What's In Bloom?

Becoming familiar with the wildflowers and plants of the Sauratown Mountains is inevitable - even if you're drawn to the Sauratowns by activities like cycling, trail running or horseback riding. If you would like to write an article for this feature please contact our webmaster at info@sauratownfriends.org

posted Feb 21, 2013, 4:36 PM by Administrator Friends of Sauratown Mtns   [ updated Feb 22, 2013, 3:18 AM ]

Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain Pines

posted Oct 28, 2012, 10:55 AM by Kathy Schlosser

Visitors to Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock State Parks, as well as to the Sauratown Trail, are surrounded by  pine trees.  Within that abundance are five varieties, or species, of the genus Pinus that are found in the Piedmont. 

 Most common in the Piedmont are loblolly (not on the records for either Park), shortleaf, and Virginia pines.  Less common, though often used in gardens and landscapes, is the Eastern white pine.  Uncommon to rare are Table Mountain pine and pitch pine.   Table Mountain pines generally grow on xeric, south facing ridges between 1,000 and 4,000 feet elevation. There are also some outlying populations associated with isolated mountain ranges of the Piedmont, including Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock.

 A few simple ways to distinguish one species from another are found on the following two pages.

 Pitch, by the way, refers to a polymer distilled from the bark and wood of pitch pines, a process which requires the destruction of trees.  Pitch (which can also be made from petroleum products), was used for waterproofing ships, buckets, barrels, and small boats.  Pitch and tar are terms used interchangeably, but pitch is more solid, tar more liquid.

~ Kathy Schlosser
   other than as noted, phots by Kathy Schlosser

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) - common in the mountains, occasionally found in the Piedmont, and frequently planted in landscapes.  Distinguished by having 5 needles/leaves in a fascicle (bundle). The pliable leaves are bluish-green and have a white stripe running down their length.

The cones are elongate and lack prickles.

The dark gray-brown bark is smooth on small and medium-sized trees. The bark of larger trees is dark gray-brown and broken into regular plates. Remnants of old branches are retained for many years.



Virginia Pine

(Pinus virginiana) -  common in the mountains and Piedmont, rare in the coastal plain.  Virginia pine is found on poorer, drier sites than the other native pines.  The female cones are the smallest of all the pines in North Carolina. 

Easily told from other native pines except for Table Mountain pine (P. pungens) by its short leaves with 2 yellow-green, twisted needles in each fascicle. The small cones help separate Virginia Pine from Table Mountain Pine, which has stout ovoid cones.  The reddish-brown bark is broken into small plates on mature trees. The bark on young trees is more reddish and flaky. Old dead branches usually remain embedded in the trunk. Those of most other pines in North Carolina fall off and disappear in time.  Trees tend to be small for a pine and scraggly, not growing straight.


Not reported at PIMO or HARO, but one of the most common elsewhere in the Piedmont:

Loblolly Pine  (Pinus taeda) -  common in the Piedmont and the coastal plain.  A large tree of all but the driest areas -- probably the most common tree in the eastern half of North Carolina, often colonizing old fields.

The leaves are about 15-20 cm long and usually have 3-4 needles in a fascicle. 

Female loblolly pine cones are larger than those of shortleaf and Virginia, smaller than those of Longleaf, and they have stout prickles.  The bark on medium-sized trees is dark gray-brown, deeply furrowed, and blocky.

Chris Evans,  Illinois Wildlife Action Plan , forestryimages.org


Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens) -  uncommon in the mountains, and rare in the Piedmont, it is found on Pilot Mountain. Tends to be short and squat,  with many arching branches. The prickles on the cones are very stout. Cones are attached directly to the branches.  Like the more common and widespread Virginia Pine, the leaves are short and come two in a fascicle, but the large, stout, ovoid female cones are quite different from the smaller cones of Virginia Pine.  Cones are usually clustered.

The bark on branches is reddish-brown and flaky.  The bark on trunks is dark gray-brown and scaly.


Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) - common in the mountains and Piedmont, occasionally in the coastal plain. Most abundant in dry sites, but also found in moister habitats. The leaves are about 7-13 cm long, shorter than those of loblolly pine (P. taeda) and longer than those of Virginia pine (P. virginiana), though there is some overlap. There are normally 2 or 3 leaves to a bundle.

Cones are about 4-7 cm long. The prickles are small and weak.

The bark on large trees tends to be flakier and less deeply furrowed than that of loblolly pine. There usually are small spots of resin on the bark, lacking in our other pine species.  The scaly bark of a mature tree is dark gray-brown.  Scales of old bark shed to reveal reddish-brown younger bark



 Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) -  uncommon in the mountains, and rare in the Piedmont, pitch pine grows in Pilot Mountain.  It  is similar to loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), but has broader cones, resinous buds, and sprouts needles and short branches directly from the trunk.  Pond Pine (Pinus serotina) of the Coastal Plain also does this, but the two do not overlap in range.

























Flowers along Bean Shoals and Yadkin River Trails,Pilot Mountain State Park

posted Apr 1, 2012, 4:11 PM by Kathy Schlosser   [ updated Apr 1, 2012, 4:12 PM ]

April 1, 2012
A beautiful day for a walk down Bean Shoals Trail (in the Yakdin River Section of Pilot Mountain State Park), and turning right onto the Yadkin River Trail.  An easy walk that can be accomplished, even stopping to identify and photograph wildflowers & admire the scenery, in a couple of hours.  Among the plants in bloom today:
Pinxter azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides over the Yadkin River
Dog hobble, Leucothoe fontanesiana
Scouring rush, Equisetum hyemale ssp. affine
Silverbells, Halesia tetraptera
Fire pink, Silene virginica
Yellow root, Xanthorhiza simplissima
Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum
Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis
All photos copyright Katherine Schlosser.  Contact
kathyschlosser [at] triad.rr.com for permission to use a photo.

March 9, 2012 Wildflowers on Indian Creek

posted Mar 10, 2012, 7:56 AM by Katherine Schlosser   [ updated Mar 16, 2012, 10:05 AM by Administrator Friends of Sauratown Mtns ]

The Indian Creek Trail at Hanging Rock State Park is always interesting to walk.  The first mile or so is relatively level and follows Indian Creek, which is good habitat for a number of interesting plants.  This time of year, the trail is littered with trout lilies (Erythronium americanum).  They are blooming now, but in another week should be in full bloom.  The plants are named for the mottled appearance of their leaves, which look to some like trout swimming through the water.  The plants are spread by seed, which are carried by ants who eat the eliosomes (sweet fleshy appendage on each seed).  The ants pick up the seed to carry them back to their nest, but often can't resist consuming the eliosome, which is the only part they eat.  Once the eliosomes is eaten, the ants drop the seed, which easily germinates in rich, moist soil.

Also to be seen along the Trail now:

Spring beauties, Claytonia virginica

Yellow corydalis, Corydalis flavula

Downy rattlesnake plantain, Goodyera pubescens

Wild ginger, Hexastylis spp. - maybe virginica
not fully open

Yellowroot, Xanthorrhiza simplicissima
Just beginning to open

Partridgeberry, Mitchella repens
Growing in the rock face. Not in bloom,
but what an incredible little spot for it!

Photo credits:  Katherine Schlosser

Hepatica on the Yadkin :: early spring

posted Feb 22, 2011, 8:26 AM by Administrator Friends of Sauratown Mtns

(Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa)

Member Matt Perry spotted this hepatica in bloom in a sunny protected spot. They are often found nestled up against the trunks of large trees. Hepatica have sweetly scented pale blue flowers, rarely white, growing from a patch of what appear to be lifeless leaves. The stems and early opening buds are covered with fine downy 'hairs' that appear to protect the flower from freezing. The three-lobed leaves are purplish brown now, but after the blooms have faded, new greem leaves will emerge.

Photo credits:
Hepatica in bloom (above) - Matt Perrry
Hepatica in bud (below) - Katherine Schlosser


Red Maple in Bloom :: early spring

posted Feb 22, 2011, 8:02 AM by Administrator Friends of Sauratown Mtns   [ updated Feb 22, 2011, 8:21 AM ]

The red maples (Acer rubrum) around the Piedmont and in Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain State Parks are coming into full bloom, and it is worth taking the time for a closer look.  The photo to the right is of the blooms of a pistillate tree (sometimes called female)—the staminate, or male, tree has long stamens.

Photo credit:
Katherine Schlosser

Skunk Cabbage :: early spring

posted Feb 11, 2011, 2:43 PM by Administrator Friends of Sauratown Mtns   [ updated Feb 22, 2011, 8:08 AM ]

Just peeking up through the muddy soil is one of our early spring bloomers, skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).  To the ordinary eye, this plant has no showy flower petals, no sweet fragrance, but it is charming none the less.

A lot of us first learned about skunk cabbage as children. I remember being warned about them on early spring hikes, for the message heralded by this strange looking plant is “if you crush me, I’ll stink up your walk!”


Skunk cabbage is in the Araceae family, along with some of our favorites such as green dragon (Arisaema dracontium) and Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema tryphyllum). It grows in boggy areas from Southern Canada to Northern Georgia, but is a single species.


The roots, which can form a massive tangle (which, by the way, makes attempting to dig and move skunk cabbage futile) contract as they grow, pulling the crown (rhizome) deeper into the mud. This explains why you seldom see the flower stem on a skunk cabbage—it is beneath any leaf litter and often underground. Occasionally you will spot one, but ordinarily the stem is far enough underground that the spathe appears to be stemless, just sitting on the ground.


In early spring the spathe rises from the earth so fast, in a process called “respiration,” that heat is generated by burning carbs stored from the previous year. The spathe has a hooded shape  and as it inflates around the spadix (flower stalk) creates a little “room” that is warm enough to melt surrounding snow. The heat, and the carrion odor, attract any nearby flies or other insects that are active this time of year. The skunk cabbage provides warm room and board for these insects, in return for exchanging pollen with other nearby plants.


This process only lasts for a couple of weeks, after which the leaves begin to unfurl. They can grow quite large, up to three feet, and are inflated with air and water instead of the usual cellulose. They also lack any cuticle (waxy skin), which ordinarily helps plants retain moisture. Therefore, they require a swampy location to keep them inflated long enough to store energy for the following year. Once they have done their job, the capillaries are cut off and the leaves wither into a dark, mushy mess.


Be careful around these plants if you spot them in the park.  They are unique and serve a wonderful purpose, providing warmth and food for insects in early spring.  Without those insects, we might not have such pretty flowers later on.


Katherine Schlosser

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