Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The peak of spring ephemerals and a waterfall

Invited to view wildflowers on a Conserving Carolina property on the North Pacolet River, I didn’t hesitate – I convinced a few friends to join us, and we headed north a few days later, knowing that there was only a narrow window to catch the peak bloom of the spring ephemerals. I knew we were in for a treat when we started seeing trillium from the car window as we slowly wound along the North Pacolet, and the notion was confirmed upon parking at the small trailhead – enormous trillium among Solomon’s Seal literally just outside the car door.

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum

Sweet white trillium, Trillium simile

Formerly the Pacolet Area Conservancy, Conserving Carolina owns and protects several parcels of land between US176 and decommissioned railroad tracks along the North Pacolet River. A trail was installed to discourage visitors from utilizing those tracks to access a waterfall on a side creek, and that trail has also opened a one-of-a-kind property to those seeking the ultimate spring wildflower experience.

Sessile bellwort, Uvularia sessilifolia

Wild ginger, Asarum canadense

The trail was promoted to me as “the best place for spring ephemerals in the region,” and it didn’t disappoint – this was the most incredible wildflower experience I have ever had. Our progress was incredibly slow as we stopped to look at every new flower we found, and although this tempo considerably added to the total hike time, it also distracted us from the terrain. Though not a difficult hike, there is enough change in elevation to rate this trail moderate. However, the trail ends at a rocky overlook to a 60ft waterfall, and the trail at this end is steep and dangerous. Just last week a local man fell 70 feet at this point, sustaining severe injuries; please know that a slip or moment’s inattention can end in disaster, and use common sense and more than a grain of caution. 

The trail also crosses two small tributaries, both homes to multiple species of salamanders. The streams can be crossed by rock hopping, or getting your feet a little wet – possibly both, if you’re a three year old.

Branch lettuce, Micranthes micranthidifolia

There are also two unofficial trails head down to Big Fall Creek, however both are heavily eroded in steeper sections. The second of the two provides a safer method of access to the bottom of the waterfall (than climbing down from the top), although the falls themselves aren’t completely visible. And finally, closest to the trailhead there is a spur trail that leads past rock outcrops to the railroad tracks.

Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria

Yellow mandarin, Disporum maculatum

In addition to the hazardous cliffs area of this hike, there is also a high concentration of poison ivy; even this early in the year we found vines and budding leaves that could transmit their poisonous oils.

White baneberry, Actaea pachypoda

So, sum total: moderate terrain, creek crossings, dangerous drops, poison ivy, plus the usual hazards (ticks, chiggers, snakes etc.) = the most incredible spring ephemerals in our area… Choose your own adventure!


In addition to the wildflowers pictured above, we also saw: violets, Solomon's Seal, toadshade (Trillium cuneatum), trout lily (Erythronium americanum), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), wild bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) and another dozen that I'm not confident enough to identify...

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