Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's Not Easy Being Green, Or Is It?

I recently came across a population of one of our more common orchids, Habenaria repens, in a wet ditch in the Orlando area. Known by the common name of 'Water Spider Orchid', plants are notoriously difficult to see even when in full flower, owing to the fact that the plant, along with its minuscule flowers (which are a bit over 1 cm wide), is completely green to yellow-green.

This might cause you to wonder, "How on earth would a completely green flower stand out enough from its background vegetation to be seen by a pollinator?" Just FYI, these flowers are not self-pollinating. It's easy enough to see a flash of pink, red, purple, blue, or buttery yellow against the sea of background vegetation and hone in on the location of a flower, even from a fair distance, but green just blends in with all the other greens that you see. The answer is that it's all a matter of timing.

Walk by the same roadside ditch at night and the flowers will be even less observable by the sense of sight. But even our ridiculously dull sense of smell will pick up a distinct, sweet fragrance wafting over the shallow water. A night flying moth, with a much stronger sense of smell, will be able to find these flowers from miles away, provided that it is not misled by all of our 'artificial moons' (electric lights of various kinds) that interfere with its sense of lunar navigation. Following this stream of sweet odor, these vampires of the Lepidoptera make their way to their quarry. Inserting their probosces into the spur-like nectary that is formed by the back of the lip, they drink sweet nectar from the last few millimeters at the end of the spur. This reward is not, however, offered without its price. The eyes of the insects engage the tips of the pollen-bearing structures (known as pollinia) which are coated with a sticky glue. Thus, when the insect withdraws, its eyes now bear the pollinia to carry them to the next flower. It's a dance between insect and flower that goes largely unobserved, unless you happen to shine a flashlight on a flowering stem at just the right moment.

This strategy of night-scented orchids is actually pretty common in Florida, although not all of them are green-flowered. Some flowers are brilliant white, which might make them more observable in the dim starlight or moonlight that reaches the inner recesses of the forests and swamps where many of these species make their homes. Here is a list of Floridian orchids that are known to be night-scented:

  • Dendrophylax lindenii
  • Dendrophylax porrectus
  • Epidendrum amphistomum
  • Epidendrum floridense
  • Epidendrum magnoliae
  • Epidendrum nocturnum
  • Habenaria macroceratitis
  • Habenaria odontopetala
  • Habenaria quinqueseta
  • Habenaria repens
  • Tipularia discolor
And here is a list of species that are likely night-scented as well, extrapolating from their inconspicuously colored flowers:
  • Epidendrum rigidum
  • Epidendrum strobiliferum
  • Habenaria distans
  • Platanthera flava
  • Platanthera clavellata
I would be interested to hear about anyone's experience around these species, whether or not they have a night fragrance as well.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flowers of Early Summer

May in many areas of the northern hemisphere would be considered late spring. In central and southern Florida, it is decidedly summer-like already with temperatures in the 90s and a blazing sun that will burn your skin in a matter of minutes. Here are a few flowers that you might encounter in Florida at this time. It is by no means an exhaustive list, as many more species are in flower than just fact, at any time of the year in Florida, as many as 40 species might be in flower somewhere in our wild areas. Click each thumbnail to go to the full profile page for the species on my website.

Grass Pink (Calopogon tuberosus)
Grass Pink Profile Page

Scarlet Ladies Tresses (Sacoila lanceolata)
Scarlet Ladies Tresses Profile Page

Florida Dancing Lady Orchid (Tolumnia bahamensis)
Florida Dancing Lady Orchid Profile Page

Water Spider Orchid (Habenaria repens)
Water Spider Orchid Profile Page

Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis)
Spring Ladies Tresses Profile Page

Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides)
Rose Pogonia Profile Page

Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis)
Florida Butterfly Orchid Profile Page

Monday, April 25, 2011

Website Updates - A New Milestone

The Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids Website has reached a new milestone with 40 plant profiles in the gallery and 250 photos in total. Check it out by following the link below:

>>> The Florida Native Orchid Gallery Page <<<


Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Few Weeks Too Late: Plants in Motion

It's no secret that my guiding passion in nature photography is botany...I love plants, especially orchids, but also plants in general. To that end, I set out often enough into the field hunting rare plants in their environment to photograph them and chronicle them for others to enjoy. Many wildlife photographers (folks I like to call 'faunists') tend to look down on this as "easy peasy lemon squeezie" work. They do not appreciate the complications a botanical photographer faces in the field...after all, they say, plants don't move, unlike that lion out on the African plains or that rare bird that would be spooked away had the photographer not spent hours sitting in a blind. To this I would beg to differ...plants do indeed move. They may not pick their roots up and transport themselves to a new location, but they are ever on the move nonetheless.

Take the scrub lupine for example. I was told a few weeks ago that these were in bloom, so one week ago, I set out to relocate some previously planted specimens near where my children and I volunteered to plant out new seedlings. When we arrived, we were met with bitter disappointment...all the flowers had finished, leaving a healthy stalk of developing seed pods...material for next year's seedling planting, I am sure. We headed to another nearby park where these were known to grow naturally. Again, not a flower was to be seen, where two or three weeks ago, we would have seen these in full flower. We will have to return earlier next year to catch these in flower. Plants in motion.

Many of the native orchids are the same way. Yo
u can pass by a location and not see a single plant as their developing buds blend in with the greenery. A few weeks later, all the flowers have finished and wilted to a deep brown color, again blending into the background vegetation. Unless you are there during the two week window when their flowers flushed a brilliant orange, you would never know that an orchid grew there. Plants in motion.

Several species of orchids further complicate our lives by having flowers that last for only one morning and wilt by afternoon...several species of Vanilla do this, as well as Triphora trianthophora and Triphora craigheadii. The latter two add insult to injury by synchronous blooming - every member of the colony will bloom on the same morning. Plants in motion.

Many of the rarer orchids and other plants in Florida exist in small populations in relatively inaccessible areas requiring many hours of driving and walking, often following vague directions to their locations. Plants in motion.

Finally, some of the rarest plants do indeed move. Whether by environmental catastrophes or the poacher's unscrupulous actions, known populations sometimes become entirely wiped out, only to have a new population discovered in a different area nearby, these new locations kept a closely guarded secret lest the same thing happen again. Or, perhaps, the last population of a species in Florida is wiped out for good, never to be seen again...we have twelve such orchid species that have not been seen for many years. Plants in motion.

So next time your admire that photograph of a rare plant, such as what might be seen in the native orchid gallery, linked to the giant 'View the Gallery' image at the top of this blog, keep in mind that the photographer may have spent many hours, if not days, weeks, months, or even years, hunting down this quarry and bringing you that photograph as he chases down plants ever in motion.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Master of Disguise

This past weekend, while out on a photography trip, we came across this little girl hanging out on a Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis) inflorescence. Spiders are often encountered on flowers of all sorts, mostly ambush predators like this Crab Spider and the Green Lynx Spider. They lie in wait for a hapless insect to come near them and then they pounce! These spiders are known to alter their coloration to match their surroundings and thus blend in. Imagine the next time you go to your refrigerator, a predator disguised as a salami pounces on you and eats you!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Old Man of the Swamp - Cigar Orchid (Cyrtopodium punctatum)

This is the story of the Old Man of the Swamp.

Years ago, perhaps around the same time that this photograph was taken of a cartload of orchids cribbed from the swamps (including Cigar Orchids, Mule-ear Oncidiums, and Dollar Orchids - Cyrtopodum punctatum, Trichocentrum undulatum, and Prosthechea boothiana, respectively),

a small cigar orchid (Cyrtopodium punctatum) began its tenuous existence on a buttonwood somewhere deep in the Everglades. As time went on, its forest grew, never too tall, as this was a harsh environment-- shielding this plant from unfriendly eyes. In time, long after these orchid collectors had left, it became a large specimen, engulfing the fork in the tree that it called home.

Eventually, however, the winds of a hurricane came barreling through the 'glades, knocking down the surrounding trees and killing the tree that this orchid calls home, reducing it to a bare stump crowned with the orchid. Now an old man, yet hale and hearty, it continues to offer up its fragrant saffron-and-crimson flowers, each about an inch across, to the busying bumblebees that visit it in hopes of collecting nectar.

We, too, come here to its ancient ruin of a home, in a different era where some folks are more apt to leave plants be than to try to collect them, destined to die in some garden--especially considering the fact that this plant grows on federally protected property. We visit it in its waning years, for, surely, its host stump cannot forestall wind, weather, and the decay of time forever. One day, hopefully many years from now, it will plunge into the brackish water below and meet its final demise, but not before it has shed many dust-like seeds into the surrounding forest still standing...these seeds may become new seedlings, and if left undisturbed by wind, water, men, and the threat of a rising ocean, they may become massive plants like this old man--destined to repeat his life cycle and continue the existence of his kind well into the future.

You can view my Cowhorn/Cigar Orchid information page at the following link:

>>> Cowhorn/Cigar Orchid Information Page <<<

Friday, April 1, 2011

Florida's First Native Slipper Orchid?!

I have just received word from a fellow orchid photographer exploring in an undisclosed area (and one that will remain undisclosed) in South Florida that he has discovered what appears to be a colony of a species of Phragmipedium (or, who knows...a completely new genus?) growing deep in the swamps. The plants are presently in high bud. I will be heading down in the next week or two when the buds open...from the photos I've seen so far, there is already a splash of orange on the lips of the developing flowers....AND....they seem to have some rather packed-in petals similar to Phrag caudatum. So, colorful, and potentially long-petaled and growing in Florida? Who could ask for more?

This is really great news, as the whole slipper orchid clan has been completely unrepresented in Florida. There have been reports in the past of species of Cypripedium being found in the northern counties, but none have been substantiated.

More soon.

If you didn't realize this by now, this was an April Fools' Day joke.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Florida Orchid Book Available

My good friend and fellow nature and Florida orchid photographer, Rich Leighton, has just released a new 'coffee table' type book featuring many of his native orchid photos. I have not seen the book itself, but I have seen his photos, and they are fantastic. Here is a link where you can order the book:

and here is a link to a brief promotional video he has made about it:

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