Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Saprophytic Orchids of Indiana

There are four species of orchids with extant populations in Indiana that can be considered to be saprophytic and/or hemi-parasitic. They live their lives below ground, not subject to photosynthesis, and unable to produce their own food, but deriving it instead (via mycorrhizae) from decaying organic matter (Homoya 1993).

It is suggested that no plants are truly saprophytic, that it is not the plants that are doing the breaking down of the dead plant material, but symbiotic fungi (mycorrhiza) working with the plants that are doing the decomposing (www.helium.com).

I was fortunate to find and photograph all four species last year, but it required traveling from one end of the state to the other, beginning the first week in May and ending in the middle of September.

The first to bloom in the spring is Wister's coral-root (Corallorhiza wisteriana), which is found primarily in the southern half of the state. The flowers (below) were found in bloom on May 4, near Versailles State Park and were growing in the flood plain of a small creek and not on the moderately moist slopes of ravines where it typically occurs
(Homoya 1993).

Later in the summer in late July and August one can find spotted coral-root (Corallorhiza maculata). The flowers (below) were blooming on July 18, at Cowles Bog in northwestern Indiana.

Another mid- to late-summer bloomer is crested coral-root (Hexalectris spicata), which differs from members of the coral-root genus (Corallorhiza) by having a different column structure and thicker more unbranched rhizomes (Homoya 1993). The flowers (below) were photographed on July 20, in Clark County.

Autumn coral-root (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) is the smallest member of this genus and no doubt possesses the least showy flower, if indeed the flower can even be found in its open state. I have been monitoring a small colony of this species at Cowles Bog in Porter County for four years. Only once have I found a single open flower on any of the plants.

This is the typical flower stalk of autumn coral-root (below) with its tightly closed flower.

And here--in all its glory--is the open flowered form (below) photographed on September 19.

Sadly, another saprophytic orchid, early spring coral-root (Corallorhiza trifida), has been extirpated from Indiana. It was found in one site only, in a unique natural area in the Indiana Dunes, which is now the location of a foreign owned steel mill (Homoya 1993).

Homoya, M.A. 1993. Orchids of Indiana. Indianapolis: The Indiana Academy of Science.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Plant Quiz Solved - Fragile Fern!

Good call, Susan! It is Fragile Fern, a plant whose taxonomic status is not treated consistently by our many authors. Closely related and/or synonymous species and varieties include Cystopteris protrusa, C. tenuis, C. fragilis, C. fragilis var. mackayi, and C. fragilis var. protrusa, among others.

This fern emerges earlier than most. When spring ephemerals are in their prime it's unfurling among them, especially in rich woods. Eventually it gets much taller than the ones in the photos below.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Plant Quiz Solved - Ranunculus testiculatus!

Good call, Mary. It is Ranunculus testiculatus, also known as Ceratocephalus testiculatus, Bur Buttercup. In the eastern U.S. it grows almost exclusively in campgrounds. It is new to Gray's Manual of Botany by M. L. Fernald.

This plant is unusual in that each pistil is scrotiform (that's a botanical term) at the base, having twin protuberances that look like testicles. Hence the specific epithet testiculatus, and the unofficial common name, Ballswort! It is not, however, related to Nut Rush or Nut Sedge.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dryopteris marginalis

Many interesting ferns can be found growing on rocky outcrops, but one of my favorite common ferns has to be Dryopteris marginalis (Marginal Shield Fern).

Found flowing over the edges of sandstone outcrops and ledges as well as growing in the sandy soils of the dunes around the Great Lakes, Dryopteris marginalis is easily identified by the marginally-disposed sori, shown above. This fern is found throughout the eastern half of North America and Greenland, and is apparently also known from Brittish Columbia. I most recently saw this species on the north-facing sandstone ledges at Fall Creek Gorge in Warren County, Indiana. For more plant photos from my recent trip to Fall Creek Gorge, visit my post at Through Handlens and Binoculars.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis

This common member of the Poppy family nearly always eludes my camera. It flowers briefly and the tepals fall of early and easily. Today I was fortunate to find a few colonies in good shape for photos. With this post I would like to honor the memory of my 4th grade teacher, Melvin Gutzler, who took my class to the woods and introduced us to the spring ephemerals. This simple and inexpensive field trip stirred in me a curious fascination about wild plants, which continues over four decades later. As a student of the flora, I have spent many, many delightful hours in quality natural areas. Thank you, Mr. Gutzler!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Plant Quiz Solved! Ranunculus fascicularis, Early Buttercup

Good call, Phytophactor and Scott. It is "ranunculaceous," and Scott is correct, it is Ranunculus fascicularis. This plant is especially at home on dry, sloping clay soil under a thin growth of oak and hickory. The specific epithet "fascicularis" refers to something being "bunched." The other day I saw this plant with its fascicled (or bunched) roots exposed from erosion. Amazing!
This plant always interests me with its change in appearance as it develops. Below are photos from last year showing how the petioles elongate and the plant thins out as the season progresses.

Hepatica acutiloba, Sharp-Lobed Hepatica

Early spring on wooded slopes can be delightful when Hepatica starts emerging. In northeast Indiana, it is flowering abundantly on rich slopes in the Edna Spurgeon Nature Preserve. Normally I take a series of pictures using a variety of camera settings. Several examples are included here; the differences between the latter two are subtle. Life is good, and spring is wonderful!