Flower of the Day: Cranefly Orchid – Again

Tipularia discolor; Orchideaceae (orchid family)

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What, again?  Yes, again.  I have a thing for orchids.  They can be the most beautiful flowers, or the most ugly, or the most boring or inconsequential or showy and stunning… I love them all.

Depending on which taxonomist you consult, the Orchidaceae is either the largest plant family or second only to the Asteraceae, with more than 20,000 species in over 800 genera.  They occupy almost every habitat on earth (there are none on glaciers), on every continent except Antarctica.

Orchid biology is fascinating.  I studied it extensively when I grew orchids more than a decade ago but won’t bore you with details.  Finding this plant is lighting the fire in me again…

About the cranefly orchid: it’s a terrestrial, meaning it grows in the ground, as opposed to epiphytic (growing on other plants) or lithophytic (growing on rocks).  It puts out a single, small, leathery leaf, green on top and purple on the bottom, in the autumn.  This leaf will persist throughout the winter and into late spring,

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dying back about late May or early June.  In early or mid July a naked shoot will arise:

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and start budding up a week later.

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The first flowers will open about two weeks after that.

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Cranefly orchid is native to the Eastern US, ranging form New York and Michigan south and west through Texas.  It’s listed as threatened in Florida and Michigan, endangered in Massachusetts and New York, and rare in Pennsylvania.

I’ll be going back to check on its progress later today.

Flower of the Day: Yellow Passion Flower

Passiflora lutea; Passifloraceae (passionflower family)

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You know those bizarro passion flowers you see in floral arrangements?  We have a native version of those. Not nearly as large, colorful, or showy, but still it’s pretty neat that a plant from a mostly tropical family is found along the Potomac River.  I found it when searching for something else (of course). Took a little side trail towards the river, poked around, then on my way back I saw these.  I’ve since realized that a lot of flowers are hidden in this way: they face away from the trail (and shade) towards the sunlight and the river.

Yellow passionflower is found from Pennsylvania through Texas, though it’s endangered in Pennsylvania.  There are about 17 native species of Passiflora in the continental US, mostly in the extreme south (Texas, Arizona, Florida). Two are found in this area.  This is the northernmost occurring species in the genus.

Notice I’ve been posting a lot about vining plants lately?  This is another one. Grows to about fifteen feet. It’s that time of year.

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Flower of the Day: Wild Potato Vine

aka man of the earth; Ipomoea pandurata; Convolvulaceae (morning glory family)

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Neither a potato nor a man (though it is of the earth; see how useless common names are?),  this plant is related to sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). It can be distinguished from other similar species in this area (3 native and six alien) by the purple throat.  This vining plant that can grow to 15 feel in length.  Roots can weigh up to 20 pounds and are supposedly edible, if they can be extracted from the earth.

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Found throughout the eastern US and the prairie midwest, it is listed as threatened in Michigan and endangered in New York, but as a noxious weed in Arkansas and a prohibited noxious weed in Arizona.  It is closely related to both the pretty morning glories you planted around your mailbox and the annoying bindweed that grows through all your other garden plants.

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Flower of the Day: Lopseed

Phryma leptostachya; Verbenaceae (verbena family)

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This is one of my favorites.  It’s the flower that got me thinking about using tiny details to create abstract art.  The three purple teeth on the back of the calyx can’t be seen by the unaided eye:

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Lopseed is a woodland forb native to the eastern US.  The plant stands about two and a half feet tall; the inflorescence can be a foot long, but each individual flower is about 1/8″ long.  They seem so out of proportion to the plant overall.

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I was just thrilled to find a stand about a ten minute walk from my house.

Flower of the Day: Honeyvine

Cynanchum laeve; Asclepiadaceae (milkweed family)

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Another morning spent clambering over the rock bluffs, another plant I didn’t recognize and expected to be an alien, and another case of going to the internet to identify it because it wasn’t in any of my books.  This milkweed relative is native to the eastern US.  Although considered weedy and invasive by some authorities, it is listed as rare in the state of Pennsylvania.  It will grow up to 15 feet long, vining and twining along other plants for support.  As with the milkweeds, it will bleed an irritating, milky sap if cut or bruised. Apparently monarch butterflies like it.

Flower of the Day: Fogfruit

Phyla lanceolata; Verbenaceae (verbena family)

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This tiny thing is easily lost among all the weedy plants sprawling along muddy streambanks.  I took few quick snapshots, then couldn’t find anything like it in my books, and almost gave up trying to identify it.  Then the internet came to my rescue.  (Ends up it is in Clements and Gracie, I just missed it there.)

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There isn’t much information about this plant on the internet.  It stands a foot tall at most; the inflorescence is smaller than a fingernail, with each individual flower measuring about 1/8 inch wide.  You really need to be down on the ground searching for something (a lens cap, say) in order to know it’s there. Fogfruit is found throughout the US except the Pacific northwest.  It’s endangered in New Jersey and rare in Pennsylvania.

A related species found in this area (P. nodiflora) has the enticing common name turkey tangle fogfruit.  Who comes up with these names?  I hope to find it someday, just so I can go around saying “turkey tangle fogfruit”.  I think that’s even funnier than bastard toadflax.

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