I’ll Be There

Saturday morning: Steve and I are hiking on Sugarloaf Mountain, and I’ve just shown him some downy rattlesnake plantain, almost finished blooming. As we continue walking along, I tell him to watch for something that looks like thin twigs sticking up out of the ground, with little purple-brown flowers all over.

Not three seconds pass before he says “you mean like this?”

I try not to write about the same plants every year, but when it comes to cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor), I just can’t help myself. Nor can I put into words what makes this plant stand out for me.


Maybe it’s the crazy nectar tubes, sometimes almost twice as long as the pedicels.



Maybe it’s that pearlescent lower lip. Or the purple stripes on the green sepals and petals.

Maybe it’s the overall effect of those twisted, delicate flowers dancing above the ground.

Cranefly is hibernal: the plant’s single leaf emerges from the ground in autumn, grows through the winter and spring, and dies back in early summer. A leafless peduncle emerges a few weeks later (around early July in the Maryland Piedmont), and the flowers open roughly three weeks later.

Early morning is a good time to shoot them.

Two Leaves

Thursday, May 18: one more trip to Rachel Carson Conservation Park to find and photograph the elusive large twayblade. Thanks to detailed directions from a friend, I found a nice group of the plants, about half of which were in bloom.

Also know as purple twayblade, brown wide-lip orchid, and mauve sleekwort, Liparis liliifolia is one of our native orchids. The two large basal leaves stand a few inches tall, while the flowering stem (a raceme) stands up to about a foot tall and produces as many as thirty flowers.

The lowest flowers open first. A colony of large twayblade will bloom for about two to three weeks.


All orchid flowers have three sepals and three petals, although in some species these parts are so highly modified they may not be recognizable as such. In large twayblade, the lowest petal is modified into a wide labellum (lip); the two lateral petals are very narrow and droop down inconspicuously.

You can see the two lower sepals through the labellum, which is so thin it’s actually translucent.

Large twayblade can be found in the Mid-West, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and northernmost parts of the South. It’s threatened in Massachusetts and Vermont, and endangered in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. In Maryland it’s listed as S2S3/state rare.

Look for it in rich, moist woodlands. It should still be blooming in the Maryland piedmont. The purple/brown colors of the petals and pedicels make for good camouflage against the leaf litter, but the distinctive pair of basal leaves stands out.


“Tway” is an obsolete word meaning “two”.

That’s Right, Orchids in Iceland

As far as I can tell, seven species of orchid grow in Iceland. I was lucky enough to spot three of them. Here are the other two.


Dactylorhiza viridis
Coeloglossum viride)
frog orchid
Icelandic: barnarót


What a delight to find this particular species, native not only to Iceland but also North America (as far south as North Carolina in the Appalachians and New Mexico in the Rocky Mountains) and northern Asia. In Iceland it’s fairly widespread, growing in heathlands and other rich soil areas at mid elevations. I’ve seen it once before, in Catoctin Mountain Park, a rare find since it’s listed S1/Endangered in Maryland, but it wasn’t blooming then.



Platanthera hyperborea
northern green orchid,
butterfly orchid, bog orchid
Icelandic: friggjargras


Northern green orchid’s native range includes northern North America (Greenland, Canada, Alaska), parts of Asia (Korea, Japan), and of course Iceland. It’s a fairly common plant there in fertile soils, especially heathlands.


Sorry I don’t have better pictures. Guess I’ll have to go back next year and do better.

Persistence Pays Off, Part One


puttyroot; Adam and Eve
Aplectrum hyemale

In May of 2014 I saw puttyroot for the first time, two plants and one spike of flowers. After that I saw the seedheads on the spike. Every time I was in the area I’d go by the patch, and (except in summer) I’d see the plants. But in 2015 for some reason they didn’t bloom. I learned later that this is often the case with some species of orchid: if conditions aren’t just right, they won’t bloom.

A puttyroot plant has a single ground-level leaf that comes up in autumn, persists through the winter, and dies back before the plant sends up the flower spike in late spring.


A few weeks ago I saw a new spike coming up. I went back again and again, despite the miserable rainy weather we’ve been having, until finally I saw the flowers.


Puttyroot ranges from Quebec south to North Carolina, with scattered occurrences a little further south than that, and west as far as Oklahoma, Kansas, and Minnesota. It’s endangered in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, threatened in Vermont, rare in Pennsylvania, and special concern in Connecticut. In the Maryland Piedmont I’ve seen the plants in the Potomac gorge, Patapsco Valley State Park, and on Sugarloaf Mountain.

Another Orchid Added To My List


pink lady’s slipper
aka moccasin flower
Cypripedium acaule

The state of Maryland is home to more than 50 species of native orchids. Until this past weekend, I have seen only three of those in bloom (and the leaves of a fourth).

I was going a little crazy trying to find any of the three species of lady’s slippers in Maryland. After hours of searching on Sugarloaf Mountain I found a plant, I think, but it wasn’t flowering. I might have seen several plants in Rachel Carson Conservation Park, but can’t be sure until they flower.


Then a very kind member of the Maryland Native Plant Society came to my rescue. The instructions were explicit and excellent, and I was able to spot eleven plants in a somewhat spread out area. Three of them were in bloom.

It helps to be looking in the right places, of course. Interestingly, pink lady’s slipper grows in several different habitats. I’ve seen references to it growing in dry woods and moist woods, on slopes and in bogs, in hardwood forests and mixed deciduous-coniferous woods.


It does like acidic soils and dappled sunlight.

Like most orchids, this plant depends on a symbiotic relationship with a species of soil fungus in order to reproduce and grow. For this reason (among others, like its very large root system), attempts to transplant it from the wild are doomed to fail.


Pink lady’s slipper ranges from the upper Midwest into New England, then south into Virginia and a little further south along the Appalachian Mountains. It can be found all over Maryland, though there are no records for it in four counties per the Maryland Biodiversity Project. It’s endangered in Illinois; exploitably vulnerable in New York; commercially exploited, endangered in Tennessee; and unusual in Georgia.


An now, a confession: I actually find this flower rather ugly. That doesn’t change how happy I am to have finally seen it in the wild.