Carolina Bay Field Trip by Carl W. Cole

On a recent Saturday, August 31st, seven Coastal Master Naturalists, led by Elise Wallace, went on a field trip to a Carolina Bay in the Francis Marion National Forest.  Along for their first CMNA field trip were Spring 2013 MN graduates Larry and Chris Hayden.  Also present were Ed Farnworth, Judith Kramer, Ann Truesdale, and I.  It was the same Carolina Bay adjacent to a power line right of way that MN classes have visited with Dr. Porcher. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This field trip was expressly timed to catch wildflowers blooming.  Judith consolidated a plant list (see below) with more than two dozen species, most of them blooming wildflowers.

We met at the Sewee Center – with the added treat of saying hello to MN Michelle Wrenn – then headed down forest service roads following part of a “Wildflower Driving Tour” on a map Elise provided.   We disembarked several times enroute to the Carolina Bay and walked the roadside identifying plants and other species.  Elise got some of the “herding cats” experience that’s typical of anyone trying to lead a group of Master Naturalists very far through the woods.  Several times, she’d say something like “Let’s move on” and get a couple of people headed to their vehicles only to look back and see a quorum of the group reassembled off the roadside somewhere.


In the power line right of way, the pitcher plants were magnificent!  They were mostly Yellow Pitcher Plants Sarracenia flava with a few Hooded Pitcher plants Sarracenia minor.  (A little later, in the Carolina Bay, Ann also spotted a clump of Sweet Pitcher Plant Sarracenina rubra.)  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Larry, who retired from the Forest Service and still consults with the Francis Marion forest, expressed concern that the plants in the power company’s right of way may be at risk of herbicide treatment, rather than a prescribed burn (which Dr. Porcher told us the pitcher plants are evolved to survive). What a shame that would be!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Carolina Bay, which was dry the last time I saw it, was nicely wet with more than ankle deep water in the center.  The field trip was expressly to see wildflowers but, knowing that I’ve been stalking dragonflies with my camera lately, Elise would point out any that she saw that morning.  Earlier, they’d all been cruising and too far away to catch with my camera but the Carolina Bay was filled with Little Blue Dragonlets Erythrodiplax minuscule mating and perching on the two-foot-tall grasses in the middle of the bay long enough for me to get some photos. (That’s how I knew it was ankle deep.)

Then, on the walk back out of the bay, Elise spotted a damselfly and a small dragonfly, both perched on low vegetation along the path.  What we first thought was a dragonfly because of its partially extended wings actually turned out to be a damselfly, one of the aptly-named spreadwings Lestes sp.  Once I got the close-up photos out of the camera, the slender body and widely separate eyes were damselfly clues, but these ancient old eyes of mine didn’t even see those features in the field.  I thought it was an adult female Southern Spreadwing Lestes australis or a Carolina Spreadwing Lestes vidua but Giff Beaton identified it as a Swamp Spreadwing Lestes vigilax.  I thought the small dragonfly might be a female of one of the pennants Celithemis sp.  but Giff Beaton identified it as an adult female Blue Dasher Pachydiplax longipennis.

As we walked through the right of way earlier, Larry commented how tough it is for forest service personnel to do growing season prescribed burns in such weather.  By about 12:30 – without burning anything – some of us had enough of the heat and decided to call it a day.  On the way back, several of us stopped at the Sewee Center again to eat lunch and chat in the cool shade of the covered picnic tables, a nice ending to a great field trip.

Thanks to Elise for leading the trip and to Bill Thielfoldt for facilitating the signup!

Plant List

Blazing Star  Liatris spicata

Vetches – and assortment

Meadow Beauty –  Rhexia

Orange Milkwort – Polygala lutea

Toothache Grass – Clenium aromaticum

Slender Seedbox – Ludwigia virigata

Yellow Fringed Orchid – Habenaria (Platanthera) ciliaris

Bitter Mint – Hyptis alata

Barbara’s Buttons – Marshallia gramminifolia

Eryngo – Eryngium integrifolium

Yellow Trumpet Pitcher Plant – Saracenia flava

Hooded Pitcher Plant – Saracenia minor

Sweet Pitcher Plant – Saracenia rubra

Blue Flag Iris – Iris tridentata

Giant White Topped Sedge – Dichromenia latifolia

Pipewort – Eriocaulon decangulare

Pond Cypress – Taxodium ascendens

Heal-All – Prunella vulgaris

Black-eyed Susan – Rudbeckia Herta

Bitter weed – Helenium amarum

Swamp Sunflower – Heleanthus angustifolius

Spreading Sunflower – Heleanthus divaricatus

Mist Flower – Eupatorium coelestinum

(apparently now Conoclinium coelestinum as per the Missouri Botanical Gardens)

Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum

Ironweed – Veronia

Fleabane – Erigeron philadelphicus

Club Moss – Lycopodium

Additional Reading

More Carolina Bay Information

Francis Marion Carolina Bays

Francis Marion Wildflower Viewing

(Notice that the Conifer Road Loop page has photos by Ricky Wrenn, MN Michelle Wrenn’s husband.  How cool is that!)

“Dragonflies and Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast” by Giff Beaton