Winter Orchids

Don't let the title of this post mislead you, there are not going to be any orchids blooming this time of year. There are however, some interesting features to observe and even some things you cannot see during an orchid's bloom time. Winter is a great time to scope out new locations for some of our orchid species as well as review known locations. Three of our species of orchids found at Wahkeena can be seen, in part, in the winter and I'll show you one other species that has some parts still hanging around.

Let's start with the latter. This orchid happens to be the "newly" discovered Club-spur Orchid, Platanthera clavellata. Click here for more info on that. Although the leaves are gone, some of the plants have seed pods left on the flower stalk.


You can still see the dried up remains of the flowers at the tip of each seed pod. Also, this plant's seed pods appear to be empty.

 
This one if you look closely, you can see the pods are not open as much and the seeds are ready to be dispersed. Below is a little closer look.


Orchid seeds are very very small. Dusty would be a good adjective to describe them. Even though huge amounts of seed are produced, each one has little nutrients. Think of it as the opposite of say, an acorn, who has so much "starter" food that other animals like to eat them!

Next up are some orchids who's life history is a little different from other orchids. Puttyroot and Cranefly orchids send up there leaves in the fall and loose them in the spring! It seems counter intuitive doesn't it? Can you figure out why they do it? I'll give you a hint with the next photo...


Yep, you're right! Sunlight! It's the same reason our spring wildflowers are so quick to emerge, bloom and die back. They are taking advantage of the available sunlight until those pesky deciduous trees leaf out and filter out most of the sunlight that otherwise makes it to the forest floor. So our two orchids wait for the trees to loose their leaves then put out their own leaf. Just one for these guys. Another adaptation these leaves have is that they are pretty thick and waxy. Since water is not always available during the winter (most of the time it is frozen in the ground) the plants don't want to loose a lot of water through their leaf. Other evergreen plants that have this adaptation include Christmas Fern, American Holly, Vinca, and English Ivy.


This is the leaf of the Cranefly Orchid. It looks sort of warty and you can see the mid vein is a purple color. This leaf has a fun surprise on the back. Are you ready?


Ooh, ahh! Nice isn't it? This is a sure-fire way to ID this orchid leaf. Sometimes a single greenbrier leaf can catch your attention, but a quick look to the back will tell you for sure what you've got! Recently, came across a Cranefly leaf that was purple on both sides.

 
Here is one that has not completed its emergence from the soil yet. Maybe it's just me, but I feel this photo shows the thick waxiness of the leaf the best.
 

Not only can the leaf of this orchid be seen in winter, but sometimes you'll get the seed pods too. You might notice that they look an awful lot like the Club-spur's seed pods.


This post is getting a little long so... Tune in next week for Puttyroot Orchid and Downy Rattlesnake Plantain!