Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spooky Orchids for Halloween

Here are a few spooky-looking or spooky-named fall-blooming orchids from the state of Florida:

Habenaria odontopetala, or the toothpetal false rein orchid, is in flower now. The small, 1/2-inch-wide flowers look like small goblins. The spiderwebs add to the spooky effect. Did I mention that these flowers are only fragrant at night? Haunting Florida swamps and forests with their ghostly fragrance.

Another fall-blooming orchid, the Wild Coco (Eulophia alta) blooms in September in central Florida, spreading into December in south Florida. The flowers have somewhat of a resemblance to erect-eared, fanged dog heads. With multiple "heads" per spike (which can reach up to five feet tall), these are a worthy botanical analogue of Cerberus, the multi-headed dog guarding the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology.

Usually, this orchid blooms in summertime, although occasional fall-blooming plants are found. Still, with the common name of Ghost Orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii is a perfect Halloween orchid. It is also keenly night fragrant, pollinated by the Giant Sphinx Moth that also inhabits Florida's haunted southern swamps.

Click the "View the Gallery" graphic at the top of this blog page to see many more photos of Florida's amazing orchids.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hats off to the state of Florida and volunteers!

A road widening project underway in Volusia county threatened a number of native species, including the threatened Scarlet Ladies' Tresses (Sacoila lanceolata).  The state DOT, along with volunteers, ensured that plants and animals threatened by the expansion would stand a chance of survival.

Read the article.

Find out more about the Scarlet Ladies Tresses by clicking the thumbnail below:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

At Long Last, Platanthera integra

Armed with the fact that yellow fringeless orchids (Platanthera integra) were finally in bloom in the Florida panhandle in the general vicinity of Tallahassee, I made my way north again with the hope of recapturing these in flower with improved photographic equipment, as my previous photos were taken years ago with a 4 megapixel Sony Mavica.

My original goal was to be at a specifically known site early in the morning to use that highly sought after "magical morning light" for my photographs.  Well, when I was setting my phone alarm, something happened and I forgot to save the new time.  So, at 9:30, I awoke to find that most of the magical morning light is well gone before even heading out, not to mention the hour-long drive (and at least a 30 minute hike) before I would be face-to-face with blooming plants.  Sometimes things don't start out by going your way.  I frantically heat up some breakfast and head out the door.

I finally arrived at the site around 10:30 and began my hike into the wet savannah--made even wetter by recent soaking rains from Hurricane Isaac.  After just a few minutes of slogging through ankle-high water, my pants were soaked to my knees.  Pressing on, I rounded the bend of dwarfed cypress trees and very tall pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava) into the area where I was told that they had been seen a few years ago.

Nothing.  Not a single plant to be seen.  

After a quickly worded prayer and some hard thinking, I remembered something being said about these plants being seen on the backside of this particular savannah.  So, as I began my disappointed hike back out of the area, I made my way over near the far eastern edge near the treeline of widely scattered pines.  As I approached, I caught a flash of saffron yellow bobbing above the grasses in a gentle breeze.  A little closer, and I was sure of it...I was finally gazing upon one of these old friends that I had known since boyhood.

A search of the surrounding area yielded eight other plants in flower.  One non-blooming plant (just a large leaf) grew near the first plant I spotted.  It was 11:15 AM at this point, and the light was more approaching high noon and perilously sunny.  While overhead, high-contrast light is considered the bane of most flower photographers, I make the best of it.  In this case, I actually think it helped to accentuate the crystalline texture of the miniature flowers (each only 1 cm wide).

Scanning the sky, I saw clouds near the horizon, as they made their way slowly in my direction.  So, I waited, and waited some more, as I knew their diffuse light would make for some nicer photographs.  As I waited, the breeze began to pick up, so I hastily construct a stabilizing scaffolding for the stem using some branches within reach. A few candidate clouds moved just a little too far to one side to block the sun, so I had to wait even longer for the right cloud to come near.  I managed to fire off one or two shots when a small cloud did block the sun for just a few seconds.

Suddenly, a red flash on my camera display indicated my battery had run out.  To make matters worse, I forgot to charge my backup battery, so it is down to almost zero charge on that backup as well.  The final photographs would have to be done looking through the lens manually, rather than relying on the sensor view. 

I waited longer.  Finally, the right cloud blocked the sun properly, giving me some nicely diffused light to work with.  I fired off multiple shots, continuing to do so even as the cloud began to pass by and the light brightened again.  Just on the cusp of that border between cloud-lit and sunlit, I found what I felt to be the best photo of the bunch.

Here it is...I give to you this weekend's best photo of Platanthera integra

Hiking out, I found two more plants closer to the road.  Then, as I began my drive back, I spotted two more populations separated each by several miles from the other.

All told, I was rewarded with finding about 20 plants in three scattered populations.  A rewarding day and a refreshing one as well...being immersed in a sea of green foliage does wonders for a soul that lives in an every-day world violated by concrete and asphalt.

You can read more about this species here:

>>> Platanthera integra profile page. <<< 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fringe Orchid Trifecta

Two of my daughters, Sarah and Hannah, and I made a recent trip to the panhandle of Florida in search of various species of Platanthera - specifically P. ciliaris, P. chapmanii, P. blephariglottis, P. cristata and P. integra.  I had gone specifically seeking P. integra - the Orange Fringeless Orchid - a diminutive plant that is nonetheless lovely in its own right. Many of the photographs I had of these species were dated, taken with older, lower-resolution cameras, so my photo collection was in need of an upgrade. 

Driving down the highway through the Apalachicola National Forest, we enjoyed the sight of many summer and fall blooming species of plants - colic roots, crow poison, meadow beauties, pine lilies, and blazing stars (just beginning to open).  There were also many carnivorous plants, well out of bloom, but sporting their deadly leaves - pitcher plants, sundews, and butterworts, and quite well naturalized venus flytraps.  I always love driving through these moist pine flatwoods and discovering what is in bloom that day.

We first visited a known colony of the orange fringed orchid, Platanthera ciliaris, that I have known for more than a decade.   We were met with about ten plants in various stages of bud and bloom.  Below is one of the better photographs we took that day:

Beyond this, we had some idea of where to look for the remaining species, but hunting these things is never an exact science.  Sarah was the first to spot one of our quarry - Platanthera chapmanii in full bloom.  These are several weeks early compared to their usual blooming season.  They can be differentiated from the larger P. ciliaris by the size of their flowers and their general shape.  The column is more hooked, the fringes less pronounced and the lateral sepals less reflexed.  These are believed to be descended from hybrids of P. ciliaris x P. cristata, but exist now as a stable species in its own right.  

As an added bonus, a Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) was perched on this plant, awaiting a hapless pollinator.  It is quite common to encounter spiders on orchid flowers.  They are obviously instinctively aware that if they lie in wait on a flower, their prey will come right to them.

We puttered around for awhile, trying to find the Orange Fringeless Orchid (Platanthera integra) in flower.  Alas, it was not meant to be this particular day.  After a long and fruitless search for even a single precocious individual, we had to head home.  On the way back, we saw some more of what we thought were P. chapmanii.  As we got out of the car, it turned out that we had found a small colony of Platanthera cristata, the Crested Fringed Orchid.  This was a rather unexpected treat. One of the individuals was extremely large for this species, which is usually about half in all proportions compared to P. ciliaris.  This plant was easily as tall as a robust P. ciliaris with a flower head twice as tall as any other P. cristata that I have seen.  It was really an amazing sight:

It was, all-in-all, a very productive trip.  Now to locate some P. integra...

You can find out more information about these species (and many more) on the native orchid gallery by clicking the picture at the top of this blog titled "View the Gallery".

Monday, May 14, 2012

Florida Native Plant Society Annual Conference

I had been graciously invited to speak at the 2012 Florida Native Plant Society annual conference in Plant City, FL that was held from May 17-20, 2012.  My presentation Orchids in Our Backyard : Florida's Wild Orchids on Saturday, May 19 was very well received.  I will be presenting its sequel, with a brand new cast of characters taken from Florida's rich orchid heritage, at the 2013 native plant society conference held in the Jacksonville area.  I hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Senator - R.I.P.

My apologies for not posting to this blog for has been very busy as of late between my real job as a software engineer and family obligations.

My first post for this year is a sad one.

As I related in a previous post, the Orlando area was once home to the oldest and largest cypress tree in the U.S. and the fifth oldest tree in the world, at 3500 years old. Its residence was in Big Tree Park, a park dedicated in 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge. I felt sure that having lived so long, that my grandchildren and their grandchildren would, in turn, be able to enjoy this one-of-a-kind tree that had been around since the time of the Egyptian pyramids. Alas, this will not be so.

You see, a very selfish woman named Sara Barnes (click here to see the news article) decided to trespass on park property at night in order to feed her methamphetamine addiction, which was apparently something she did often. Near the big tree, she lit a fire so she could better see the drugs she was taking. On this very dry winter night, the fire quickly spread out of control and quickly burned through the center of the somewhat hollow tree. Firefighters bravely strung nearly a mile of hose to reach the tree and try to put out the fire, but it was too late. Within a matter of hours, the massive tree came crashing to the ground. 3500 years of history erased by a woman with a drug habit.

My family had only recently moved to the Orlando area, but we had visited this tree and park quite often. Thankfully, there is still a large tree on the property, Lady Liberty, estimated to be a mere 2000 years old, and there are a few other large trees in the nearby Black Hammock Preserve and Soldier Creek hiking trails...but the Senator was the oldest of them all, and now he is gone. Let's hope that Seminole County does a better job of guarding the remaining tree at the park so we don't get a repeat performance by another arsonist.


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