Certain plants seemingly do well no matter how much or much little care we give them in our gardens. One great example of a plant that seems to do great year after year is the low-growing sedum. It doesn’t matter if the weather has been too hot or too cold or too rainy, because this yellow-flowering succulent grows and gets bigger each and every year. We have some really poor soil up here on the mountain ridge and this plant excels even without fertilizing it.
The weeds in the fields in early Spring are the same way. They seem to grow into huge colonies no matter what kind of weather they experienced. Sure, their fastest growth might be delayed or the blooming times might differ slightly from year to year, but in the main they’re strong growers.
Other plants, not so much. An example of finicky plants, which seem to do well only in periodic years, are members of the orchid family, Orchidaceae. To them, it seems that the conditions must be just right for them to grow really well and bloom beautifully.
For example, the colonies of moccasin flower or pink lady slippers that we enjoy each year had a paltry blooming season this year. We can’t blame it on the mild winter or lack of rain only because we can’t go back and test for that. But, in comparison to the average year we didn’t get to enjoy much of them.
We’re left wondering if the weather is to blame or if these plants just can’t manage blooming and growing really well every year. This year we saw 11 lady slippers with only 6 of them blooming in an area that more typically has a couple of dozen plants with about half of them flowering.
Another orchid that we have the pleasure of seeing on our rocky land is the whorled pogonia and they didn’t flower this year at all. Only 14 plants were counted in an area that has seen 4-5 times as many orchids in a good season.
I’m wondering whether other nature children see such a great difference in the presence of orchid plants from year to year. Has this been a poor orchid blooming year in your area?
Every year I comb through our wooded acres to see certain plants blooming and to find new discoveries. One of the plants I look for is called Whorled Pogonia, Isotria verticillata, a member of the Orchid family, Orchidaceae.
As far as I know the whorled pogonia in our small area on the mountain ridge has only bloomed once in seven years. They didn’t bloom in 2011, but they put on a show in 2010. When it does bloom, whorled pogonia flowers in May and June in moist acid woods and thickets in the eastern U.S..
Whorled pogonia flowers are an interesting oddity. The lipped flower, typical of orchids, is greenish-yellow with some streaks of purple or maroon.
The plants start coming up in May as little pinwheels. They continue to grow taller and get bigger for a few weeks until the leaves are two to four inches long. The individual plants remain standing for the summer, unless a big foot or critter knocks them over. In the autumn the foliage may turn to yellow before going back to the earth.
Whorled pogonia has five leaves, and sometimes six, in a single whorl.
Leaves are parallel-veined and widest near the tips. Terminal ends may have pointed or rounded tips.
Apparently there are no edible or medicinal properties of interest in whorled pogonia. However, it would make a delightful addition to a native woodland garden, provided that it’s planted in the shade.
2010 was the first year that we witnessed flowers on this member of the Orchid Family, Orchidaceae. From a florist’s point of view the strap-like blossom of Whorled Pogonia, Isotria verticillata, is nothing to write home about. Heck, it’s barely noticeable that it’s a flower, unless you know what to look for.
Whorled pogonia rises up from the ground with a single, hollow stem. The stems are light-colored grey and smooth.
At the top of the 6 – 12 inch stem is a whorl of five leaves, and sometimes six.
I’m assuming that the smaller plants in the photo above are later or smaller versions of the taller plants, instead of the rare Small Whorled Pogonia, Isotria medeoloides. Until I saw some of the Whorled Pogonia blooming this year I was uncertain which pogonia we had. The two Isotria species appear the same except for stature and the length of the sepals.
Leaves are pointed ovals that are widest near the tips.
Linear or parallel veins in the leaves help to identify the pogonia as a member of the Monocotyledon which include the grasses, grains, lilies and orchids.
From the center of the whorl of leaves arises a singular flower. A flower stalk holds the blossom about an inch above the circle of leaves. The blossom arches over to one side. Three muted yellow petals enclose the stamens and inner flower parts.
The blossom itself appears somewhat closed as it is enveloped by the very long, strap-like sepals. The sepals are brown to dark maroon with a shiny surface and they stretch out about three inches long. The sepals of Small Whorled Pogonia may be about an inch long in comparison.
The extra long sepals are diagnostic for distinguishing Whorled Pogonia from Small Whorled Pogonia.
Photo taken 15 May 2010.
Looking down on the orchid…can you see its flower? The stem enters the ground in the upper left of the photo above.
Very few of the whorled pogonia were blooming. Even though there were only 3 of 68 plants blooming in one area, and slightly north a different patch had a single plant blooming in a group of eleven, I was very excited to see them flowering. I’ve watched these orchids for years now, wondering which pogonia I was looking at. Now I know that we have Whorled Pogonia in our forest.
Walking the woods is a favorite activity for many of us forest wanderers. We go in search of different things. Some of us look for wild herbs that we might use and flowers to appreciate and take delight in. Others look for trails of animals and their tracks, for better hunting when that time comes. Regardless of your reason to take that walk in the woods, keep your senses aware as you never know what you’ll find.
A few weeks back I spoke with a land manager at a local park. He was more than a little disgusted by the work performed by people over a year ago when an extra large drainage pipe was installed at the creek, without apparent need for it. Although the installation of the pipe seemed to be ok, we may never know as the size of pipe installed wasn’t warranted by the water flow of the creek – the pipe is just too big for the location.
During the drainage pipe installation no care was taken to protect the plants that naturally come up in this area. The land manager told me there were a handful of showy orchis – orchids – that were destroyed in the laying of the pipe. He had known of three plants that used to appear in the area where gravel had been laid during the pipe installation.
Hearing the news that the only known plants in the whole park were now under a bed of gravel, I had little hope of finding showy orchis at the park. Even so, I took a little extra time combing the area adjacent to the place where the showy orchis used to appear. The efforts were worth the time as I did find three little beauties – what a pleasant surprise!
Showy orchis, a member of the Orchid family, is probably one of the most common orchids in Pennsylvania. Something about orchids makes them seem rare and mysterious. We do have orchids here in the temperate zone, but many more kinds of orchids grow in more tropical locales. The orchids are noted for their odd flowers and many are cultivated by true afficinados.
So, what does showy orchis look like? Two basal leaves lie opposite one another, while the flower stem has smaller, oval-shaped ‘leaves’ that are pointed on the end. Basal leaves are broadly oval and may be slightly pointed to blunt-ended. One to five prominent veins are visible on the thick leaves.
A succulent flower stem rises up from the middle of the two basal leaves. Along the flower stem are what appear to be several smaller leaves, each having a single flower in the leaf axil. These small leaves associated with individual flowers are more properly called bracts. The presence of flower bracts can be used as an identifying feature of showy orchis as several related species do not have flower bracts.
Flowers are bicolored in white and light pink to magenta. Petals and sepals are fused to make a flower with only two petals and a spur. The broad, wavy-edged lower lip petal and long spur are white. The smooth-edged upper petal which forms a hood is usually somewhat pink to darker pink or magenta, but sometimes it appears to be white making an all white flower.
Photos here were a little too early to capture the flowers open. When opened, the orchid exhibits a pinkish hood and white lip and spur. The white spur is slightly longer than the flower bud. The flowers here present as all white. Perhaps the purple-rose color will develop as the flower matures.
Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis, once known as Orchis spectabilis, is called showy orchis, even though this plant was moved from the Orchis genus to new genus called Galearis. This is a particularly silly example of how confusing common names can be. The showy orchis isn’t an orchis at all, yet we still call it showy orchis.
An example showy orchis with three flowers in the image below seems to be a young plant of about 3 x 5 inches with a 2-inch flower spike.
Note a second and third plant hiding to the left and behind of the flowering showy orchis. The blooms appear to be all white at this point.
In the center of the photo above a Showy Orchis orchid hides among the wild ginger and ferns near the creek.
These showy orchis weren’t very showy at all. The flowers weren’t open and the pink to magneta color wasn’t there either.
The image above shows a typical bicolor flower of white and pink. The flowers are open and more clearly show their hood and lip shapes.
The Showy Orchis orchid can be found in rich woods and near water, especially creeks and springs that run through woodlands. Look for this flowering orchid during the first two weeks of May or perhaps a little later in more northern or mountainous areas.
Pink Lady Slipper or Moccasin Flower Blooming in Pennsylvania, 30 April 2010.
Checking on the huckleberry plants the other week I was pleasantly surprised to see the Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower, Cypripedium acaule. After I saw one I looked for more lady slippers and found a number of them right along the trail near the stone monolith.
Pink lady slippers don’t bloom every year. Typically a third to a half of the plants in an area will bloom while the others just display their two thick leaves.
The flower starts life with a light pink or cream color that darkens as the flower matures.
Three orchids in the image above with one mature flower.
Two orchids and one of them blooming. Note the brown to maroon sepals and light green bract at the base of the flower head in the image above.
The pink lady slipper is fairly common in our territory here in the Appalachian Mountain ridges. I’ve seen them blooming plenty of times, but never saw one that formed a seed head. That may be a result of searching them out when they’re blooming and not paying much attention to them the rest of the year.
Here, there were two plants that must have formed seed heads the prior year. The brown seed heads were still attached to the plants.
Note in the image above that the brown seed head rose to about 16 inches.
In the image above a young orchid flower is on the left and a seed head formed the prior year is on the lower right. Note that the seed head is slotted, apparently for releasing the seeds.
The pink lady’s slipper was also flowering along the slope of the trail on the east side of the Box Huckleberry Natural Area.
Each Mother’s Day I look forward to seeing the native moccasin flowers blooming. Since Mother’s Day was celebrated on May 9, 2010 the Pink Lady’s Slippers bloomed right on time.
The Box Huckleberry Natural Area in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania has more than one special plant flowering in April.
The Box Huckleberry, Gaylussacia brachycera, continues to bloom with many white, bell-shaped blossoms opening up to the warmth of the day.
White blueberry-like flowers on the New Bloomfield Box Huckleberry.
The huckleberry blooms are pink in the bud stage and white as they mature.
They don’t all bloom at once. Note in the image above, taken 18 April 2010, that several blossoms have already fallen away, yet there are still many flowers blooming.
A couple weeks later, 30 April 2010, there were still a few flowering huckleberries, but most had already flowered. Little green berries could be seen at the tips on some stems.
Green huckleberries at the tip of the stem show that these blossoms flowered first, even though the plant is still flowering further up the stem. (Photo taken 30 April 2010.)
Huckleberry new growth arises from projections along older stems. (Photo taken 30 April 2010.)
New light green foliage grows vertically from many places along a single stem. (Photo taken 30 April 2010.)
Continuing down the trail I had a nice surprise when I saw a Pink Lady’s-Slipper, Cypripedium acaule. Since I was so focused on the box huckleberry plant, the lady slipper practically jumped out at me. The shape and color were so different from the evergreen ovals of the huckleberry.
An orchid known as Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower due to its pouch-like flower. Stay tuned for photos of pink ladys slippers.
Even though we have seen the pink lady’s slipper flowering on the mountain ridges in this area, I was delighted to see this pretty orchid here in a protected forest setting.