Monday, February 28, 2011

A Giant of Liliputian Proportions - Pteroglossaspis ecristata

Pteroglossaspis ecristata is a plant of contradictions. While once fairly common in Florida, its population has declined in recent years, becoming much harder to find in flower. Its paper-thin leaves are reinforced with stiff veins, making them resemble a palmetto seedling. Its sometimes exceptionally tall flowering stems are capped with small flowers, each only 1 to 1.5 cm tall.

My son, Josh, admiring a tall flowering plant.

While inflorescences up to 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) are not unheard of, a more typical flowering stem height is 2 to 3 feet (0.7 to 0.9 meters) tall.

The flowers themselves are not extraordinarily attractive...perhaps more bizarre than anything else. Luer, in an illustration in his book, likens them to a number of turbaned Sikhs peering around the stem. Paul Martin Brown describes them as "green and black orchids on a stick". It is often hard to capture more than one or two flowers face-on in a photograph owing to how the flowers twist around the stem.

You can read more about this species here:

>> Pteroglossaspis ecristata information page <<

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Trail Tales (or Stuff I've Seen While Hunting For Orchids), Part 5

While out photographing orchids in the Florida panhandle, we found this lovely specimen growing in a roadside bog. This is the white-topped pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla).

Pitcher plants are a type of carnivorous plant, trapping insects in a pool of liquid inside the hollowed-out leaves. The inside of the pitcher is waxy and covered with downward-pointing hairs that make it easy for an insect to fall in but difficult to get out. The pool of liquid contains digestive fluids that break down the insects into basic nutrients that the plants can absorb...nutrients that are generally lacking in the highly acidic bog soil where these plants grow.

The Importance of Being Earnest Observant

When I was a teenager, my mom and I would often take drives out into the Apalachicola National Forest or the Lake Talquin State Forest nearby just to see what could be seen. As we ran across interesting plants that we had not seen before, we would consult our guidebooks, as well as the resident botanist and herbarium director at Florida State University, Dr. Loran Anderson (now retired). We had established a good rapport with him and I especially would report any new orchid finds. I was able to help him obtain a few orchid specimens for his herbarium that he did not have, as well as establish new records for several species not seen before in Leon County - Zeuxine strateumatica, Platanthera flava, and Platanthera ciliaris.

I also remember running across a population of Spiranthes that resembled S. praecox, but the habit and blooming time of these was off (about a month too early and in woodlands, as opposed to open, wet areas). I had brought this to Dr. Anderson's attention on occasion, but never really pursued the matter further. About a decade later, Paul Martin Brown described this species formally as Spiranthes sylvatica, or the Woodland Ladies' Tresses.


Fast forward to a year or two ago. My son, Josh, and I were photographing Malaxis spicata in an area near Ocala, FL. While out there, Josh brought to my attention a plant that had variegated leaves. I remember reading in Paul Martin Brown's Wild Orchids of Florida about a variegated Malaxis, so I chalked it up to another find of this form. I did photograph it, as it appeared interesting. When I consulted the book back at home, I realized that he had described a variegated form of Malaxis unifolia, not M. spicata. In other words, this was a form that had not yet been formally introduced to science! Thankfully, I was able to correlate the gps trail that our Garmin unit had recorded with the time stamp of the photograph, so we had an approximate locality for the plant. Upon our return, after about an hour of searching for it, we relocated the plant, put a colored flag on it, and covered it with a wire hanging basket to protect it from deer and hog browse.

We brought this plant to Paul's attention, and he formally described the variegated form of this species in the North American Native Orchid Journal in the August 2009 edition as Malaxis spicata forma variegata P.M. Brown, P. & J. Subrahmanyam forma nov. . You can view this journal on-line at the following link:

And here is the photograph of this newly described form that we saw that day:

Malaxis spicata fma variegata P. M. Brown, P & J Subrahmanyam

So, while I had missed out on the opportunity to bring an entirely new species to science, which would be, admittedly, much cooler, I did have the opportunity to bring a newly described form of an existing species to science. And, as I continue to head out into the field to photograph orchid species, who knows what might still be out there to discover?

As a footnote, a colleague of mine was out photographing the variegated Malaxis and discovered a plant nearby completely lacking the orange color in the other words, an albescent form of the species. This form was also described in the same article and named after his daughter Morgan as Malaxis spicata forma morganiae P. M. Brown.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Truly Albino Grass Pink.

In this case, albino would mean a complete lack of the typical pink color. The orange-yellow in the psuedo-pollen bristles persists.

This is only the second time in my life that I've seen a grass pink this color. Below is a typical color form:

You can read more about this species on its profile page:
Grass Pink (Calopogon tuberosus)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Website Updates - a Septet of New Orchid Pages

I have updated the website with seven new orchid pages. In addition to the updates, I have added functionality to the gallery page to display a '**NEW**' beneath any orchid whose page has been added within the last two weeks. But, just so you don't have to go hunting for the '**NEW**' tags, here are the seven species added to the website (bringing the grand total to 36 species with 210 photos between them all):

Eulophia alta

Epidendrum amphistomum

Ionopsis utricularoides

Malaxis spicata

Malaxis unifolia

Spiranthes odorata

Tolumnia bahamensis

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Planting Scrub Lupines (Lupinus westianus var. aridorum)

On December 8, 2010, three of my sons (Timothy, Isaac, and Kenny) and I joined a volunteer group, along with a researcher from Bok Tower gardens, planting scrub lupine (Lupinus westianus var. aridorum) at Tibet Butler Nature Preserve in the Orlando, FL area. This lupine is endemic to central Florida, and is only known from a few isolated populations, so it is considered critically endangered. It is a biennial or short-lived perennial that bears racemes of pretty, purple flowers. Lupines are not orchids, but are members of the pea family--although they do share the trait of bilateral symmetry with the orchids.

Juliet Rynear, from Bok Tower Gardens, has been growing a number of seedlings of this plant in the hope of expanding its population -- volunteer groups have planted these out in several areas in central Florida, re-establishing populations where this plant has been known to grow historically, as well as creating new ones.

We met on a rather cool, sunny morning with a group of about 10 others and got straight to work, helping to plant 300-some-odd plants during the course of the morning. Here are some photos taken that day:

Plants in their peat pots.

Each has a blue flag and an "identity coin" with the individual's ID number...researchers have kept careful data on each seed as it was planted...where it came from, when it was planted, etc. so that the plants that successfully grow to maturity can be tracked.

Kenny planting a seedling.

Isaac planting a seedling.

Tim planting a seedling.

Seedling in its new home.

A more mature plant, planted a year or two ago. It should bloom in the next year.

You can learn more about this species via the following links:

We left a bit before all the seedlings were planted out in the hope of finding some Spiranthes longilabris still in flower in a wildlife management area several hours south. Alas, we found by sheer chance a few plants already bloomed out and in fruit, so better luck next year.

I will be back to photograph the lupines when it is their time to bloom this year.

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