Friday, September 30, 2011

The First of the Last Spiranthes Orchids

Conditions must have been just perfect for Spiranthes orchids this year at Blue Jay Barrens. They’ve been noticeable all summer. Now we’re moving into fall and the latest blooming species has begun to open its flowers. Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes magnicamporum, may be the last of the Spiranthes to perform, but its display has got to be the grandest of them all.

The flowers look like the creation of a confectionary artist. The petals appear to be so fragile that a light touch might leave them bruised and mangled.

Actually, they are tough little flowers that withstand wind, storms, heat or cold without showing any wear. I’ve watched them come unscathed through some violent weather extremes. Autumn is their time and they are adapted to handle anything a Southern Ohio autumn can deliver.

This will be an impressive flower spike if it manages to straighten up. I think the question mark shape is an intentional taught aimed at the difficulties I sometimes have identifying the Spiranthes plants that I encounter. Several of the Spiranthes species are quite variable in their physical characteristics and can be difficult to properly identify. Spiranthes magnicamporum is one that I’ve never had a problem with. I guess I’ve spent enough time looking at it that I’ve come to know its appearance as one of an old friend. There’s also the fact that this species produces a powerful fragrance that can’t be missed.

Spiranthes magnicamporum thrives in some pretty inhospitable soils. Thin, rocky soil over limestone bedrock seems to suit it best.

The name may be Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses, but the area in which they grow doesn’t resemble the Great Plains. This area had a pretty heavy cedar cover until it was cleared in 2004. It was the following year that I found the Spiranthes magnicamporum. I know the orchids were here prior to the clearing, but the shady conditions may have kept them from flowering freely. If weather conditions are suitable, I’ll clear some more cedars from the remainder of this opening during the winter. Maybe I’ll be seeing twice as many flowering plants next season.

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