last week in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. In the mountains of North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, it is replaced by a couple of other very similar species. This is a plant that likes rocky, craggy places, and a lot of times you will see it if you pull over at one of those scenic view spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Otherwise, it will be seen scattered in the rocky woods, often bordering hiking trails.
Its leaves occur two at a time on the stem, and they have short, slender stalks. (Its relatives, that I mentioned, have stalkless leaves.) Flowers are produced in thin clusters toward the tips of the branches. Each flower has a decidedly inferior ovary, well below the thread-like sepal lobes, and the corolla. The corolla is attractive, opening up in a rich yellow, and becoming a bit orange or even red, with age. Look closely at one of these flowers and you will see that it is softly hairy, and with five stamens inside. You might also note that the flower somewhat resembles the familiar and various honeysuckles, and sure enough, this plant is a part of the honeysuckle family. The ovary will eventually form a smooth little seed-pod, later in the summer.
This beautiful shrub is just one more example of the varied and spectacular flora we have here in the Southeast, whether you are in cool and craggy mountains, or down along the sultry coast. It doesn't matter where your summer travels take you: there will be fascinating plants no matter where you go.
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