It is usually a surprise to find Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) blooming in the early spring in the Piedmont of North Carolina. It is a relatively rare plant in the Falls Lake area and generally occurs in small, fragmented populations. The shrub itself is low-lying and the flowers begin to bloom before the foliage appears. The small clusters of tiny yellow flowers can be difficult to spot against the dead leaves of the forest floor. As the bloom progresses, the leaves begin to appear and make the shrub a little more visible to a person walking past. The rich green trifoliate leaves closely resemble those of poison oak, inhibiting the urge to check the aromatic properties of the foliage. If Fragrant Sumac gets enough sun, it will also have a beautiful fall display of orange and red colors.
Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis) can occasionally be seen in the spring along the Falls Lake trails. As the plants appear, some of them may go through a phase where the foliage turns a dark, purplish red. This color has sometimes been characterized as carmine, which is a deep red with slight purple tinges. Wood Betony is semi-parasitic on the roots of other plants. Interestingly, the fern-like spring foliage bears a striking resemblance to another semi-parasitic plant – the Oak Leech (Aureolaria sp.), which, as the name implies, is semiparasitic on the roots of oaks.
Carmine may also describe the color of these Virginia Heartleaf (Hexastylis virginica) flowers. The flowers are found at the base of the plant and are usually covered with leaf debris, so catching them in bloom requires active participation on the part of the photographer. The effort is well worthwhile, as the flowers provide some of the richest color in the spring forest.