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Carolina lily update and hot-pink wildflower sighting

2012 July 19

By Ken Moore
Flora Columnist

Accompanied by a dozen Citizen readers on July 4, I revisited the Carolina lilies on Occoneechee Mountain and was disappointed they were still not in flower after seeing impressive buds two weeks earlier. The lilies seemed frozen in time on their sunny dry site.

Rose pink may catch your eye along roadsides in mid-July. Photo by Ken Moore

Carolina lilies cultivated in pots at the N.C. Botanical Garden, benefiting from frequent watering, had already begun flowering. The lilies exposed up on the mountain, however, are not blessed with special attention from gardeners.

Several plants spotted on the mountain sported two robust buds and whorls of deep-green leaves, and several smaller plants bore single buds or no buds. Growing in with goldenrods and other herbs and grasses, these lilies are difficult to spot without their spectacular flower.

Those lilies are smart in not opening their flowers, beacons for pollinators, when drought and heat are not conducive to pollinator activity. Those flowers, any flowers for that matter, don’t show off for the pleasure of admiring humans. Flowering is solely targeted to attract pollinators to affect fertilization in order to produce seed for carrying on!

I visited the Occoneechee powerline lilies again this past Sunday, certain that recent welcome rains and cooler temperatures would have induced flowering activity.

But still not yet, though the buds were larger and showing a tint of color. After three weeks of watchful waiting I am now confident that if you visit the mountain powerline this next week, you’ll find Carolina lily finally in flower.

The real treat this past Sunday was stopping to take a “closer look” at rose pink, Sabatia angularis, spotted on the drive up to Hillsborough. Beautiful rose pink is in the Gentian family, though it doesn’t resemble what most of us visualize as a gentian, thanks to having to memorize William Cullen Bryant’s “To a Fringed Gentian” as a youngster.

Rose pink is worth "a closer look." Photo by Ken Moore

Rose pink is neither “colored with the heaven’s own blue,” nor does it flower during the season of “frosty nights.” Pink-colored Sabatia flourishes in the dead heat of mid-summer.

Being a native biennial, it moves about and does not appear every year. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve spotted it scattered about in small patches on roadsides, woods edges and margins of wet areas.

The patch, next to a 45 mph speed-limit sign on the east side of Old N.C. 86, a short ways north of Calvander, is reasonably impressive. Take precaution to find a safe pull-off and carefully walk the narrow road edge to take a most rewarding closer look.

There are sightings of hot-pink Sabatia along Old N.C. 86 between Calvander and Hillsborough. Photo by Ken Moore

A safer place to view rose pink is in one of the fields at Mason Farm Biological Reserve. Be certain you note the difference between five-petal rose pink and four-petal meadow-beauty, Rhexia mariana, both of which are flowering there now.

Stay alert and you may spot populations of rose pink along a roadside near your home.

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

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