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Our spectacular Piedmont

2012 May 17

Penstemons by the thousands are now in peak flower at Mason Farm. Photo by Ken Moore

By Ken Moore
Flora Columnist
This week I was planning a Flora story inspired by the pressed-flower specimen in Jock Lauterer’s Great Aunt Myra Baldwin’s 1943 diary described in a recent “A Thousand Words.” But that story will have to wait until next week, because I want to describe the continuing march of spectacular Piedmont flower displays, hoping you folks will make more outdoor excursions before the heat of the approaching summer becomes discouraging.

Two weeks ago I wrote that the mountain laurels of Occoneechee Mountain would be at peak a week early this year, and indeed they were.

Happily for Eno River Association folks who showed up for the Mother’s Day hike this past Sunday, that flower spectacle was continuing through a second week, and the laurel thickets lining the Brown Elfin Knob Trail were truly a sight to behold!

And now, the fields of beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis, out at Mason Farm are approaching their peak, another Piedmont flower spectacle for the next two weeks, not to be missed.

And though not naturally occurring in the Piedmont, the carnivorous-plants display behind the Totten Center at the N.C. Botanical Garden is unbelievable right now. Curator Chris Liloia was industrious this past fall and winter in rejuvenating that collection, and I’ve never seen it more spectacular.

Pitcher plants from all over the southeastern states are up in full leaf, accompanied by numerous species of native orchids and rare-plant species associated with those pitcher plants in the wild. Orchid flowers in every shade of pink and white provide lovely bouquets hovering above the sinister, insect-trapping sundews and flytraps. That whole array is a particular visual feast for the wildflower photographer. This show will be continuing for a couple more weeks, another not-to-miss spectacle.

Further afield is the 90-acre Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve north of Durham situated on that curious peninsular bend in the Eno River. Chapel Hill Town Council member and plant ecologist Ed Harrison is leading a fieldtrip there this Saturday to show off the Piedmont prairie restoration in progress ( for specifics). If the endangered wild blue indigo, Baptisia australis, has passed its peak you’ll catch two species of wild quinine (one very rare) and the rare smooth cone flower, Echinacea laevigata, coming into prime flowering.

Smooth coneflowers will be peaking soon at Penny’s Bend Piedmont prairie. Photo by Johnny Randall

The grand finale to this long spring spectacle of Piedmont flowers is the upcoming “Carolina Moonlight Gala” at the Botanical Garden on the full moon evening of Saturday, June 2. This is the Botanical Garden’s first-ever such spectacular social affair in a wonderful botanical setting.

In addition to food and beverages, viewing the gardens, music, dancing and the excitement of a silent auction, the gala will be an engaging fundraiser to support the ongoing conservation and educational programs of the Botanical Garden. Check it out ( and plan to have a great time while supporting the environment of our spectacular Piedmont.

Email Ken Moore at Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora (

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