Most people walking along the one-mile trail at Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve in Travelers Rest wouldn't notice the tiny white flowers peeking up from a muddy bog in the understory of the bottomland forest. But the unassuming plant is a rare botanical treasure found only in two very small spots in the world.
South Carolina is home to a number of rare plants, including the federally endangered bunched arrowhead. You'll find them all over the state in unique habitats, from the subtropical wetlands of the coastal plain to the steep gorges of the Blue Ridge Escarpment.
Here are six and the spots you can find them in South Carolina:
1. Venus flytrap. These carnivorous plants are native to only a small area of the coastal plain in North and South Carolina. Unable to get the nutrition it needs from its sandy, nitrogen-poor habitat, the plant has adapted to acquire nutrients from insects. When a bug brushes against its spines at least twice, the trap closes and the plant begins to secrete digestive juices that break down the insect in five to 12 days. Flytraps live in the wild at Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve in Conway, but they are difficult to find in the preserve's 10,000 acres. Your best bet is to look for them at the South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson.
2. Bunched arrowhead. One of the world's rarest plants, it grows naturally within five square miles of Travelers Rest in the spongy soil of wetland seeps near the Enoree and Tyger rivers. Small populations of the small herbaceous plant can be found in two protected areas - Bunched Arrowhead Heritage Preserve and in the meditation garden at Furman University. The easiest place to see them is on the college campus where an observation deck has been built overlooking the seepage stream.
3. Oconee bell. This delicate bell-shaped wildflower grows in just a few isolated locations in the southern Appalachian Mountains. South Carolina's Jocassee Gorges claims as much as 90 percent of the world's population of the herbaceous perennial. The low-growing plant thrives in moist woods along streams, blooming from mid-March to early April. Rather than traipse through rugged mountain terrain in search of the rare wildflower, take a walk along the 1.5-mile Oconee Bell Trail in Devils Fork State Park where they can be found growing in clumps along a creek. You can also see them at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens.
4. Sundews. Found in the coastal plain, this fascinating little carnivorous plant uses a flypaper-type trap to ensnare its prey. Small hairs on its tiny leaves secrete a sticky substance that looks like dew in the morning sun, luring unsuspecting insects. Once it has an insect stuck in its goo, the leaves of the plant curl over the prey and cover it in digestive enzymes. Like the Venus flytraps, sundews grow in the wild at Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve. You can see several different varieties of the species at the South Carolina Botanical Garden.
5. Rocky shoals spider lily. Landsford Canal State Park boasts the largest known stand of rocky shoals spider lilies in the world. Stretched along 20 acres of the Catawba River, the plant blooms from about mid-May to mid-June, covering the river with a blanket of beautiful creamy white flowers. The aquatic perennial, which lodges in the cracks of rocky shoals, requires a swift, shallow water current and direct sunlight to grow. You can catch the annual botanical spectacle along the park's Canal Trail. The Broad River in Columbia also has a healthy population of the lilies. In the spring, local outfitters offer guided kayak tours to see the blossoming aquatic plants.
6. Dwarf-flowered heartleaf. A low-growing perennial with distinctive heart-shaped leaves and small jug-shaped flowers that grow near the base of the stem, this very rare plant occurs in a few select areas of the Southern piedmont. One of the largest communities of the federally endangered heartleaf can be found at Peter's Creek Heritage Trust Preserve in Spartanburg.