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".

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