Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Rarest of Beauties from the Ashes - Calopogon multiflorus

Florida is home to four species of grass pinks, Calopogon tuberosus, Calo. pallidus, Calo. barbatus, and finally the endangered Calopogon multiflorus.  The former group of three species is still rather common in Florida, finding homes equally as suitable in wet, open pinelands and prairies and wet roadsides and ditches.  In the last environments, substantial colonies of plants may arise, all within easy access of a car parked (safely) on the roadside.

Calo. multiflorus, on the other hand, is very exacting in its choice of habitat, preferring to flower only after a fire has removed the competing vegetation in a suitable open pineland or semi-wet prairie.  Even when the vegetation is low and still relatively open, C. multiflorus will seem to remain dormant, or, at least, non-blooming, whereas other species of Calopogon will seem to do fine, as long as an adequate supply of moisture and accessible sunshine is received. 

As we European settlers have move to Florida, we have brought our natural fear of fire, and for a number of decades, we have sought to suppress natural fires at all costs, especially during the first three-quarters of the 20th century.  Thankfully, attitudes have changed, and the use of prescribed burning and/or letting natural wildfires progress has restored a more healthy fire regime to many wild lands.  In developed areas, however, where small pockets of wild land are sandwiched between houses and commercial developments, "brush fires" are usually suppressed with extreme prejudice.

The result is that fire-dependent species of orchids such as Calo. multiflorus and Pteroglossaspis ecristata are becoming quite scarce throughout their historical range.  It may also be the case with C. multiflorus that it is not often recorded even when it does emerge after a suitable fire.  

I had been on a hunt for this species for many years.  One year, on a report that a small colony of this species was in flower at a nearby wilderness area, I had to wait a week before I could find a free morning to go photograph the plants.  By the time I had arrived, they were bloomed out, and impossible to find as just small stems with seed pods hidden amongst the scorched twigs.

Finally, just this year, on the tip of a fellow nature photographer, I was able to drive to an area where these were still flowering.  What lovely little creatures they were, with bright magenta flowers that seem on average to be a bit smaller than Calo. barbatus, arranged along a short raceme.  They also seem to be rounder and fuller in flower presentation than C. barbatus, owing to the fact that their petals become wider near their tips.

The day was cool (mid-50s in the morning) and pleasant.  It was a bit windy, which made it challenging to get a good shot with no motion blur.  I was unable to set the aperture to an optimal value, so the flower closeup below is actually a bit of a stack/composite to show all parts of the flower well.

Here are some of the photographs we took that day.

Several plants in situ.
Flower close up.
You can read more about this species and see more photographs from that day on my website:

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