Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday: Crane-fly Orchid

Last week I made an exciting discovery in my garden. In amongst the leaves at the edge of the woodland garden is a colony of crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor).


The crane-fly orchid is most noticeable in winter with its very distinctive leaf which is green above; sometimes with raised purple spots,


and purple below. The single leaf appears in late fall and remains throughout the winter absorbing sunlight.


In spring the leaf withers away and nothing more is seen of this plant until its flower stalk emerges in summer.  The cool thing about the bloom is that it is pollinated by noctuid moths. The flowers have pollinaria which is a specialized structure containing pollen (characteristic of plants such as orchids and many species of milkweed). The pollinaria attaches to the moths eyes and they then pollinate the blooms as they visit them.

The crane-fly orchid is a terrestrial perennial (and only member of the Tipularia genus found in North America) found scattered throughout the Southeast. They like moist humus rich soils of deciduous forests and the acid soils of oak-pine forests. They can be found as far North as Pennsylvania and West to Texas. Click here to see its native range. Within its distribution range it is listed as Threatened in Florida and Michigan; Endangered in New York and Massachusetts; and Rare in Pennsylvania. This is mostly due to deforestation and displacement by exotic species.

Terrestrial orchids don't transplant well because they have a complex relationship with fungus. The fungal fibers in the soil enter the roots of the orchid to give it food. If the orchids are dug up and the fungus dies (which usually happens when they are dug up) the orchid looses its food source and eventually starves to death.

Walking around the garden I found three colonies of crane-fly orchids. I have marked the spots where this plant has come up so that I can be sure to observe the blooms in July. Stay tuned, hopefully I will have photos of the blooms to show you in the summer!

I am linking up with Clay and Limestone for the first Wildflower Wednesday of 2013!

21 comments:

  1. I am very familiar with this foliage which is easily found in the forest around our cabin in western NC and I am excited to learn what it is. While the foliage is familiar, I don't really remember seeing the bloome. Of course, one of the interesting and fascinating things about having this place where we don't spend all our time, is that I am often finding new ephemerals even after 8 years of visiting. I'll look for blooms in July.

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    1. I do hope you find some Bill! I will be looking too. Sometimes, they are difficult to see because they tend to blend in with the shadows and light in the forest. But, since you know where to look the work is done!

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  2. How remarkable. Attaching to the moth's eyes - sounds like science fiction. This is why I adore reading blogs - you never know what you're going to learn. Thank you!
    B.

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  3. A very cool plant, and totally new to me.

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  4. Oh Karin this is so exciting. Isn't nature amazing...I knew that our native orchids needed the local fungus but never that pollination needed a moth's eye to happen. Stranger than science fiction! Happy WW and thank you for sharing.

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    1. Nature certainly provides in some really bizarre ways but it is so very cool!

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  5. That is so cool Karin...I have never seen them but then they are endangered here in NY...maybe one day I may fond them as I trek through the woods...can't wait to see them in flower.

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    1. Isn't it sad to read about a plant being endangered or threatened? When I was reading about the range of this orchid I wondered how it managed to collect the sun's energy during the winters further north when they would probably be covered with a blanket of snow. Maybe it just all occurs on an earlier cycle.

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  6. Those greens look so lovely among the browns, i wonder what is the purpose for the plant of having the purple underside. I hope you will also show us the flowers of this when they come up!

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    1. I will definitely post photos of the blooms. We are often gone in July so I wonder if I have missed them in the past or perhaps they just weren't there. They can often blend with the shadows of the forest so sometimes they are hard to see but I have them marked now!

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  7. Very nice. Don't you just love it when you spot a plant you hadn't seen before. That happened to me with Bloodroot a couple of years ago. I didn't even know we had them in the woods. Enjoy!

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    1. Yes! Oh, you must have been thrilled to find Bloodroot! That is really exciting.

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  8. What an exciting find! I didn't know this plant, and loved learning about it. The purple underneath is so pretty. I hope you will post pictures of its blooms this summer.

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  9. That's awesome! I love the symbiotic relationship it has with the soil fungus. I'm not familiar with these plants at all so I'm looking forward to your future pots about them. :o)

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  10. I am so glad to have found this blog! You must be somewhere near me so I am sure that I can learn a lot here. I have these growing in my woods and while I knew they were native I've never put a name to them. I admit to being terrible with perennials. Now that I know, I will take care of them better.

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    1. Karyl, so glad that you stopped by! Great to meet a fellow Georgia blogger! Do you know about the Native Plant certification offered by the SBG? I am working on it now. It is a great program and goes into detail about natives especially in the Piedmont. I highly recommend it!

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  11. Very cool to find these growing naturally in your woodland garden! I've had to actually purchase and plant all of my natives! I wish some wildflowers would just 'appear' here one day...that would be exciting ;)

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  12. How nice to find green leaves in among the dead ones, and then to realize just how special they are. This was a great find. I'll be really interested to see what the blooms look like later in the season.

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  13. Isn't that a great find? I found one the first winter we moved here. My neighbors were thrilled to hear I had an orchid growing in the woods.....they were thinking a tropical orchid. I did find and take pictures of the flower. I also found a Striped Wintergreen, a Pipsissewa chimaphila umbellata growing nearby. To me it was a great day!! Have found other Pipsissewas but only the one stand of Cranefly orchids.
    ps- the flower is a bear to photograph... I used a blank paper behind it. Hope to do a better job this summer -- if it sends up a flower stalk.

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  14. we really enjoyed your article, thanks for sharing and more power!

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  15. I've been lucky to have over 100 of the Cranefly Orchid on my 1/2 acre homesite in Durham, NC. I have also found that in the right environment you CAN move the Orchids to a safer place.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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