Sunday, June 2, 2013

Stevens Creek Heritage Preserve

Stevens Creek Heritage Preserve is located in McCormick County, South Carolina, close to the state border with Georgia. I visited it in early April on a field trip that I took as part of the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage event held by the Georgia Botanical Society. You can read about my other field trips to Heggie’s Rock and the Carolina Bays by clicking on the hotlinks.

Lake Miccosukee gooseberry (Ribes echinellum)
An excellent botanical and physical description of the Preserve by Patrick McMillan can be found here. I read this description when I returned from the trip and found it perfectly described my experience on the site.

As we made our way from the parking lot along the trail, we passed through some rather “ordinary” areas - although we found some blooming woodies:  rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum), southern crabapple (Malus angustifolia), and plum (Prunus angustifolia), and those were exciting to me!  Patrick’s description is spot on: “The trail begins by winding through young pine and oak communities with little sign of the rich woodlands to come.”

We patiently tramped on until, as Patrick says: “The trail comes to the edge of a steep slope and here you first get a chance to see some of the real stars of the area. At the top and mid-points of the slope you will notice a very unusual shrub.” Indeed, we found it! The federally threatened Lake Miccosukee gooseberry (Ribes echinellum) was there and blooming!

Pink Claytonia virginica mixed with Enemion biternatum

With each step we took, more and more special plants were discovered – the spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) were so thick it was like the other plants were swimming in them. Some of them were deeply pink, a variation that I had never seen before. Frankly, I could hardly stop taking pictures as each one was more beautiful than the last. We soon found another plant that we had been looking for - the "false" rue anemone, Enemion biternatum. Scarcely found where I live, it was here in profusion.

Cardamine angustata

Mixed in with these two lovelies, we began to find other treasures - the spotted geranium (Geranium maculatum), trilliums, Heuchera americana, round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa) and slender eastern toothwort (Cardamine angustata). We were truly moving into rich territory as we met up with a small stream. Here, Patrick's words ran true again:“Now you are standing in one of the most diverse and rich woodlands to be found in South Carolina and all around you are beautiful spring ephemerals in profusion.”

Dodecatheon meadia with
Saxifraga virginiensis

Now we eagerly surged forward on an increasingly narrow trail. Our next delight to discover was shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia), a plant that I have never seen in the wild. It dotted the streambank, at times growing in thick colonies. In the area that we stopped, it was mixed with another new plant that appreciates the same growing conditions - early saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis).

Now we saw trillium - at least several different species. Of interest were the very prolific lance-leaf trillium (Trillium lancifolium) and the unusual Trillium discolor. Trout lilies were past their bloom, but their seeds allowed us to recognize that we were finding both the dimpled trout lily (Erythronium umbilicatum) and the American one (Erythronium americanum).
Trillium lancifolium (left) and Trillium discolor (right)

American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)
As rich as the herbaceous layer was so was the diversity of trees and shrubs. Blooming around us we found painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica), silverbell (Halesia diptera), and a whole lot of poison ivy! The new foliage on the poison ivy was a deep burgundy, luckily easy to spot as we leaned in to take pictures. One small tree eluded identification, but later we identified it as American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia).

Nothoscordum bivalve

We found several groups of false garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve) that begged to be photographed (you know how that is).

We bottomed out and began the climb back up. We had separated into small groups by now and I was fortunate to be walking with a man who knew a lot about the insects that we encountered along the way. We swapped plant identification tips for bug tips and identified (often from afar, so no pictures) various butterflies, beetles and caterpillars that made this forest their home.

Not all insects eluded us - I will finish with a picture of a very spectacular moth that we found early on in our hike - an adult luna moth (Actias luna) that sat patiently for everyone to photograph. Thanks to our new companion, we learned on the trip back that this moth has no working mouth parts and does not feed as an adult. We also learned that this is a male because of the very bushy antennae. We sure felt lucky to have encountered such a beautiful creature and were thankful that preserves such as this are protected for us, for them and for the very special plant community found there.

Male luna moth


  1. That is a spectacular Luna moth!

  2. I'm glad you've compiled all the photos you took on this wonderful walk. I felt privileged to be in your company! I'll swap bugs and plant info any time.