Who would guess that what most of us consider “natural” - the oak-hickory-pine dominated forests of the Piedmont uplands, are a rather recent phenomenon and one that definitely has man’s handiwork written all over it. It is safe to say that our Colonial ancestors would not recognize this place. The reason: fire suppression! The Upstate was once a mosaic of prairie and savanna managed by the cultural fire regime of the Native Americans. Only relatively small pockets of Oak-Hickory forest were able to exist due to natural protection from fire from fire, such as steep bluffs and rocky slopes. The canopy is made up of moisture-loving trees, such as American Beech, Northern Red Oak and Tulip Tree.
Orchids are perhaps the most captivating and certainly the most diverse group of flowers in the world. The orchid family represents some 30,000 species worldwide, and their beauty speaks to every language. They are the center of a multi-million dollar floral industry, and they bring us the unique flavor of vanilla. Orchid flowers also tell stories. They can be deceptive and display fascinating pollinator trickery, while some species are capable of dispersing their dust-like seeds around the world. Most orchids occur in tropical regions, growing high in the tree canopy, but the temperate regions are home to mostly terrestrial types that grow in soil.
Here in South Carolina, we have 45 native orchid species. Wildflower enthusiasts commonly overlook orchids because many have small, inconspicuous flowers. However, upon close examination, our native orchids are just as alluring as their exotic tropical relatives. For the enjoyment and education of all visitors, The Natural Heritage Garden will include many of these overlooked treasures.