Expedition: North Carolina, 1999

  1. by Tony Avent
  2. Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
  3. www.plantdelights.com
  4. 9241 Sauls Road
  5. Raleigh, NC 27603
  6. 919.772.4794
Shop for Perennials at Plant Delights Nursery

1999 was a wonderful year as we continued to explore the garden potential of plants within the southeast, and in particular our own state of North Carolina. While we continue to value good plants from around the world, it is truly amazing that many of our own US natives are not better known. I feel that much of the problem in this regard is that botanists and horticulturists often do no speak the same language or read the same books. It's not that most of these plants are new to science, it's just that they are new to gardeners. Part of our mission continues to be to unite these two groups and capitalize on the wonderful base of information that has been compiled by the botanical community. All of our NC expeditions were short 1 day trips and are therefore compiled together.

1999 NC Plant Expedition Summary

  1. Trip #1 - Pender County, NC - February 02, 1999
  2. Trip #2 - Durham Co., NC, - May 14, 1999
  3. Trip #3 - Brunswick Co, NC, - May 15, 1999
  4. Trip #4 - Richmond Co., NC, - May 19, 1999
  5. Trip #5 - Caswell, Montgomery Co., NC, - May 22, 1999
  6. Trip #6 - Moore, Montgomery Co., NC, - July 22, 1999
  7. Trip #7 - Brunswick, Columbus, Bladen County, - August 19, 1999
  8. Trip #8 - Wayne, Duplin, Sampson Co., - December 19, 1999

Trip #1 - Pender County, NC, Trip Code A3NC - 2/22/99

Our first expedition of the year was to Pender County, along the southern part of the NC coast. Accompanying me was Pat McNeal of McNeal Nursery in Austin, TX.

We departed south on Interstate 40, finally exiting on highway 53 near Burgaw. We headed east toward the Holly Shelter Game Preserve area. All along highway 53 are amazing plants including blue andropogons, eriocaulons, gordonias, Iris verna, and an array of other gems.

As we pulled into the dirt road preserve, I was delighted to see that the quantity of hunters was quite low...a nice relief when plant hunting in this area. Throughout the preserve, there were an incredible number of gordonias...someone should certainly make some selections as the amount of red foliage coloration varies dramatically.

One stop found the sandy ridge above the water filled ditch laden with drosera...seemingly everywhere among the eastern white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides). In the ditches were occasional pitcher plants, both Sarracenia flava, S. purpurea, and the intermediate hybrid S. x catesbaei.

Further into the preserve, almost to the point where it empties onto highway 17, we stopped where I had seen the stunning winter blooming Gentian autumnalis in flower just a couple of months earlier. Many of the fall bloomers were still in seed including some spectacular liatris, the gentian, and the native wiregrass.

Trip #2 - Durham Co., NC, Trip Code A4NC 5/14/99

The second trip for the season was a quick run up to Penny's Bend Nature Preserve with Rob Gardner from the NC Botanical Garden. I was amazed to see a natural stand of Baptisia minor var. aberrans, which is often confused with B. australis. We were able to take photos of the variations as well as cuttings from a few of the best plants for later trials. The plants were in full flower with an amazing amount of variation in flower color. Also in seed was the shrubby clematis, C. ochroleuca. I must return and see this in flower. This is a fascinating population disjunct that is worth a visit.

Trip #3 - Brunswick Co, NC, Trip Code A5NC - 05/15/99

The following day, I headed to again to the coastal county of Brunswick to see the baptisias in flower. I was met by Frank Galloway of Bolivia NC, an endemic plant nut to the region.

The first stop was along the Galloway property, where Frank showed me two of the native baptisia species, B. tinctoria and B. cinera which were both in flower. The surprise was the next plant he showed me...a naturally occurring hybrid between the two. We have researched this hybrid, which does not appear to have been documented previously. Cuttings were obtained for further trials.

We then continued along the Galloway property, which borders the famed Green Swamp. We found a number of unique baptisias, including an incredible B. cinera which was much more vigorous and robust than any we had seen earlier. Cuttings from these variants were secured including a B. cinera with 1' tall spikes, and a B. tinctoria with purple stems.

We next drove by the home of the late Francis Marion Galloway, whose house was once the home to the clone of Buddleia lindleyana that we currently offer at the nursery. The plant was evidently planted at the Galloway house in the mid 1800's.

Further down the dirt road, we found wild clumps of the native Yucca filamentosa. Cuttings were taken for further study, as yucca taxonomy in the commercial trade is at best a mess.

Further along, we found quite a bit of lachnocaulon in the moist sites nearby, probably L. anceps. We hope to be able to propagate many of the native "hat pins" for the commercial trade within a couple of years. This must be done by division, as we have had no luck at all germinating seed of either of the hat pin genera.

Turning back onto the highway, we headed down highway 211, where we then investigated a very dry sandy power line right of way. Anyone that has ever spent time in the wild knows that power line right of ways are a veritable treasure trove of wonderful plants.

We discovered an amazing array of Tradescantia rosea (syn: Cuthbertia rosea). I had only grown one vegetative clone prior to today, and the variation from white centered flowers to much larger flowers was amazing. Cuttings from several different clones were obtained for evaluation.

Further down highway 211 was an amazing array of penstemons in flower. We were unable to determine the identity for sure, but is was possibly P. laevigatus or P. australis, or possibly both. The area was also filled with Polygala lutea...a fascinating but short lived moist land native perennial with bright orange marble sized flowers.

Trip #4 - Richmond Co., NC, Trip Code A6NC - 5/19/99

My next trip was only a few days later, as I headed southwest of Raleigh to Richmond County into the Sandhills region of the state. Below Aberdeen at the town of Hoffman, I turned off the main highway to begin to explore. The road was littered with Baptisia cinera which was still in good flower. I was able to secure cuttings of a very nice creamy flowered form...much different from the normal bright yellow.

The same area was also filled with Eupatorium compositifolium...a close relative to the more common dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium). Cuttings were made of one particularly nice red-stemmed form. The area was also filled with quite a few Tradescantia rosea...just like the area that I had just visited at the coast. There were a number other composites, but nothing was in flower at the time.

Further down the road was a wonderful patch of penstemon in flower at the top of a dry bank. Indeed this also looked very similar to the penstemons that I had just seen in Brunswick County.

Heading north, the woods became thicker and the vegetation changed. At the edge of the woods, I was amazed to find large patches of Amsonia ciliata var. filifolia. This was not like the prostrate form of A. ciliata var. filifolia that we were growing from the Georgia Sandhills, but was much more upright, resembling a very narrow leaf form of Amsonia hubrichtii. Again cuttings were taken for further trials.

The final stop of the day was along highway 73 near West End, NC in a power cut. What had attracted me to the site was the amount of standing water along the roadway. It didn't take but a few feet to realize that this was a horticultural gold mine. The moist area was filled with sphagnum moss, Sarracenia purpurea, Pogonia ophioglossoides orchid, Asarum aff. virginicum, Polygala lutea, and an amazing array of other bog plants. To all sides was very dry sandy soils, making this site even more amazing. The chance to photograph items in such a splendid setting is truly amazing!

Trip #5 - Caswell, Montgomery Co., NC, Trip Code A7NC - May 22, 1999

Trip #5 was is to a different part of the state with native plant guru Craig Moretz of Mebane. The first stop was north of Mebane to the Caswell County town of Jericho. Craig had earlier spotted a large colony of Baptisia minor var. aberrans in this region. As we drove along the road seeing nothing, it was seemingly out of nowhere that the baptisias suddenly appeared. Appeared they did...in the range of tens of thousands of baptisias in full flower. The baptisias were both in cow pastures as well as along the highway right of way. Thank goodness livestock do not eat baptisias!

We spent several hours photographing, documenting, and making cutting selections for further trial. Selections were made of dark purple flowers, spikes in excess of 2' tall, and the most exciting of all was three pink flowered selections. This is truly an amazing site to see this type of variation in the wild.

From here, we headed south into the Sandhills region of NC again to Montgomery County. Near the town of Candor, NC, we headed off the main highway. One of the first plants that greeted us was the bizarre Asclepias amplexicaule. This amazing plant has wonderfully ruffled edge leaves almost to the point of crinkling. Although we collected cuttings, we will most likely need to return for seed.

The Sandhills region changes dramatically at this point when you enter the Uwharrie mountains. You can almost watch the vegetation change in this amazing region. After traveling a short distance into the forested habitat, we took time for a quick jaunt into the woods. The first slope that we found was laden with Hepatica americana as well as some very large flowered forms of nicely patterned Asarum minor.

Further along the road, the rise in elevation became more pronounced. We stopped along a dry hillside as the vegetation changed again. The sunny rocky bank was laden with Cheilanthes lanosa fern as well as our native Coreopsis verticillata. I was particularly excited to have a NC eco-type of the cheilanthes as well as a selection of Coreopsis verticillata that reached 3' in height. This is far different from the shorter forms found in cultivation.

The forest that had existed in this area had been recently logged leaving many cut backs of woody plants, while long dormant perennials re-emerged. It was here that we found our first plants of Baptisia alba in full flower. These were typical of the species...3' tall plants with 18" flower spikes.

Several more miles down the road, we would again see Baptisia alba, however this time the three plants we found had light yellow flowers. Either this is a very rare variant, or it has hybridized with B. cinera. We did an extensive scouting through the area, but could not find any B. cinera plants, although they are certainly native in the region. We were able to secure cuttings of the best of the yellow flowered B. alba forms.

Another couple of miles down the road, the vegetation changed again. This time we found large patches of Baptisia alba, but this time it was growing among the splendid Aletris farinosa - a white flowered native lily. We were able to make one baptisia selection at this site, a splendid 6' tall specimen with 30" flower spikes.

Trip #6 - Moore, Montgomery Co., NC, Trip Code A8NC - 7/22/99

My summer trip was back to a region that I had visited earlier in the year in Moore and Montgomery counties.

My first stop was in Moore County along highway 15-501 south, just above Pinehurst. I noticed a small patch of woods, some which had been logged, so I decided to investigate. The first thing that greeted me was an amazing array of gigantic clumps of Asarum virginicum. The woods were filled with an array of treasures including Arisaema triphyllum, Thelypteris noveboracensis, Woodwardia virginica, Osmunda cinnamonea, Polygonatum biflorum, Uvularia pudica, and Lilium michauxii.

Just a couple of miles away is the wonderful Moore County power cut that I wrote about earlier. I was curious to see how much different the flora is during these hot summer months. If you have never experience hot, then a 98 degree day with intense humidity in the Sandhills region is not where you want to be. I had to stop and purchase an ice chest and ice or cuttings taken today would not stand a chance of returning home alive.

The first plant to catch my eye is the Zigadenus glaberrimus (Death Lily) which is full flower...WOW! While I have heard of zigadenus before, I have never seen the plant in person, but now am determined to grow this is our garden. In addition, there were a number of lachnocaulon that I hadn't noticed earlier in the year along with a dazzling array of colorful rhexias. I don't know why you rarely see the easy to grow rhexia offered.

This time I hiked further up to the drier areas at the top of the power cut. Here I found an amazing array of Amsonia ciliata var. filifolia. As well as gathering seed, I found a particularly nice compact form which I was able to obtain cuttings. Also in the drier regions were Iris verna, Solidago sp., and Euphorbia ipecacuanhae, a cute Sisyrinchium sp., and a number of liatris.

From here, I headed on into Montgomery County and the Uwharrie Mountains. Along highway 27, where the woods thickened, I ventured off the road to investigate the vegetation. This area was so thick with mountain laurels that it was nearly impossible to maneuver. At the base was again nice but small clumps of Asarum virginicum.

After this quick stop, I headed north again. My next stop along a small stream yielded a surprising result...trilliums. Not that I was surprised to find trilliums, but these plants looked in perfect shape, which is rare for a trillium in late July after an extended drought. I assume that the trillium was T. catesbaei, but will need a return trip to find out for sure. Nearby, I also discovered a few clumps of a striking blue leaf carex, which seem very different from the ones that we are already growing, so a division was secured for identification.

Along the roadside, I found a delightful short narrow leaf hypericum (possibly H. reductum), Iris verna, and a dazzling sabatia in flower, which I assume to be the annual S. angulata.

My final stop of the day was just outside of Asheboro, NC in Randolph county. In a housing development off High Pine Road, I found a small undeveloped area that was loaded with Asarum virginicum. This site yielded some of the best silver leaf forms of asarum that I have seen in all of my travels. Too bad that there will probably be a house on the site when I next visit...unless this might possibly be a flood plain...let's hope.

Trip #7 Brunswick, Columbus, Bladen County, Trip Code A9NC - 8/19/99

I began this trip retracing some of my steps from trip #3 in May to see what the same areas looked like later in the season. Along highway 211, just west of highway 17 where I had seen the penstemons in flower earlier, I now found some amazing 6' tall eupatoriums (Joe Pye Weed). The coloration was quite an intense purple red...better than most. I was able to secure cuttings for trial purposes. There were a several other unknown plants in the area of which I was also able to get cutting material.

On the Galloway property, I took cuttings of Aster squarrosa...an amazing little plant as well as a nice clone of Aster linearifolius. I also had a chance to tour Frank's garden and small nursery which is truly an amazing place for viewing and purchasing "hardy tropicals"!

From here, I cut through the Green Swamp on Makatoka Road (Prospect Ridge). This is truly an amazing area that every native plant lover should visit. As I was being followed by a particularly large and severe thunderstorm, my time was far more limited that I would have preferred. The already wet sandy roads would not have been a pleasant place be caught during a heavy downpour.

At my first stop near a logging operation in the swamp, I found large patches of Eriocaulon decangulare, Marshallia grandiflora, and Lycopodium alopecuroides. The later truly looks like a remnant from prehistoric times with thumb size moss like runners that run flat along the ground. The marshallia varied in color from the typical mauve speckling to pure white. I was able to secure some basal cuttings from propagation purposes.

At my next stop on Point Branch Camp Road, I found a large patch of the bright pink gentian relative, Sabatia dodecandra in full flower. This would surely be a reason to return for mature seed. Also in the area in the stunning Asclepias lanceolata. This wonderful milkweed has very narrow almost insignificant foliage, but is topped in mid summer with brilliant scarlet red flowers.

My next stop was back on the main road of highway 130, just east of Whiteville, NC. I found an area beside the highway that was again filled with sabatia, a spreading vernonia, an unidentified basal rosette that resembled coreopsis, lachnocaulon, and zigadenus. I gathered a few cuttings and was on my way, only to be greeted by a giant highway mower and ditch clearing machine that no doubt uprooted all of the plants that I had just admired. Oh well, I guess it's all in the name of highway beautification.

Heading back to Raleigh, I stopped in Bladen County, just south of Garland NC on highway 701. Here I found a fascinating narrow leaf vernonia...possibly a strange form of Vernonia angustifolia, and a strange creeping aster...possibly Aster caroliniana along the shoulder of the road. Both were easy targets for cuttings.

Trip #8 -Wayne, Duplin, Sampson Co., Trip Code A10NC - 12/19/99

My final trip of 1999 was a pre-Christmas jaunt with Todd Lasseigne and Richard Olsen, down to the town of Clinton (certainly not a political pilgrimage). I had chatted just a few weeks earlier with Dr. AJ Bullard of Mt. Olive, who had discovered several interesting plants that he wished to share with us.

One the way to Clinton, our first stop was at an area known as the Cliffs of the Neuse (along the Neuse River), just off highway 111 near Seven Springs in Wayne Co. NC. In a flat farming community, we were all surprised to find sheer 100+ foot cliffs along the river and woods filled with Fagus grandiflora (beech), Pinus taeda (loblolly pine), Symplocos tinctoria (horse sugar), and a variety of Quercus species (oaks).

Climbing along the cliffs, we found that there was still some understory intact despite several hard freezes. We regularly saw Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid), Galax aphylla (galax), Epigaea repens (trailing arbutus), and Asarum arifolium (wild ginger).

There were a number of smilax in the area, most of the weedy persuasion, i.e. S. rotundifolia, but we did find a few vines of the thornless decorative smilax, S. smallii. This is truly a plant that someone needs to get into cultivation. In addition, we found what appears to be a yellow stem mutant on the thorny S. rotundifolia. I imagine that some of my plant friends would actually like to plant this in their gardens. It will be interesting to see if this is a true mutation, or if was simply caused by a physiological problem.

After we departed, we drove south to the town of Pink Hill for a look around. Driving around town, we were surprised to find two very old and nice specimens of Cryptomeria japonica. One can only wonder how these specimens found their way into such a community many years earlier. We made one ditch stop in Pink Hill, but the only find was a delightful narrow leaf carex with very blue foliage. There was enough for us to bring back a division for identification.

Heading back to the west, we headed to Clinton, NC, where in the historic part of town on College Street, we met up with AJ Bullard and his cousin Bob Melvin. It seems that during a class at Sampson County Community College, they had discovered two trees that turned out to be the Federally endangered Torreya taxifolia (Florida stinking cedar) in the Mayor's yard. These were not quite as large as the national champion torreya in Norlina, NC, but they are far more healthy and regularly produce fruit, which the cousins have sent to nurseries around the country. Through research, the cousins had determined that the trees were purchased from a South Carolina Nursery, probably in the 1840s.

We next departed to the Mayor's house to the Mathis cemetery (2.2 miles east of Clinton on highway 24 (near Turkey, NC). There in the cemetery was a dogwood that Bullard had discovered, which he measured, nominated, and later turned out to be the National Champion dogwood tree. Bullard had measured the tree at 36" diameter (not circumference as I had assumed) and 31 feet tall. If anything, the 36 inch diameter was a bit small, as this was truly a massive specimen. Despite having graves dug all around the base, and being in a dry sandy full sun site, the tree was full of flower buds, and obviously blooms quite well every year. This is truly an amazing tree, that every lover to trees should absolutely visit!

From here, we drove to Bullard's garden in Calypso, NC. This is truly one of the most amazing collections of rare and unusual fruit that I have ever had the pleasure to visit. We were first greeted by a fig on which 50 cultivars from around the world were grafted. Then on to the collection of 125 varieties of edible mulberries. This is just the beginning, but you get the picture. Bullard is a true scientist, although he spent his career in the dental field. He can recite what year each plant was planted as well as what temperature extremes each plant has endured. If you would like to contact AJ to discuss weird fruit, torreyas, or giant dogwoods, call AJ Bullard at 919 658-4424

1999 has come to a close and we look forward to getting started with another round of plant expeditions in the new year. Until then...happy gardening!