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.

Orchid Update: New Hope

Two months ago I wrote about finding only a single cranefly orchid, despite seeing dozens the year before.  After posting that I asked a few experts; the consensus was that deer browse had caused the disappearance.

One day last week I was poking about looking for asters and goldenrods that may have started blooming after the recent rains.  I didn’t find many, but I did find this:


Zoom in and look closely.  In the center of the picture is a purplish leaf partly unfurled among all the fallen tree leaves.  That’s a new leaf of cranefly.  There were more, but I didn’t get close, for fear of trampling something (this picture was taken from pretty far away), and quickly withdrew, as there were people about and I didn’t want anyone taking an interest in my interest.  There are poachers in this area.

This year there were no flowering stems in this stand.  Clearly the plants are growing again, but how many seasons of abuse can they take?  I’m considering contacting the park service and asking them to put fencing around this little patch.  It’s an area that sees lots of human activity as well as deer pressure, but I wonder if drawing attention to this patch may do more harm than good.

Feeling hopeful after finding the cranefly, I went over to the place where I saw puttyroot last year, and this:


Yes, two new puttyroot leaves.  Again, that’s a zoom-in from a distance.  Last thing I want is to cause damage in my enthusiasm.  I can admire from afar.

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.