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.


Showy Orchis


aka purple-hooded orchid
Galearis spectabilis


The morning before I left to go to Rachel Carson Conservation Park a second time, someone posted a picture of showy orchis on the Maryland Native Plant Society facebook page. So I went with two goals: to shoot the pinxters, and to find some orchids. It didn’t take too long to find them, but my planned two hour outing became three, then four, then five as I found more and more beautiful and interesting plants to shoot.

Showy orchis is low-growing, with a pair of large basal leaves and a single stem that may hold up to a dozen flowers. It ranges through most of the US and Canada east of the Mississippi River, and somewhat into the Great Plains states, growing in calcareous soils in rich, moist woodlands where there isn’t too much competition from other plants. As with other orchid species, showy orchis has very specific growing requirements (including the presence of certain fungi in the soil), which makes it a difficult plant to grow in the home garden. Attempts to transplant them from the wild are doomed to fail.


Showy orchis is endangered in Maine and Rhode Island, threatened in Michigan and New Hampshire, exploitably vulnerable in New York. There’s one other species in the genus Galearis (G. rotundifolia), but it grows much further to the north.

“Orchis”, by the way, is not a typo. It’s a genus in the orchid family, consisting mostly of temperate Eurasian species. Galearis spectabilis was previously placed in that genus, so the common name is just a translation of the plant’s old Latin name, Orchis spectabilis.


Cranefly Orchid


aka elfin spur
Tipularia discolor



You may recall that I’m a little over the moon about orchids, and especially about cranefly orchid.  I know of three distinct patches near each other in one of my usual hunting areas, and I keep an eye on those areas year ’round.

Some time late this spring, I noticed that all the leaves had gone.  It seemed a little early for their annual disappearing act, but I’m not an expert so I shrugged it off and kept watching.

By the last week in July I was getting concerned.  The flower stalks should have been up, and at least in bud if not in bloom.  What was going on?  Did I miss the flowering altogether?  Were they poached?!

This happened with the puttyroot orchid, too.  I know exactly where to find two plants.  All I saw of them this spring was last year’s stalk with seed pods still on it.

I was feeling mighty bad about this.  Not at the thought that I might have missed them, but at the thought that something happened to them and they were gone forever.


Then, one morning a few days later, in a completely unexpected place, something caught my eye: a single stem of this delicate, easy-to-miss wonder.



I admit, I literally fell to my knees with a sigh.


Cranefly orchids grow a single hibernal leaf that dies before the plant flowers in mid summer.  It can be common in parts of its range, which extends from the the upper mid-Atlantic south through Florida and Texas, but is rare in Pennsylvania, threatened in Florida and Michigan, and endangered in Massachusetts and New York.


Orchid Update

Earlier this year I was over the moon to find two native orchids in the area, puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale; fotd 5/20) and cranefly (Tipularia discolor, fotd 7/31).  These two plants have a similar, unusual life cycle: the new leaf (one per plant) emerges from the ground in autumn, persists through the winter, then dies back in spring (puttyroot) or early summer (cranefly); some time after that a single flower spike emerges, develops multiple buds, and blooms.


Last week while hiking I saw the new leaves of cranefly orchids; note the characteristic purple underside.  (Be assured no plants were harmed, nor soils disturbed, in the taking of these photos!)



Of course I then had to go hunting for puttyroot, too, and found a few of those leaves, and seedpods still on one spike.


cranefly in flower:

puttyroot in flower:




This really has been a wonderful year.