Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/September 1887/A Botanical Bonanza

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TAKE a map of the Southern States, and find a point directly northwest of the spot where North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia corner. Taking this for a center, describe a circle, whose radius shall extend twenty miles.

Within this bound will be represented a section which probably contains more interesting and rare plants than can be found in any part of the United States occupying the same area.

This district was undoubtedly visited by the elder Michaux. Professor Sargent furnishes me with a short extract from the old botanist's journal, the original of which is in the possession of the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, in which he describes a trip he made up the Keowee River, and finally up the mountain-streams which form the head-waters of the Keowee. This route naturally led him to pass through the region that I have described. Here it was that Robinia viscosa and Shortia galacifolia were first found—two plants which were for so long a time thought to be lost species.

Although much of the Alleghany Mountain region has been thoroughly explored by later botanists, this particular spot seems to have been unnoticed until lately—probably on account of its being so difficult to reach from any railroad-station, for the district embraces a very wild and broken mountain-region.

Not far from where I proposed to make the center of our circle, Rhododendron Vaseyi grows in profusion. This showy plant is found along an old, long-traveled trail, but was unnoticed until a short time ago. Tsuga Caroliniana, the new and rare hemlock, is common on a mountain (Whitesides) which has been visited annually by tourists for half a century, but it remained unnoticed until within a short time. Robinia viscosa is a common plant on nearly all the mountain-tops around, but was searched for in vain for nearly a century until it was rediscovered a few years ago. One circumstance, which perhaps helped to obscure it, is that in its natural state it is only a low shrub, not much larger than its near relative, R. hispida, with which it is associated, while in cultivation it makes a considerable tree. Professor Sargent, while exploring the head-waters of the Keowee, last September (1886), in search of Magnolia cordata, obtained a plant which proved to be the rare Shortia galacifolia. Since then it has been found in considerable numbers near where the professor made the discovery.

I will name a few of the interesting if not rare plants that I have collected here during the present season: Ilex monticola, Ilex mollis, Gaylussacia ursina, Dyrhylleia cymosa, Parnassia asanfolia, and Drosera rotundifolia. The little Houstonia serpyllifolia grows on the banks of all the mountain-streams, while H. elongifolia grows on the drier hill-sides. Galax aphylla is interesting to me, on acccount of the beautiful tints which its leaves put on during the winter months, which make it one of the most enlivening features of the landscape during that season. I might fill pages describing plants that occur here, that would be most interesting objects of study to those who have never visited this region; but my principal object in writing this is to suggest the query whether it is not probable that there are undiscovered plants yet to be found in a part of the country which is so virgin and has been so little explored as this.