Friday, August 27, 2010

Columbia Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium x columbianum)

As the "x" in the scientific name indicates, this is a natural hybrid, in this case of the Mountain Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium montanum, which it resembles, and the Yellow Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum.  It is, in my opinion less beautiful than either of its parents.

In flower size and color, it it is intermediate between the two parents especially in the color of the pouch which ranges from off-white to pale yellow, and in the location where we found it was part of a mixed population that included both parents.

The difference between it and the Mountain Lady's Slipper is in the color of the sepals and petals which tend toward a yellowish-green, and the shape and sometimes the color of the pouch which tends to be shaped more like the pouch of the Yellow Lady's Slipper and can vary from white to yellowish (the yellowish color of the petals and sepals and a yellow tint to the pouch can be clearly seen in the last photo).

The parents are the two species pictured below:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens)

Previously known as Cypripedium pubescens, the Yellow Lady's Slipper is one of the best known of our native orchids and that for several reasons.  It is found in nearly every US state and every Canadian province.  It is also one of the few native orchids that can be cultivated in a garden, though it must immediately be added that the plants can be purchased from reputable nurseries and there is, therefore, no need to dig them up from the wild and so destroy them in their native habitats.

There is a great deal of disagreement about this species, its name and its varieties.  Some still prefer to use the older name, others disagree as to the number of varieties of this species.  We ourselves have identified the plants shown below as variety pubescens, but never having seen variety makasin, which also grows in our area, we have to admit that this is an educated guess.

The differences are supposed to be:
1) the scent - var. makasin having a much stronger scent than pubescens;
2) the amount of pubescence or hairiness on the upper bract (the leaf-like structure behind the flower) - var. pubescens being much hairier;
3) flower size - var. makasin being smaller than pubescens;
3) flower color - var. makasin being more richly colored.
But many of these features overlap, making exact identification difficult.

The plants we have seen have been growing in open forest, in the flood-plain below a mountain lake, but always under the shelter of brush and small trees), and along a river or lakeside.  They seem to prefer some shelter from direct sunlight and moister areas.

Flower color has varied considerably in the plants we've seen, the color of the petals from a pale greenish yellow to a brownish mahogany, of the pouch from a pale to a very deep yellow, sometimes with pale stripes, and of the staminode (the shield-like structure at the opening of the pouch) from a plain yellow to yellow spotted red.  Flowers are around 10 cm in size with a pouch about 5 cm.

We have found them in several locations growing in large clumps, with as many as 50 flowers in the clump and scattered through the woods by the hundreds or thousands.  We have never seen more than two flowers on one stem, though they are reputed to carry as many as four.  The plants vary in size up to 60 cm and have four or five pleated leaves that make the plant recognizable even when without flowers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Northern Small Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)

The Small Northern Yellow Lady's Slipper is Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin, very similar to the Large Yellow Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens, and in many cases very difficult to distinguish from that variety.

Generally its flowers are smaller, 2-3 cm, are more richly colored and have a much stronger scent that the other variety, but the main difference is that the lower sheathing bract is hairless or nearly so.  The two varieties intergrade, however.

The plants are usually about 30 cm tall and, like variety pubescens, prefer moist areas along streams and lakes with some protection provided by open woodlands and thickets.  Both varieties are very rare in the state of Washington.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mountain Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium montanum)

The Mountain Lady's Slipper is, in my humble opinion, the most elegant of the our native slippers.  The contrast between its white pouch and purplish brown sepals and petals makes quite an impression, though its colors can make it difficult to spot in the dappled sunlight in which it grows.

This is another western native, found along the west coast from Alaska to California and eastward only as far as Alberta and Wyoming.  We have found it in several locations in Washington and in one location in British Columbia, a location that is in danger of being bulldozed for roadwork.

The plant can be quite small or quite large.  We have seen them as small as 15 cm, seedlings perhaps, and as tall as 60 cm.  The flowers, measured from the tips of the petals are about 12 cm across and about the same from the top of dorsal sepal to the bottom of the lateral sepal.

The literature says that each plant can have up to four flowers, but two is the most we have seen on any plant.  We have not found them often, but when found they are often growing in profusion and a search will usually turn up more plants nearby.

They seem to prefer well-drained hillsides and the dappled shade of small trees and brush, making them somewhat hard to photograph.  In one location we have found them on a very steep slope and in another with the brush so close that it was difficult to take pictures.

There is a form Cypripedium montanum fma. welchii which has a crimson border around the opening of the pouch.  This form we have found and it seems quite common, though earlier blooming than the ordinary form.  An albino form can be found as well which has no purple coloring at all. There is also a hybrid of this species and Cypripedium parviflorum, the Yellow Lady's Slipper, but that is a separate post.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Brownie Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium fasciculatum)

The Brownie Lady's Slipper, also known as the Clustered Lady's Slipper, is the smallest, the rarest and the least showy of our native Lady's Slippers.  It is very much a western plant, found in only eight states, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado and only in the northernmost parts of Utah, Colorado and California.

The plant grows to about 20 cm tall and both leaves and stems are covered with short hairs.  There are two rather large leaves, about 12 cm long, near the middle of the stem.  The flowers, one to four in number (usually three on the plants we've seen), are held in a tight cluster on a stem that curls over under the weight of the flowers.

Cypripedium fasciculatum fma. purpureum

The individual flowers are about 2 cm in size and vary in color from green to a very dark brownish-purple, sometimes described as mahogany.  The green and purple flowers are considered separate forms by some, but the flowers cover a spectrum of color between these two extremes and are almost always found growing together..

The plant grows in dry woodlands and is often hard to spot among the surrounding plants, even when in flower, which may also be part of the reason why it is considered to be rare.  It blooms in the late spring, in our area about the same time as the Oregon Anemone and the Arrowleaf Balsamroot.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

California Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium californicum)

We are back today (July 13th) from a four-day trip to Oregon and northern California.  We went to see the Oregon coast and the California Redwoods (that word should always be capitalized!), but also went orchid hunting in the Siskyous of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California.  It was a profitable trip, which gave us opportunity to see seven native orchids, two of them new for us, including the subject of this post.

The California Lady's Slipper reaches the northern limit of its distribution in the Siskyous, and is found further south only in a very small area of northern California.  It is a tall plant, to 130 cm (four feet), though the plants we saw were all shorter, and each stem can carry around twenty flowers, though, again, what we saw had fewer flowers, usually around six to ten per plant with more in only a couple of cases.

The flowers are small, 10 cm, and are yellow-orange to yellowish-green, to clear green and bronze with a white pouch.  All the flowers we saw except on one plant had pink markings at the opening of the lip.  The one stem that was an exception lacked the pink color completely.  The flowers alternate with the leaves and were in prime condition with only the very lowest flowers on the plants showing signs of age and starting to close.

One huge bonus was that these plants which grow only in serpentine areas were found with hundreds of the Few-flowered Rein Orchis, Platanthera sparsiflora, another new species for us, and with the Cobra Lily, Darlingtonia californicum, an amazing insectivorous plant, and also a lover of wet serpentine areas.  The plants we saw were found on a forest service road in California at a high altitude - those at lower altitudes were already finished.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Early Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida)

The Early Coralroot is the most widespread of all the Coralroots.  It is also the most insignificant in appearance.  It is found not only from Alaska east across Canada and in the northern and western United States, but is very common in Europe and Asia.  It is usually smaller than the other Coralroots (to 25 cm in height), fewer flowered (5-10 flowers on the plants we have seen),and in color a very plain green and white.

The flowers themselves are slightly less than 1 cm in size, and though they can be spotted purple, they are so small that one has to look closely to see the purple spotting.  Like the other Coralroots, they grow in rather shady forests, though in our experience in slightly damper locations than the others.  As the name suggests, they bloom early, often with the Trilliums and other early wildflowers, but later at high elevations.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Western Coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana)

The Western Coralroot is certainly aptly named since it is found only in the far west of the United States and Canada, primarily along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California and east only as far as Montana and Wyoming.

In our experience this is the most widespread of all the Coralroots, growing from sea level to much higher elevations and often found in profusion where it is growing.  We have seen it by the thousands in several locations.

It generally grows in rather dark forests where little else is growing on the forest floor and amid a litter of dead branches and decaying trunks.  Like all Coralroots it is leafless and saprophytic or more accurately, mycotrophic, depending on a fungus for its nourishment.

The usual color form has purplish stems and flowers that are bird-like in form.  The stems are generally about 45 cm tall and carry up to 35 flowers.  The lips vary from a solid purple to a purple and white that appears to be striped.

There are two named color forms, forma albolabia, which has no purple color at all, and forma pallida, which has very pale pink stems but retains some of the purple color.  This latter color form is quite common, but stands out on the forest floor even more dramatically than the normally colored form.

C. mertensiana fma. albolabia

C. mertensiana fma. pallida (below also)

In fact there are found so many color variations, that with the exception of the albolabia form, none of them really deserves to be called a form.  The stems vary from a very dark reddish purple to pale lavender, from off white to tan to a yellowish color.  The lips vary from nearly solid red-purple to lips that have varying amounts of white, and from striped to spotted.  The tepals from pale yellowish white through lavender and tan to a very deep red-purple and all of these in every possible combination.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata var. striata)

The striped Coralroot has the largest flowers and is the most beautiful of all the Coralroots.  There is a less showy variety, Vreeland's Striped Coralroot, Corallorhiza striata var. vreelandii, found in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, but it is very rare even in those states.

The showier variety, shown here, is found across Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland and as far south in the United States as California, Texas and New York.  The flowers are about 1.5 cm in size, the plants about 30 cm tall and they can have as many as 30 flowers per spike.

Like all the other Coralroots, this species is leafless and saprophytic, living off decaying matter in the soil and obtaining nourishment through a fungus.  There are several color forms, both a tan form and a yellowish form, but these are also quite rare.

Note (nearly two years later): we finally had opportunity to see variety vreelandii at two locations in the Columbia River Gorge, at Drano Lake and Dog Mountain though we only found a few at each location.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ozette Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata var. ozettensis)

The Ozette Coralroot is considered to be a variety of the Spotted Coralroot, the species posted in the previous entry.  It is so different from the Spotted Coralroot, however, and so rare, that I'm posting this description separately.

This rare orchid was discovered in 1967 and first described in 2001 by Mr. Ed Tisch of Port Angeles, Washington.  It was found in one location in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula in the coastal forests of that county.  It was thought, at the time of its discovery, to be confined to that one county, but has since been discovered in several locations across the water on Whidbey Island.  It was discovered there in 2006 by a young lady named Chelsea Kieffer while studying at the Pacific Rim campus of the Au Sable Institute on that island.  She found it in the woods on the property of the Institute.  That is where we've seen it.

This plant is from eight inches to two feet tall and has bright reddish-purple stems.  The plants we've seen had from six to twenty-six flowers that completely lacked the spotting of the other two varieties, the Western Coralroot and the Western Spotted Coralroot.  The flowers were the same color as the stem on the exterior, but opened a greenish color on the inside with green petals
lightly striped in red-purple, a white lip, and a yellow column.

As with all the other Coralroots, this plant is leafless, sending up its flowering stems in June and July, and leaving no trace of itself except dead spikes when finished.  It is thought to be saprophytic, getting its nourishment not through photosynthesis, but from the roots of other plants and by means of a soil fungus.  Its root looks like a piece of coral, hence its name. This unique plant was named after the Ozette Indians who were the original occupants of the land on which it was first found.  I am not a taxonomist and have to trust the judgment of those who know better than I, but this plant looks so different from the other Western Coralroots, that it is hard to believe they are not entirely different species.   It is considered “of special concern” by the USDA.

Interesting facts:
(1) All the colonies discovered in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula were found at about 300 meters from the ocean.
(2) In his book, Paul Martin Brown says that this variety is always found in pure colonies, but the plants on Whidbey Island were not in such colonies.  They were growing among and with other plants of the Western Spotted Coralroot.

Note: much of this article has been published by the American Orchid Society on its web page at: Ozette Coralroot.