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. <<< 

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