Monday, August 30, 2010

Holding Court with Royalty, Part 4 - The Crown Prince (Platanthera chapmanii)

One of the rarest orchids in the United States, Platanthera chapmanii is believed to be descended from natural hybrids of Platanthera cristata and Platanthera ciliaris owing to the fact that it appears to be intermediate in form and size between these two species. Because of this, it has been given the hybrid designation Platanthera x chapmanii in some publications. While it does often inhabit the same areas where one or both of the purported parents are also found, this is not always the case. Further, it appears to maintain stable populations, sometimes rather expansive, in areas where it is found. Because of these qualities, it has been elevated in recent years to a species in its own right.

You can read more about this species at the newly revamped Platanthera chapmanii page below:

>> Chapman's Fringed Orchid Information Page <<


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Holding Court with Royalty, Part 3 - Crested Fringed Orchid (Platanthera cristata)

Here is another one of the bog princelings, Platanthera cristata, or the Crested Fringed Orchid. It emerges typically a few weeks prior to the largest of the native Platantheras (P. ciliaris, P. chapmanii, and P. blephariglottis), finishing up with the last of the flowers on its spike when they are starting to open their first flowers.

I took this photo on a recent field trip my wife and I took searching for the elusive queen of the Platantheras, but more on that later.

Its proportions are similar to the P. nivea and P. integra shown previously...roughly a 12-18 inch plant with a 2-3 inch flower head. I have seen particularly robust plants exceed these dimensions a little.

You can find out even more about this species on my newly refurbished Crested Fringed Orchid information page. Click on the link below:

>> The New Crested Fringed Orchid Info Page <<



Friday, August 27, 2010

Holding Court with Royalty, Part 2 - Orange Fringeless Orchid (Platanthera integra)

In early to mid August (at least in the Florida panhandle where I'm most familiar), one of the bog princelings comes into bloom. Platanthera integra, also known as the Orange Fringeless Orchid or the Yellow Fringeless Orchid) blazes forth in a brilliant yellow-orange color. When viewed in the late afternoon, when the sun has become more golden in color, its flower heads appear to be literally on fire.

This species has roughly the same proportions as Platanthera integra, with some key differences being flower color, flower presentation (lips-downward or resupinate), and a lack of fragrance. While many of the Floridian bog-dwelling Platantheras, have decided fringes on their lips, P. integra has lips with only the slightest etching, as if it aspires one day to be like its larger family members.

You can read even more about this species on the updated Orange Fringeless Orchid web page by clicking the link below:

>> Orange Fringeless Orchid Information Page <<



Monday, August 23, 2010

Holding Court with Royalty, Part 1 - Snowy Orchid (Platanthera nivea)

Over the next few blog posts, I will be featuring the royal family of the Floridian bog orchids, the Platantheras, many of which are in bloom around this time of year. As far as showiness and gaudiness, there is arguably none other like this group to grace our fair state. Frequent inhabitants of wet roadsides bordering wet pinelands, these plants are hard to miss when bloom time and drive time coincide--even if the driver is careening down the road at highway speeds.

So, let us enter the court of these lovely kings, queens, princes, and princesses and admire them for their beauty, their sheer ostentatiousness, as they grace the bogs with their royal presence...

First on our list is the delicate princess, Platanthera nivea, emerging one-to-two months before her more stately kin. Her delicate spikes of snowy-white flowers gleam with crystalline beauty in the sunny, wet meadows and moist pinelands where she makes her home. Plants are usually less than 18 inches tall (45.7 cm) with a three-inch (5 cm) flower head. Unlike many of her kindred, the flowers are presented with their unfringed lips held uppermost and bear an unmistakable fragrance--not unlike that of citrus blossoms.

You can read more about this species (and see more photos) at the newly revised Snowy Orchid page below :

>> The Snowy Orchid Information Page <<


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Visitor from Another Phylum

Phylum arthropoda, to be exact...

Very near to where the Habenaria macroceratitis grow is a population of another woodland orchid, Triphora trianthophora, also known as the Three Birds Orchid (owing to the fact that robust plants will sometimes have three flowers crowding out the top level of the plant). This species blooms sequentially, with one to three buds ripening at a time only to open for one day. Another common name for this species, Nodding Pogonia, speaks to the fact that plants are often encountered after or before this blooming day. All the plants in a colony will bloom in sync, with the next set of buds ripening after that, to bloom in sync yet again. Hence, your chances of seeing this species in bloom at any one time is about one in seven to one in fourteen (1-2 weeks between flowering flushes). On the day we saw the H. macroceratitis in flower, we found the population of Three Birds Orchids in typical nodding, non-blooming pose. Rewind back two years ago, when the H. macro's were already out of bloom, and then we found this colony of little Three Birds in full flower...three or four individuals had flowers just beckoning us to photograph them. The tallest plant was about three inches tall, pictured here:

You can see the next bud next to the flower getting ready to open within the next few days. As we were setting up for a closeup shot, I noticed a bit of movement in the air near the flower. A small, wasp-like creature was zeroing in on the flower. I hurriedly set up and hoped I would catch the insect in action. As it turned out, my timing was good and I got a shot of it right as it was entering the flower:

Below is direct crop from the center of the image, showing the detail of the insectiferous creature:

While at first glance, it might appear to be a smallish wasp, closer examination shows that it is more likely a type of fly with a shape and coloration designed to appear waspish. The bulbous, flyish eyes were what gave it away. I attempted to identify it on my own using on-line insect ID sites, but to no avail. Finally, I ran across the page of Dr. Gary Steck of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who kindly identified this fly for me as Stylogaster biannulata, one of the 'thick headed flies'. the young of these flies are parasites on cockroaches and/or grasshoppers/crickets, while the adults are often found drinking nectar from flowers (like my little guy/gal).

This was my first good capture of pollinator and orchid flower together. Far too often, the visitor had already left by the time I had set up for the shot, but this day...this day was different. So, long odds for just finding T. trianthophora in flower, and then multiply that by the odds of catching a pollinator near the flowers, then multiply that by the odds of getting the shot timed right to capture the pollinator...Providence was definitely smiling on me this day.



Saturday, August 14, 2010

New orchid photos - Habenaria macroceratitis

Also known as Habenaria quinqueseta v. macroceratitis. This is a woodland species found sparingly in Florida. Where it is found, it can form dense colonies of plants through vegetative reproduction. In fact, some colonies seen in deeper woods never seem to flower (strong enough light is often a key to orchids flowering well), but spread into large, sterile colonies through asexual reproduction alone.

I have visited this particular site in Citrus County, FL for three years running, always just a bit too late to see the plants in flower. I have been greeted instead by wilted flowers and swelling seed pods. This year, I finally got the timing right and found about ten flowering plants among a colony of several hundred. There was no breeze to speak of and the morning sun shone a spotlight (sometimes diffused by clouds) on the beckoning spikes. The flowers are some of the larger flowers in the state, being about 2 inches (5 cm) across from spindly arm to spindly arm. To add to the superlatives, the spur/nectary itself can be a good six inches (15 cm) or more in length. While I haven't smelled a fragrance personally, it is very likely that, like H. repens and H. odontopetala, this species emits a night fragrance to attract rather long-tongued moths to their flowers. Below are thumbnails of the photos taken. Clicking them will open the full-sized photo:

Habenaria macroceratitis - two plants

Habenaria macroceratitis - single spike on smaller plant

Habenaria macroceratitis - single spike on smaller plant

Habenaria macroceratitis - single larger spike

Habenaria macroceratitis - larger spike, semi-backlit by the morning sun

Habenaria macroceratitis - flower closeup

You will also notice a medium-sized brown spider on the larger spike, evidently at home among the spidery blossoms. Here is a closeup:

This type of ambush predation on flowering stems of all sorts is quite often encountered in the field...spiders laying in wait for a hapless visitor to the flowers and the pollinators hoping to survive their next visit to a flower spike. It's all a part of the web of life...prey and predator, pollinator and pollinated playing out their roles in a quiet corner of the woods in the wilds of Florida.


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