Thursday, December 30, 2010

Flat-spurred Piperia (Platanthera transversa)

Platanthera transversa, the Flat-spurred Piperia is a smaller plant with small but unusual flowers.  It's name refers to the position rather than the shape of the spur, and as one writer says, it would better be called the "horizontal-spurred" Piperia.  The position of the spur is also the key to identifying this species which otherwise resembles the Long-spurred Piperia (Platanthera elongata) both in flower and plant size.

The plants grow to about 60 cm tall, though many of them are smaller, and the individual flowers are 1.5 cm to the tip of the spur.  The leaves, which lie close to the ground, are usually gone by flowering time, so that the flower spikes appear to belong to a  leafless plant.  The plant is native only to the Pacific Northwest and ranges from British Columbia to California.

The plant grows in open areas in woodlands often in very mossy areas, sometimes hidden by the surrounding vegetation, and is often found alongside the Giant Rattlesnake Orchis, Goodyera oblongifolia, though that plant blooms later.  The flower spikes where we have seen them are usually scattered, not in clumps, and the plant from in our area from mid-July into August.

The flowers are white with a greenish stripe down the center of the segments and the spur is also tipped with green.  The nectar is visible in the spurs when the flowers are examined closely, and the flowers are said to have a clove-like scent at night, though we have seen them only in the day-time and could detect no scent.  They can number up to 100 per spike.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Long-spurred Piperia (Platanthera elongata)

Not nearly as impressive as its big brother, the Elegant Piperia, the Long-spurred Piperia nevertheless has a charm of its own.  It is shorter than the Elegant Piperia, the plants we've seen reaching only about 50 cm.  The flowers, too, are smaller, and are green instead of white, though the spur is longer and much more impressive than in the larger species.

The individual flowers are less than .5 cm, but the spur is about 1.5 cm in length and though slightly curved, is much very visible, often making a kind of criss-cross pattern on the spike.  The flowers may number up to 75 or 80 per spike and are easily identified by the spur and by their green color.  They are supposed to be fragrant like the flowers of Platanthera elegans, but at night.

The plant has only a few leaves that have often disappeared by the time the plant flowers and that are almost unnoticeable when growing.  We've found it growing in very dry areas on a disturbed slope in and among brambles, sea grape and other low growing brush and found it both in shade and in full sun.  In shade the plants are quite a bit taller.

The plant is native to British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana, but is not common anywhere.  When we've found it, it has been fairly abundant in those locations, but we have only ever found it twice.  It also goes under the names Habenaria unalascensis ssp. elata and Piperia elongata.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Elegant Piperia (Platanthera elegans ssp. elegans)

Platanthera elegans, also known as Habenaria elegans and as Piperia maritima, is an impressive species, standing up to and over 100 cm tall with numerous small white flowers, as many as 75-80 per spike.

I well remember seeing this species for the first time in a shady area where its tall spikes stood out like glowing candles in the dim light. It is rightly named the "Elegant Piperia."

It is not common anywhere in its range which reaches from British Columbia to California and east into Idaho and Montana. It grows in sunny areas as well as shade but is a shorter and heavier plant in good light.

The individual flowers are a little less than 1 cm in size, though the spur is twice as long as the rest of the flower. It is said to be sweetly scented, but I have not been able to detect any scent when I've seen the species.

Like the other Platantheras once classified as Piperias this species has a few leaves close to the ground that have usually disappeared by the time the plant flowers.  The flower spikes, then, appear to be some sort of strange leafless plant, but in fact have already lost their leaves.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Slender White Piperia (Platanthera ephemerantha)

We were in Olympic National Park on August 3rd, in the north part of the park, which is far too large to see in its entirety in one day.  We had a wonderful and relaxing day poking around in areas of the park that we had seen many times before and in new areas (for us) of the park.  One of the highlights of the day was our first sighting of Platanthera ephemerantha, formerly Piperia candida, the Slender White Piperia.

Following directions given by a friend, we found it first just outside the park on the Little River Road which runs east to west from Olympic Springs Road to the Hurricane Ridge Road.  There we found a large population of it right on the roadside, but the colony was past its prime and though we took pictures the flowers were a bit disappointing and we were sorry we had not come earlier.

Our disappointment was allayed by the fact that we found it again, this time in prime condition, as we were leaving the visitor's center at the top of Hurricane Ridge.  We were in a bit of hurry to catch a ferry and I thought when I took photos that it was Platanthera unalascensis to which it is closely related.  When I looked at my pictures later I discovered that it was this species.

Platanthera ephemerantha used to be identified as P. unalascensis but was recently separated from that species and given its own status.  The most obvious difference between the two is the color of the flowers, unalascensis having green flowers and candida, white flowers or white and green. Otherwise both species are visibly very similar in plant and flowers and easily confused, as was my experience.

The flowers of both are said to have a faint scent but I have never detected it, though I've tried.  The flowers are around half a centimeter in size with a tiny spur and are held on a spike that can grow well over 60 cm tall.  Some of the plants we saw on the Little River Road were that tall, but the plants we saw on Hurricane Ridge were much shorter, around 30 cm, but were much more exposed.

The flowers are numerous, and though I did not count any of the spikes, certainly must be as many as 50-75 per spike, this putting on quite a good show.  The leaves were still partly visible, usually two to four of them, and in the more exposed areas were short and upright while in the shadier areas along Little River Road were soft and prostrate and in both cases were starting to wither.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

White Adder's-mouth (Malaxis brachypoda)

This tiny species is not found in Washington, but is found from Alaska to Newfoundland and in various areas, east and west in the USA.  It's small size may be the reason why it is considered rare in our area.

The plant can be 25 cm tall but is usually much smaller with a single shiny leaf at the base of the plant.  The flowers are greenish-white and are only a few millimeters in size, though numerous (up to 80 per spike).

The two plants we found were 6-8 cm tall and were near a marl pond and in the shade of several trees.  Having found the one plant we did not even notice the second until we got down to take photos.

The species is sometimes considered to be a variety of the Eurasian species, Malaxis monophyllos, but Paul Martin Brown and others make a good case for maintaining it as a separate North American species.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Heart-leaved Twayblade (Neottia cordata)

The Heart-leaved Twayblade is a very small plant with tiny, but intricate flowers.  With a bit of imagination the flowers look like a cloud of tiny green or red insects hovering around the flower spike and above the two opposite heart-shaped leaves.

The plant is supposed to grow as tall as 40 cm, but the plants we have seen have all been tiny, less than 15 cm tall.  The flowers, said to number up to forty, have been 15 or fewer on the plants we've seen and are only about 1 cm in size.

There are two varieties of this plant, variety cordata, more common in the Eastern United States and Canada and variety nephrophylla, more common in the west.  I have not yet figured out the difference between the two, except that the first variety is very tiny.

The species and especially variety cordata is very widespread being found not only throughout the USA and Canada but also in Europe and Asia.  Variety nephrophylla, however, is found only in the western USA and Canada, from the Rockies west to California and north to Alaska.

Both varieties come in red and green forms which further complicates the situation.  One cannot tell the variety simply from the colors of the flowers.  Both are very attractive, however, though I think the red flowered form is the more appealing.

In the pictures, in both cases, the first green and red flowered flowered plants were photographed in the North Cascades and the second in the Canadian Rockies in Berg Lake Provincial Park.  In the second location the red-flowered plants were also photographed growing among the green.

The first picture is of an plant with flowers intermediate in color, perhaps the offspring of the two different color forms.  This plant was photographed in the North Cascades in Washington State along the Heliotrope Ridge Trail.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Broad-lipped Twayblade (Neottia convallarioides)

Often miscalled the Broad-leaved Twayblade rather than the Broad-lipped Twayblade, this rather unremarkable plant is quite rare (we know of only one location in Washington).  It is at first glance similar to the very common Northwestern Twayblade, Neottia banksiana, but lacks the black markings on the lip and also has a distinct notch at the end of the lip which the Northwestern Twayblade does not always have.  The leaves, too, are more round than the leaves of the Northwestern Twayblade and in my experience the plants are smaller than that species.  It is said to grow to 30 cm tall, but the plants we've seen have been less than 15 cm.  The flowers are 1.5 cm long and are a pale green color.  It seems to prefer damper areas than the other Twayblades and where we found it was growing near a seep or small stream.  Like the other Twayblades its name has changed from Listera to Neottia.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Northern Twayblade (Neottia borealis)

All the Neottias are small plants with small flowers, but if it is possible to have a favorite among them, this would be mine.  Perhaps that is only because it brings back memories of several fabulous backpacking trips in Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia, but it is nonetheless the species in this genus that stands out in my mind.

The plant is only 10-20 cm tall and the 5-15 flowers, fewer in number than Neottia banksiana, are only about a cm long.  The plant has two and occasionally three leaves opposite each other about midway up the stem and flowers early in the summer, though we have found it well into August at higher elevations, usually as single plants and often growing with Neottia cordata.

The plant, which used to be known as Listera borealis, is found from Alaska all across Canada and in the northwestern United States as far south as Utah and Colorado.  It is reported to be rare and local, but we have found it in fairly large numbers in the Mount Robson area, usually growing in damp shaded areas at the edge of woodlands.  It is very rare in Washington.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Northwestern Twayblade (Neottia banksiana)

This tiny and rather insignificant native orchid has usually been identified, and sometimes still is identified, as Neottia or Listera caurina.  It is found in the northwest as far north as lower Alaska, as far south as California, and as far east as Wyoming.  It is said to be especially abundant in the Olympic Mountains of Washington, but is quite common throughout its range.

The plants we have seen have usually been from 10-20 cm tall, but is said to grow as tall as 30 cm.  It has two opposite heart-shaped leaves about halfway up the stem and has a good number - up to 25 - small green flowers that have two darker stripes on the sides of the lip and that are diagnostic.  We have found it blooming in open areas, especially along the trails.

Note: this orchid as well as the other species in the genus Listera were reclassified in 2009 as Neottia.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fen Orchis (Liparis loeselii)

Liparis loeselii, the Fen Orchis or Loesel's Twayblade, is rather widespread in range.  It is found both in Europe and in North America and is reported to be common in the eastern areas of the United States and Canada.  It is rare, however, in the west, having been recently found for the first time in Alberta, where these photos were taken, and with no known locations in Washington, though it has been reported from the state.

It is a small species, not taller than 20 cm and often much shorter with two leaves at the base of the plant and a dozen or fewer flowers about 1 cm in size.  The flowers are pale yellowish-green and grow among sedges and other wetland plants which makes them even more difficult to find.  These were photographed growing in full sun in a very wet fen and were scattered individually over a fairly large area but only in one location in the fen which was very large.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Lesser Rattlesnake Orchis (Goodyera repens)

The Lesser Rattlesnake Orchis, Goodyera repens does not grow in Washington.  In the northwest reaches the southern limit of its range in British Columbia.  Further east it grows as far south as the Appalachian Mountains, and is widespread, growing in Europe and Asia as well.

We see its cousin, the Giant Rattlesnake Orchis (giant only in comparison) on almost every hike, and we've seen this also on our numerous trips to the Canadian Rockies, but never in bloom.  This year we were late enough to see it in bloom for the first time at Mount Robson Provincial Park.

It has a tiny rosette of about half a dozen leaves, beautifully reticulated in the plants we saw, but often hidden in the moss in which it grows.  The flower spikes were 30 cm or less on the plants we saw and carried several dozen 2 cm crystalline white flowers, with a hairy exterior.

We thought it daintier and more attractive than its larger cousin, but that may only have been because we were seeing it for the first time.  We found it all along the trail at all elevations and always in relatively protected and shady locations, even in some cases in a layer of moss on the rocks.