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Long Weekend at the Coast

When you haven’t written a real post in months, it’s hard to jump back in! An intimidating backlog of photos from the past year or two brings to mind so much ‘never did,’ that I just want to give up before I start. But today was a sunny, plant-filled day, so I’ll just start where I am.

Live Oak outside Trask Colisseum at UNC-W

My niece’s graduation in Wilmington gave me a good reason to spend a few days at the coast over the weekend. For a couple of days, my daughter and her friend stayed with me, and granddog Stormin Norman entertained us all. He has his own Instagram account, being spoiled and prone to selfies and all, but he’s really cute.

My husband arrived just after Norm and the (grown up) kids left. We considered the deaths since last summer of two plants in the front yard — a parasol tree and a crape myrtle. My father-in-law was intrigued by the parasol tree, and had been charting its progress for years. The crape myrtle was a gift from family friends when my husband’s brother died in 2000. A hurricane took the plants. Matthew left two feet of water here last fall and neither withstood the salty inundation.

At some point I realized I wouldn’t get a chance to go to Shelton Herb Farm if I didn’t do it in the morning, so I headed out after breakfast. Barely a mile down the road, the new Ocean Isle Market was going on in the lot beside the island’s nature museum. For the rest of the summer, there will be a market here every Monday morning—an exciting development in this tiny town. I decided to turn around and take a look.

This is Michella of Ocean Therapy Potions. I talked with her for a bit about essential oils and bought her Sleep Spray — with clary, lavender, bergamot, and chamomile, and the Digestive Roll-on for stomach upset or motion sickness — with ginger, cardamom, peppermint, orange and chamomile. Both are really nice! Her apothecary and aromatherapy business are based a few miles away in Oak Island.

Richard is a local propagator of carnivorous plants who is passionate about the native flora. The pitcher plants for sale at the market were seven years old, all grown from seed on his property. His recommendations for those who would grow pitcher plants: Pot them in well moistened peat moss and don’t use nitrogen fertilizers. Full sun. They’re easy to grow, he adds.

Fresh local vegetables and herbs will be coming to the market soon. Woohoo!


Shelton Herb Farm is in Leland, about 30 miles north of Ocean Isle. Shelton’s is a favorite stop whenever I’m in the area because they have plants you usually find only through mail order.

Nearly any herb you’ve ever heard of or thought about will be there at one time or another. They have a nice selection of Southeast natives as well.

No credit cards accepted, but they do pass the savings on to you…and they have fresh eggs, too!

Today, I didn’t get anything I went there for— they lost a lot of plants during Matthew, too — but I did find a few other things. Duh.

Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)
Camellia sinensis (the plant black tea comes from)
Sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora)
Betony (Stachys officinalis)
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Coral trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’), a favorite native selection that I’ve just never managed to plant in my own garden.


About 5 or 6 miles south of Shelton’s on Highway 17 is Ev-Henwood Preserve, where I had seen the silky camellia (Stewartia malacodendron) blooming on Mother’s Day weekend a few years ago. That would be right about now, so I wanted to see if I could find them again.

It took a while.

The Stewartia Trail did not appear where I thought it should, and I wandered around for a while.

Someone had left this bloom on the picnic table where I stopped for lunch. If I hadn’t seen it, I might have given up too early and left disappointed.

But eventually, I did find them.

And aren’t they gorgeous?! I think they might be the prettiest flowers I’ve ever seen. Those stamens! Perfection. (More in the Folium.)


By the time I found these and then got back to the exit path, the afternoon was winding down and thoughts were turning toward getting back for dinner — the ‘D word’ to my husband and me. I think we are both ready to retire that domestic responsibility, but inconvenient evening hunger prevents it from happening. We managed with leftover lasagne and salad, which I liked a lot better than he did, and which probably means grilled wings tomorrow night.

There was a last stroll around the yard after dinner, to admire the new plants one more time, and to say goodnight to the evening primroses (Oenothera laciniata) in the nearly non-existent lawn (Matthew again).

And then a hello to the moon, whose incredible brightness demanded attention. I grabbed my camera, and after several shots of blurry white ball, I got the settings on the camera going the right direction. I had to pretend I was shooting in bright sun to get the ISO and aperture right…or at least closer to right. I wanted to be able to see the craters, and there they are!

Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, you. Thanks for reading!

Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve

Brunswick County has the highest plant species density of any county in North Carolina, and the town of Boiling Spring Lakes is one of the most notable spots in the county. A 6000+ acre nature preserve was established in 2004 to protect hundreds of species, some of which are rare or endangered, that live in that small, varied parcel of the Carolina coastal plain. It was designated a nationally significant ecological site in 1995 by the NC Natural Heritage Program.

The Nature Conservancy manages the property and the nature trail, which fortunately for us,  makes some of the property accessible to the public. The trail begins at the Community Center on Leeds Road, running along the edge of a disc golf course before entering the woods and bogs of the preserve.

March is a little early for blooms but there were still some interesting ones when I visited last week. I’ve numbered my photos to match the gallery slider above, or you can click the number links below and see a large view of each one.

(1, 2, 3) As you begin the trail, the first boggy spot appears to your left.

(4, 5, 6, 7) Common pixie-moss (Pyxidanthera barbulata var. barbulata) is visible along the sides of the trail and in some cases, in the trail.

(8, 9, 10, 11) Sand-myrtle (Kalmia buxifolia) has a surprising flower if you think of kalmia as the mountain laurel one. The petals of sand-myrtle are separate and the stamens are free.

(12) Waterproof boots are a good idea. Sometimes you can just walk around the wet and sometimes you can’t.

(13, 14) Pine savanna

(15, 16) A dark water pond

(17, 18) Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata)

(19) Dwarf sundew (Drosera brevifolia)

(20) Butterwort (Pinguicula sp.) ?

(21) Very big puddle

(22, 23, 24) Mystery shrub (Vaccinium) ?

(25) Dry sand and turkey oaks at the back edge of the disc golf course

(26) Longleaf pine juvenile (Pinus palustris)

(27) Looking up through the turkey oaks to the longleaf pines

(28) Yellow wood-sorrel (Oxalis sp.)

(29) Turkey oak leaves (Quercus laevis)

(30) Moss and lichens

(31) Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides)

(32) Pine needle-y forest floor

(33)  A weather-bleached longleaf pine cone

(34) Sandy path at the outer edge of the pine savanna

Beyond the Parking Lot

Flooded field in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina

You never really have to go far to botanize. Spending a day in the mountains or in a state park is nice, but sometimes all you need to do is walk to the edge of the parking lot!

Ocean Isle Beach Agalinis

This field beside a Lowe’s Foods near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, is a textural sweep of fall color and wildflowers. Beach false foxglove (Agalinis fasciculata) bobs in the breeze at the edge of the muck.

Agalinis fasciculata Beach False Foxglove

I think my thumb is clearer in this picture than the inside of the flower is, but it’s pretty in there, dotted and luminous.

Ocean Isle Beach Field

Fresh succulence dots the sandy path and relieves the melancholic tug of waning light and fading plants.

Ocean Isle Beach Field

Grasses and young loblolly pines dominate higher and drier expanses of the field.

Rustweed (Polypremum procumbens)

Was this poor plant victim of a worker using spray paint to mark something? In his field guide Wildflowers of the Sandhills Region, Bruce Sorrie says that everyone has probably seen this plant, but I had either not seen it or never noticed. It is rustweed (Polypremum procumbens), and that crazy orange is its natural fall color!

Ocean Isle Beach Turkey Tails

A turkeytail fungus (Trametes versicolor) grows on the remnants of a woody stem covered with sand.

Ocean Isle Beach Field

Thoroughworts (Eupatorium spp.) and other asteraceous plants have bloomed out, but their fluffy seedheads still provide food for wildlife.

Ocean Isle Beach Field Flora

Further along, the plant cover is more dense and shrubby.

Ocean Isle Beach Field

That row of palms in the background above is the entrance to a new neighborhood.

Ocean Isle Beach Development

Here’s the view of the field from the neighborhood entrance. Plants under the palms leave a little to be desired if you’ve gotten to know the field even a little bit.

Ocean Isle Beach Development

Native pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is much better than pruned-to-death (quite literally!) loropetalum, but even that is far less compelling than the wild and wonderful just beyond. Let’s backtrack a little and see what else we can find there.

Ocean Isle Beach Baccharis

Sea myrtle (Baccharis halimifolia) opens its foamy white blooms.

Ocean Isle Beach Sea Myrtle

Come in close for a view of sea myrtle’s female flowers.

Ocean Isle Beach Shrub

Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra) doles out its black berries to birds all winter long.

Ocean Isle Beach Shrub

A titi (Cyrilla racemiflora)! Dangling strings of beads make pretty plant jewelry, don’t they?

Ocean Isle Beach Plants

Seedbox (Ludwigia sp.) is more interesting in fruit than in bloom. Those square-topped capsules are worth marveling.

Ocean Isle Beach Fall Color

Just look at the incredible diversity in this small field! Is that sumac beside the sea myrtle? And the goldenrods are fabulous. I hope you enjoy the lush view as much as I do. Take a look beyond a parking lot near you soon and see what you can find.

Ocean Isle Beach Field

There are hours and hours of happy discoveries here.

Happy botanizing, friends!

Empty Beach

Empty Beach, Ocean Isle, North Carolina

An empty beach? In August? Well that sky is ominous, and being struck by lightning is more likely in North Carolina than nearly anywhere in the country. (Florida and Texas are worse.)

Clouds Over Ocean Isle Beach

It rather cramps our style this no sun at the beach — and meanwhile no clouds in bone-dry Charlotte? Pshhh.

Girl Walking along the Surf

We haven’t heard thunder yet, but my daughter says she smells rain. Maybe picking up the pace would be a good idea.

Stormy Sky Ocean Isle Beach, NC

Will we make it back before the deluge? I don’t know, but it will be nice to sit on the porch and listen to the rain.

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