Pollination observations in the Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina — 2016-08-09 – 2016-08-16

Shortly after returning from my trip to attend the 2016 Native Orchid Conference symposium in Benson, Arizona, I joined a couple of new friends in the Pisgah National Forest. I had been in correspondence with John and Judy Kingston, residents of Beeston, Nottingham, United Kingdom even before I met them at the symposium. Like me, they are orchid enthusiasts and photographers. I was pleased to show them several orchid species in flower in the Pisgah NF: Platanthera ciliaris or Yellow Fringed orchid, Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis or Slender Ladies’-tresses orchid which were just holding on, and Tipularia discolor or Crane-fly orchid. The former two were new to them, and I could feel their excitement as they wandered around the roadside, remarking on the beauty and perfection of the flowers.

Toward the end of our visit to the Yellow Fringed orchids, we were honored by the appearance of several Battus philenor or Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies intent on getting the nectar of Yellow Fringed orchids, and at the same time, performing pollination of said flowers. The ones that I managed to photograph (not so clearly, I’m afraid) obviously had been quite busy with their activity, because their eyes were loaded with numerous orchid pollinia that were picked up from visits to other nearby orchid flowers. Here is an image of one of them feverishly at work on one of the orchid plants:

Pipevine Swallowtail pollinating Yellow Fringed orchids
Pipevine Swallowtail pollinating Yellow Fringed orchids

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Weekend orchid hunting along the Carolina coastal plain — 2016-08-12 – 2016-08-14

I was asked recently why I blog about my adventures in the field. I didn’t have a good answer then, so I have taken a while to think about it. With the posting of this, my 200th blog post, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want you, the reader, to like what I like; to feel the excitement that I feel upon discovering a group of blooming flowers that are on one hand, not unique, but on the other hand, never the same, no matter how many times I see them. That is my answer.

This past weekend fell in mid-August, the usual time for the fringed orchids to be blooming in the physiographic region of the Carolinas known as the Coastal Plain. These fringed orchids include Platanthera conspicua or Southern White Fringed orchid, Platanthera ciliaris or Yellow Fringed orchid, Platanthera cristata or Crested Fringed orchid, and Gymnadeniopsis (Platanthera) integra or Yellow Fringeless orchid. I know the latter is not a fringed orchid, but it blooms at the same time as the others, so I’m including it here. I also saw a large population of Habenaria repens or Water-spider orchid.

Although I visited several sites in both South Carolina and North Carolina, I will not distinguish between the sites in this post, but rather I will group them together by orchid species. At the end of this blog post, I will also picture some of the wildflowers I came across that are common to both states so that if you are visiting the Carolina coastal plain in the next couple of weeks, you might see some of them and be able to identify them.

The first of the orchid species I photographed on this trip is Platanthera conspicua or Southern White Fringed orchid. It differs from its northern cousin, Platanthera blephariglottis or Northern White Fringed orchid by several subtle characteristics, but I always rely on the position of the apex of the lip: it is generally shorter and tends to curl downward on the Northern White Fringed orchid while it is generally longer and tends to curl outward on the Southern White Fringed orchid.

Platanthera conspicua
Platanthera conspicua or Southern White Fringed orchid

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2016 Native Orchid Conference field trips — Malaxis porphyrea and Platanthera limosa — 2016-07-31 through 2016-08-05

The third and fourth native orchid species that we were introduced to at the 2016 Native Orchid Conference symposium in Arizona are Malaxis porphyrea or Purple Malaxis orchid and Platanthera limosa or Thurber’s Bog orchid. They could not be any more different in appearance from each other, as you will soon discover.

Malaxis porphyrea: As is typical of most of our Malaxis species, it has a single, clasping leaf and a non-branching stem. The species name, porphyrea, is the Greek word, porphyra, the purple-fish or the dye that was made from it. The tiny purple flowers circle the flower stem from about halfway up the stem to the apex. There may be as many as 100 flowers per plant. The small size of the flowers, the tendency for the plant to sway in even the slightest breeze, and the 3-dimensional aspect of the inflorescence makes it quite challenging to photograph. Here is an image of one of the larger plants we found, coming in at about 12 inches (30 cm):

Malaxis porphyrea
Malaxis porphyrea

Platanthera limosa: This species is a tall one, similar to other green-flowered Platanthera orchids. The species name, limosa, is a Latin word for “muddy” — describing the type of habitat in which the plants can usually be found. The plants we saw were about 3-4 feet (1-1.2 meters) tall and were part of a dense population of plants growing on a muddy slope. The plants were quite robust, having as many as 200 flowers on each stem. Its nectar spur is relatively long in comparison with other green Platanthera species of similar size and shape. Here is an image of a portion of the inflorescence of one of the plants I was able to isolate from the group:

Platanthera limosa
Platanthera limosa

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2016 Native Orchid Conference field trips — Malaxis abieticola — 2016-07-31 through 2016-08-05

The third native orchid species that we were introduced to at the 2016 Native Orchid Conference symposium in Arizona was found in the sky islands of the Chiricahua Mountain Range. It is Malaxis abieticola or Arizona Adder’s-mouth orchid. The species name, abieticola is made up of two Latin words: abiet => fir tree; cola => dweller, inhabitant. This makes so much sense, because the plants we found were “dwelling” in the shade of spruce (fir) trees. This is another one of those orchids which is relatively common farther south in Mexico but has been found in only two counties in extreme southern Arizona — Cochise County and Pima County. It grows at an elevation of 8,000-9,000 feet (2,400-2,700 meters).

As is typical of most of our Malaxis species, it has a single, clasping leaf and a non-branching stem with the flowers appearing at the apex. According to Ron Coleman’s book, The Wild Orchids of Arizona and New Mexico, Malaxis abieticola can have up to 40 flowers per plant. One confounding characteristic of this species is that the flowers can be seen pointing in every imaginable direction. This, coupled with the 3-dimensional aspect of the inflorescence, makes it quite the challenge to photograph. In any case, we did photograph a number of these orchids with differing results. Here is an image of two of the plants we found:

Malaxis abieticola
Malaxis abieticola

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2016 Native Orchid Conference field trips — Malaxis corymbosa — 2016-07-31 through 2016-08-05

Continuing yesterday’s post: The second native orchid species that we found in the sky islands of the Huachuca Mountain Range is Malaxis corymbosa or Huachuca Mountain Adder’s-mouth orchid. The Native Orchid Conference field trip planners had located several sites for this rather infrequent visitor, but it was in bloom in only two of them. Although it is widely scattered in northern Mexico, it has been found in only two counties in Arizona: Cochise County and Santa Cruz County.

To this blogger, Malaxis corymbosa closely resembles another Malaxis species that is found mainly in the eastern United States and a few counties in extreme eastern Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas — Malaxis unifolia. It is also found in the provinces of eastern Canada. The obvious difference, though, is flower color. Malaxis unifolia has medium to dark-green flowers while Malaxis corymbosa has yellow to yellow-green flowers. Another significant difference is in the way the flowers are presented. The flowers of Malaxis unifolia start out as a corymb, but the stem continues to extend until all of the flowers have bloomed. The flowers of Malaxis corymbosa remain more or less corymbose for the entire bloom period. Here is an example of both species to show the differences mentioned:

Malaxis corymbosa
Malaxis corymbosa — western United States and Mexico

Malaxis unifolia
Malaxis unifolia — eastern United States and eastern Canada

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