Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Outwitting the Wily Orchids

Dan, Dan, the orchid man McDowell, my mentor for all things botanical, is fond of saying, "Peter, the neat thing about orchids is they can hide, but they can't run." But knowing this to be true is not always helpful in finding the less showy members of the orchid family.

There are three woodland species of orchids here in Indiana that can neither hide, nor run, during the winter months. The green over-wintering leaves are easy to spot among the decaying leaf litter on the forest floor. Find those leaves now before the green-up, mark their location with a GPS and return later when they are in bloom, and likely to be hidden by closely growing associates.

(1) Aplectrum hyemale
Common name: puttyroot, Adam-and-Eve orchid

(2) Tipularia discolor
Common name: crane-fly orchid

(3) Goodyera pubescens

Common name: downy rattlesnake plantain

Aplectrum hyemale sends up a single leaf in late September which is usually shed when the flower stalk is present in May. It is common to find an abundance of leaves at a winter location only to find a few flowering stalks when you return in the spring.

This is the rarer greenish form of Aplectrum hyemale forma pallidum which grows at a site in LaPorte County.


Tipularia discolor, like the puttyroot, Aplectrum hyemale, produces a single leaf in September which is absent during flowering. I recently counted 22 leaves of this species at a LaPorte County site in April, but found only one flowering stalk when I returned in August.

Note the purple underside of the leaf of Tipularia discolor.


Unlike the preceding two species, the strikingly patterned foliage of Goodyera pubescens can be found throughout the year, and is present during flowering in July and August.


A.L. Gibson said...

Looking forward to catching these 3 species in bloom again at their respective times, they never get old to see. I commonly find evidence of all three within a baseball's throw of each other (sorry, had to get a baseball reference in on Opening Day :) )

Mike Whittemore said...

Very informative. I've come across the leaves of each of these species but only the flower of rattlesnake plantain. Really looking forward to heading back to see these beauties.

Keith said...

Good stuff, Pete, and excellent pictures! Thanks for posting!


Scott Namestnik said...

Very nice, Pete. I especially like the photo of Tipularia discolor flowers. I've seen the leaves on several occasions (further south, where the species is more common), but I've only seen it in flower once. I might have walked right by had someone not pointed it out, as the flowers were nearly invisible. Your photo sure does them justice!

Pete said...

Thanks A. I., Mike, Keith, and Scott for your comments. Thanks especially to Keith for providing me with site information for Aplectrum and Tipularia where I took the flower photos.

Dana said...

That was an enjoyable read, and nice photos! When I encounter sterile specimens (not just orchids even), I often think "I should re-visit these plants when they're in bloom", but I never actually DO it. You have given me motivation to follow through with the plan next time. We can learn so much more about species when we see them throughout their life cycle! Thanks for the nice post.

Pete said...

I'm grateful for your comment Dana. Thanks.

Susan said...

Thanks to your post, I knew what Tipularia was when I saw it today in Shannon County, Missouri (county record!). It's also a species of concern in MO (S2), so a heritage record to boot. Thanks for the heads up. I plan to return to see the blossoms: it had a stalk with old seedheads on it from last year.

Pete said...

Nice going Susan.