Bath, Highland and Pocahontas Counties offer a unique habitat for orchids and wildflowers

By Bonnie Ralston

Bath County resident Charles Garrett has a passion for orchids and wildflowers.  He’s always loved the outdoors and photography and he’s combined those two interests and takes beautiful photos of native wildflowers and orchids in Bath, Highland and Pocahontas Counties.  

The orchids that grow in this area are not like the tropical ones you see in stores.  They are terrestrial orchids, woodland flowers that grow in the soil.  Garrett has discovered seven orchids in Bath that had not been previously found here.  Among those he found a very special one, Bentley’s Coral Root.

“And the first one I found that hadn’t been found in Bath County, turned out to be the rarest orchid in non-tropical North America that’s only been found in five counties in the world,” says Garrett.  “And they’re all in this area, around here, and that all of the sudden opened my door into the community of orchid nut.”  

Garrett’s photos have been published, he does presentations and he’s a contributor to Dr. Steve Stephenson’s book, A Natural History of the Central Appalachians.

“There’s lots of native orchids around here,” says Garrett.  “We think of the Pink Lady’s Slipper and the Yellow Lady’s Slipper as being our native orchids.  Well, there’s thirty species or more of native orchids in Bath County.”

With elevations that vary dramatically in this area, you get more than one chance to see plants bloom.  For example, the wildflowers at Walton Tract in the southeast corner of Bath County can be weeks ahead of when they’ll come out in the higher elevations of Highland County.  Garrett calls this area very unique when it comes to orchids and wildflowers.

“Oh when you go talk about Pocahontas, you go to orchid heaven,” says Garrett.  “The Cranberry Glades is a magical place.  And the habitat there is unlike most anything else around here.  There are a couple of species of orchids that bloom around the Fourth of July that you can see from the boardwalk through one of the glades.  And in a good year, there are thousands of those.”

Garrett is happy to answer questions about wildflowers and if you are interested in knowing what might be growing on your property, he’ll come out and take a walk with you.

 “One of the biggest risks to our native orchids is people digging them up and trying to grow them in their yard,” says Garrett.  “And pretty much, unless you know exactly what you’re doing with one or two species, anything else you dig up, you might as well just trample it right there, because you’ve killed it.  They have a very delicate balance with the soil fungi and they’re dependent on them.”

The Pink Lady’s Slipper and Downy Rattlesnake Plantain are probably the two most common orchids in the area.  Garrett says if you plan to go out to look at orchids you need to know what habitat they prefer, because they are picky, and you need to know when they will bloom. 

“We have one species of orchid here that sits and waits for a weather change in August,” says Garrett.  “And when the weather changes they all bloom in that population by ten o’clock and by five o’clock, they’ve all closed up.  And that’s your window of opportunity.”

Charles Garrett can be reached at 540-839-2016.  You can visit the Allegheny Mountain Radio website to see some of Garrett’s photos.

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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