Small Whorled Pogonia Hiding Among the Sassafras Leaves

The more time one spends outside observing the wilde things around oneself, the more one can learn about their environment. And themselves. A curious mind will travel to many places during a simple walk outdoors, won’t it?

Some people find solace in nature – a closer walk with their thoughts and beliefs. Some find excitement in the wonder of how it all works together and of the beauty of it all.

A couple weeks ago I found a new colony of Small Whorled Pogonia. Near some colorful Sassafras that I was appreciating and photographing, I saw the whorl of leaves of first one, then another and another. I was excited as here was yet another small grouping of a plant that is endangered with extinction.

Clearing of the forests for wood and wood products is the primary cause of the loss of pogonias, at least here in Pennsylvania. Clearing of woodlands for pasture and farmland took its toll on all members of the orchid family that are found in these woods. It’s plain and simple – without the forest habitat the orchids will not survive.

I presume there is some association between the orchids and fungi that is intimately associated with the trees of the mixed hardwood forest. Without that ‘something special’ found in the woods where the pogonias naturally occur, they just won’t grow.

Whether it’s really the Small Whorled Pogonia, Isotria medeoloides, or the more common Whorled Pogonia, I. verticillata, isn’t clear until the little guys can be observed flowering.

In the fall foliage it was easy to spot the pogonias – at least after I noticed the first one. Little cartwheels of faded, brown straw-colored leaves were found hiding among the more colorful Sassafras leaves.

Pogonia orchids in the fall.

A yellow pogonia hiding among the more colorful Sassafras. Photos taken 16OCT08.

Pogonias in autumn.

Whorled Pogonia in the Autumn.

Seven pogonia plants were counted near the base of a Northern Red Oak tree. That makes three separate pogonia colonies in the woods that edge our front and back yards.

Five pogonias in the woods.

Five Small Whorled Pogonias are marked with red rings. The left-most ring contains two pogonias.

I’ll visit each area next year to see how many plants come up and monitor them to see if any bloom.

2 thoughts on “Small Whorled Pogonia Hiding Among the Sassafras Leaves

  1. Shayla,

    We wish we knew! I wonder how many people wander around the woods looking for little beauties like this? If more people hunted for them I suppose that we’d find more as they’re easily overlooked.

    Have you seen any in your neck-of-the-woods?

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