Monday, October 20, 2014

Orchids Eaten

I was sorely disappointed when I went back to check on the group of Spiranthes magnicamporum orchids that I found a couple of weeks ago.  A short stalk was all that was left of the largest of the flowering plants.

Evidence of browsing Whitetail Deer.  Six of the 14 blooming plants suffered this fate.  All were within a few feet of the trail that is used by me and the deer.

Other plants that were farther from the trail were left alone.

This shot was taken from the trail.  The stalk of the eaten plant is in the center foreground.  The flower spike from another plant can be seen emerging from the clump of brown grass in the upper right.  Distance between plants is about four feet.

Each of the eaten plants had a set of arrow shaped hoof prints pointed to what was left of the flower stalk.  Deer have a taste for orchids and many orchid species that were once common here, such as the Showy Orchis, have not been seen for many years.

Loss of a few flower spikes was just the first disappointment.  I had come out in hopes of witnessing insects pollinating the orchids.  In two hours of watching I didn’t see anything come near those flowers.  Before leaving the site, I fashioned a pollinating tool out of a dried grass stem to mimic what happens when a nectar seeking insect inserts its head into one of these tiny flowers.

Instead of being released as loose grains, orchid pollen is contained in a sticky mass called a pollinium that attaches itself to a nectaring insect.  If this grass stem had been the head of a bee, the pollen mass would have attached to the bee’s head.  The pollen would then be in position to pollinate future flowers visited by the bee.  I have yet to see this activity performed by a live insect.  I may just have to pack up and live with the orchids some summer.

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