Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New Location for a Favorite Rare Plant

It is always exciting to discover a new location for a rare plant already known to be growing at Blue Jay Barrens.  Sometimes it’s more exciting than adding a new species to the property list.  Yesterday I discovered a new population of Spiranthes magnicamporum, Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses, an orchid species that is listed as Potentially Threatened in Ohio.

It was cloudy with a light drizzle of rain when I noticed a white beacon before me.  White flowers that are often lost in the brilliance of sunlight, can sometimes glow brightly in dim conditions.  This bloom was impossible to overlook.

It’s no wonder the plant caught my attention.  With a total height of 16 inches, five inches of that being the flower spike, it clearly stood out from the surrounding vegetation.  When I crouched down to get a photo, the fragrance was almost overwhelming.

I found 14 flowering plants all growing in this strange eroded area near the toe of a steep slope.  Fourteen years ago I found a single Spiranthes magnicamporum growing in a tiny opening that is located about 30 yards into the cedars in the direction of the orange leaved trees showing in the upper right portion of the photo.  That plant has not been seen to bloom since.  There is a walking trail that passes horizontally through the photo about a third of the way up the frame.  I walk this trail frequently and am sure I would have noticed blooming orchids before, had they been here.  I’m wondering if these plants might have come from seed released by that lone plant I saw earlier.

Some of the plants were growing from clumps of grasses, primarily Little Bluestem, that had become established in the eroded soil.

Others just sprang from almost bare ground.

Those growing in bare soil were much easier to find than those hidden in the grasses.  The plant in the upper left of this photo is the one that first attracted my attention.  While I was examining that plant, I completely failed to notice the slightly smaller version just a few feet away and visible in the lower right corner of the photo.  I didn’t find the second plant until much later while doing a careful search of the whole area.

At just over three inches, this is a typical sized flower spike.  Even small plants produce an abundance of scent, making them easy for pollinators to find.  Despite the fragrance, I’ve never seen any insects on these plants.  It’s clear that pollination is occurring since most plants develop seeds.  Since the flowers release their pollen only to nectaring insects, there must be insect visitors.  If we have another warm afternoon, I may just hang out with these flowers for a few hours to see what comes by.

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