Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Platanthera dilatata in the Canadian Rockies

One of the joys of traveling in the Canadian Rockies from mid-June to mid-July is seeing the Bog Candles, so very aptly named, in every wet location along the highway.  Driving the Yellowhead Highway we began to see them along the road north of Blue River and saw them again along the road from Tete Jaune Cache all the way to Jasper National Park.

They are often growing by the hundreds and even thousands in open boggy areas and their white flower spikes stand out like candles amid the surrounding vegetation.  When one stops to examine them more closely their sweet fragrance is almost overwhelming.  They certainly are one of the attractions of  what is often a long and tiring drive.

We found two varieties on this trip, the short-spurred Platanthera dilatata var. albiflora (below), and the mid-length spurred var. dilatata, the two varieties often growing and blooming together.  The latter is considered to be more common but we found both varieties in abundance.  Neither seemed to be more common than the other, though we made no counts.

Platanthera obtusata along the Berg Lake Trail

Hiking the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia on Monday, July 11, this was one of the native orchid species I was especially looking for.  I had wanted to get better photos than those I had in my files and was delighted to find them everywhere.

There were a few plants along the lower end of the trail, but they were everywhere in the woods on the east side of Kinney Lake, often single plants but sometimes in large clumps.  They are immediately recognizable by the single, ground-hugging, glossy leaf and the distinctive white and green flowers.

These are the larger flowered sub-species obtusata.  There is a few-flowered, smaller sub-species that grows only in Alaska.  This subspecies grows in woodland areas, usually in mossy, well-drained locations along the trails and even on top of rocks and old logs.

I've described them in more detail in a previous post:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Platanthera huronensis in the Canadian Rockies

Another orchid we found growing with the Bog Candles and Alaskan Piperias along the Yellowhead Highway was the very common and not very exciting Green Bog Orchis, Platanthera huronensis.  In places it was more abundant than the Bog Candles and we even found plants that appeared to be hybrids of this and the Bog Candles.

The flowers on all the plants we saw were very similar, a whitish green with  the sepals and petals forming a kind of hood over the lip.  The plants ranged in size from a 10-15 cm tall to nearly 60 cm.  The flowers were abundant especially on the taller plants, but did not stand out like the white flowers of the Bog Candles.  We took plenty of pictures, however.

Platanthera aquilonis in the Canadian Rockies

Another green-flowered Platanthera, not as common as Platanthera huronensis and slightly more attractive than that species is Platanthera aquilonis, the Northern Green Bog Orchis.  Flowers and plants are very similar, however, and I always have difficulty telling the green-flowered Platantheras apart, though this has also to do with the fact that there are intermediate forms and natural hybrids between the species.  In any case, these are the plants and flowers that I've identified as Platanthera aquilonis.

I've identified these as that species on the basis of the yellowish lip which is more or less lanceolate in shape (lance-head like), and on the basis of the shape of the spur which is pretty much cylindrical.  These characteristics can be seen in the photos which were taken along the Maligne Lake Road in Jasper National Park, Alberta.  These were found growing with Coeloglossum viride and with Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) in rather wet areas.

Platanthera transversa at Washington Park

On a previous outing to Washington Park in the spring we had seen the glossy leaves of a Platanthera growing along the trails.  It was tentatively identified at that time as Platanthera ephemerantha (Slender White Piperia).  I made a mental note of the locations and determined that I would go back later in the summer to see the plants in flower.

I finally made the trip on July 18th and found the plants but discovered that they were not Platanthera ephemerantha, but Platanthera transversa, the Flat-spurred Piperia, a species I had not seen before.  The leaves were gone now, as is common with the Piperias, but there were many more plants than I remembered, all in flower.

It was quite a windy day, but I was able to get some decent photos both of the plants and of their habitat.  They were growing in rather bright, dry, but mossy areas with a light tree cover and their white and green flowers made then very visible, though their spikes were less than a foot tall, and the flowers quite tiny.

Neottia cordata on the Berg Lake Trail

Another tiny orchid, easy to miss, but blooming everywhere along the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park is Neottia cordata, the Heart-leaved Twayblade.  Its flowers are tiny but unique with their forked lip and are easily identifiable by that feature as well.

There are two varieties of this orchid, and the variety which we saw here is almost certainly variety nephrophylla.  The whole nomenclature thing is a little confusing since both varieties have both a green and a red form, both of which we saw on this hike along one of our favorite trails.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Platanthera chorisiana on Vancouver Island

On July 21, four of us, Tom Nelson, a native orchid enthusiast from New York, Dr. Hans Roemer, a friend of Dr. Roemer I know only as Ryan, and myself, went to a high altitude bog on Vancouver Island looking for a very tiny and rare native orchid, Chamisso's Orchid or Platanthera chorisiana.  The trip had been arranged by Tom, who was on a cross-country trek in search of native orchids

Tom had contacted Dr. Roemer, knowing that he had found this rare orchid on Vancouver Island some years previously, and Dr. Roemer not only agreed to take us out, but went out a few weeks prior to our outing to make sure the orchids were there.  He is a botanist and conservationist with the BC government and an endless source of knowledge of the ecology and plants of BC.

I took the ferry across to Vancouver Island the evening before our trek and drove the last little distance the following morning to meet the others in downtown Victoria.  Dr. Roemer drove us several hours west of Victoria and west of the town of Sooke and took us up a logging road to the a bog at about 2000 feet of elevation (700 meters), where we would be hiking.

While he and Tom were getting boots on and gear together, Ryan and I began exploring the bog right at the roadside and Ryan immediately found several of the plants we were looking for mixed with two other orchid species, Platanthera dilatata var. dilatata (the Bog Candle) and Platanthera stricta (the Slender Bog Orchis).  These were photographed before we continued our hike.

Under Dr. Roemer's leadership we found our way through several miles of bog, that all looked much the same, but with which he was obviously familiar.  Everywhere we wen there was evidence of bears, scat, some if it very fresh, and Skunk Cabbage that had been dug up and its roots eaten, but we saw no actual bears, though we kept a close watch for them, at least I did.

At the end of the trek we found an area around a stream where Dr. Roemer had previously discovered Chamisso's Orchid, and the location that he had pinpointed on his GPS.  There we found around a dozen of the plants, usually just single plants, often obscured by the surrounding vegetation and scattered over quite a wide area, but usually on slightly drier ground and in rather protected areas.

We probably could have found other plants, but we had opportunity to take as many photos as we wanted, and when finished made our way back, stopping on a low hill for lunch along the way.  Again, under Dr. Roemer's guidance we made our way back without incident, though I would have been completely and forever lost on my own.

Platanthera stricta along the North Cascades Highway

 On Monday, July 25th we traveled the North Cascades Highway through North Cascades National Park by way of bringin our son back to the Spokane area.  We made a very slow trip through the mountains stopping often for pictures, but only saw two orchids, Platanthera dilatata var. dilatata, the Bog Candle, and Platanthera stricta, the Slender Bog Orchis.

The later species seemed to be everywhere from above Ross Dam down to the bottom of the pass on the east side of the mountains.  It is distinguished by its narrow straight lip (hence the name stricta), and it inflated spur.  It is not the most striking species, but when found in abundance its tall straight spikes of small flowers are very noticeable.  These are some of the pictures we took.

Platanthera elegans on Vancouver Island

On July 21st I went with several others under the able leadership of Dr. Hans Roemer to a high altitude bog on Vancouver Island to find Chamisso's Orchid (Platanthera chorisiana), a tiny rare species of Bog Orchid. After slogging through miles of bog we found what we were looking for.

On the way home we stopped at a park on the coast, Witty's Lagoon Regional Park to look for Platanthera elegans, the Elegant Piperia.  We found it there growing in the woods along the water, but many of the plants were deformed, probably by a late frost, according to Dr. Roemer.

Leaving the park we also visited Dr. Roemer's home and found the same orchid growing on property.  Again, the orchid was growing in the woods in a rather dry location.  It was growing with another Platanthera, the Flat-spurred, Platanthera transversa, but I did not get pictures of that species.