Monday, June 25, 2012

Coralroots Everywhere at Dog Mountain

June 12th we spent in the Columbia River Gorge hunting for native orchids, for two especially, both of which we found.  We visited three places there.  We went to Catherine Creek first of all to check on a rare (for Washington state) species of Spiranthes or Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes porrifolia).  We found it but it was a long way from blooming.  We also visited a familiar site looking for Phantom Orchids (Cephalanthera austiniae) which we found in abundance along with several other of the orchids described in this post.

We spent a fair amount of time at both sites, and took a lot of of photos, but then had to decide what we would do for the rest of the day.  The weather was dark with occasional rain showers but we finally decided to go on and hike at Dog Mountain, another place we had never visited before, but where we hoped to find more Phantom Orchids.  Wondering if we had made the wrong decision, we started up the rather steep trail and soon found that we had made the right decision.  There were orchids everywhere!

There were Phantom Orchids growing everywhere.  The species is rather rare, but certainly was not rare at this location.  We must have seen several thousand of them.  And, though, we had seen them earlier in the day, it was exciting to see them again and in such abundance.  They are always a pleasure to find with their rather weird bone-white leafless stems and flowers appearing out of nowhere.  Previously we had always found them in darker forests, but here they were growing in brighter locations.

Cephalanthera austiniae

That was not all we found, however.  We also found two different species of Coralroots, two varieties of each species, and several different color forms of each.  We found the Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata var. maculata) and its local variety, the Western Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis), these two in three strikingly different color forms, var. maculata fma. flavida (yellow-stemmed), var. occidentalis fma. intermedia (brown-stemmed) and var. occidentalis fma. punicea (red-stemmed).

Corallorhiza maculata var. maculata fma. flavida

Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis fma. intermedia

Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis fma. punicea

We also found the Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata var. striata) in two color forms, the ordinary red-purple form, and a paler, almost pink form.  In addition we found the other rare variety of this species, Vreeland's Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata var. vreelandii).  Everywhere we looked there were Coralroots and every one seemed to be different.  The weather was poor (it began to rain hard when we got back to the car), but it was an amazing experience and is a place we will certainly have to visit again.

Corallorhiza striata var. striata fma. fulva and ordinary form

Corallorhiza striata var. vreelandii

Two of these Coralroots were new for us, the yellow-stemmed form of the Western Spotted Coralroot and the Vreeland's Striped Coralroot.  We saw them at two different locations, but both were abundant at Dog Mountain.  Both had been on my "must-see" list for quite some time, and finding both was a big "extra for the day, and well worth suffering through some inclement weather and some long hours of driving (the Columbia Gorge is a five to six hour drive for us) and since we had come from Spokane we had a lot of hours on the road.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vreeland's Striped Coralroot - Finally

We finally found this rare variety of the Striped Coralroot (rare at least in Washington), Corallorhiza striata var. vreelandii.  In plant size and number of flowers it is little different from the ordinary Striped Coralroot, which is shown below, but in flower size, shape and color it is immediately evident that these are very different.  The flowers are considerably smaller, around .5 to .75 cm, and instead of pink flowers with bold reddish-purple stripes these flowers are pale yellow to off white in color with much fainter striping.

We found one lone spike of this variety at a location near Drano Lake in the Columbia Gorge, though there may have been other plants that were already finished flowering.  The ordinary variety certainly were all finished.  We found more of them, though still not many, at Dog Mountain when we hiked the trail there.  The flowers at Drano Lake were yellow, but the flowers at Dog Mountain were grayish-white.  In both cases they were growing in proximity to the ordinary variety and to the Western Spotted Coralroot.

These were incredibly hard to photograph at Drano Lake.  It was a dull day, we were in a rather dark woods, and a breeze was blowing, making it difficult to get pictures that were in focus, much less pictures that any depth of field.  Most of my pictures from that area were discarded, but we managed to get enough to have a record of this lovely native orchid which is found only in the Western United States.  We had a somewhat easier time at Dog Mountain since the day had brightened a bit and the plants were more exposed.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Phantom Orchids in the Columbia River Gorge

June 12th, after visiting our son in the Spokane area, we drove through the night to the Columbia River Gorge and spent the day visiting several sites there, looking for native orchids and enjoying the spectacular scenery of the gorge.  We visited an area near Drano Lake on the Washington side of the gorge belonging to the Forest Service and found three orchids there, including the Phantom Orchids that are the subject of this post.  We thought we had hit the jackpot since there were several hundred Phantom Orchids in bloom there.  After spending some time there we went on to Dog Mountain, still on the Washington side, and even though the weather was not very good, hiked the Dog Mountain Trail there and found Phantom Orchids everywhere.

The Phantom Orchid, Cephalanthera austiniae, is one of our rarer orchids, though we saw plenty of them at these locations.  It is also unique in several ways.  Cephalanthera is primarily a European and Asian genus with only this species in North America.  In the genus this is the only species that is saprophytic (living off decaying material in the soil) and lacking in color (most species are pink to purple in color), and it is the only North American species that is always white.  There are white forms of several other native orchids, but these plants are always a stark white that makes them stand out like phantoms on the dark forests floors where they grow.  Their lack of color also means, of course, that they are without chlorophyll.

Western Coralroots at Hoypus Hill

The same day we visited the Au Sable Institute for a second time this season (June 7th) we also visited Hoypus Hill for a second time, looking for the Western Coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana) there.  We had found it on our first visit, but it was not in bloom.  This time it was in bloom everywhere.

We found several color varieties, distinguished especially by the color of the stem, though the flowers also vary somewhat in color.  The ordinary variety has stems that vary from a very dark to a lighter reddish purple, but there is a lighter variety (forma pallida) that has stems that are almost white.

We also found one plant of a pale yellow-stemmed variety.  There is no name I know of for this form, but it was very distinctive, though it only had a couple of flowers still blooming.  Interestingly, these color forms grow among each other and apparently interbreed since there are many intermediate shades.

These plants are monotropic and achlorphyllous, that is, they are without chlorophyll and live off decaying material in the soil.  They are often found, therefore, on dark forest floors where little else grows, something I've tried to convey in my photos.

For us that meant that photography was very difficult.  The combination of low light and a slight breeze made it almost impossible to get any depth of field in our pictures and meant, too, that many of the pictures we took were out of focus.  As is often the case, my wife did better than I did under these trying circumstances.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Two Coralroots at the Au Sable Institute

On June 7th we made a second trip to Whidbey Island and to the Au Sable Institute near Coupeville.  We went to see the Ozette Coralroots (Corallorhiza maculata var. ozettensis) in bloom and found them just starting to bloom, but also found the Spotted Coralroots (Corallorhiza maculata var. maculata) in full bloom.  It was a dark and rainy day and there was a wind blowing as well, so photography was incredibly difficult, but we managed to get good pictures of both species.

The Ozette Coralroot is considered a variety of the Spotted Coralroot though it looks very different and is entirely without spots.  It was first described in 2001 from collections made on the Olympic Peninsula and has been found since in several locations on Whidbey Island and more recently on Vancouver Island and on mainland British Columbia.  It is not endemic to Washington, therefore, as first thought, nor is it as rare as it first appeared to be.  Rare or not, it is very beautiful.

The Spotted Coralroot is found across the United States and Canada and is the least spectacular of all the Coralroots in our area and also, with the similar Western Spotted Coralroot, the most common.  These were blooming in impressive clumps in the woods of the Au Sable Institute and in a few cases they were in the same area as the Ozette Coralroots.  We found them again at Cornet Bay and Hoypus Hill and in Washington Park, but did not take more pictures.

For the first time, as a result of this trip, I have gotten clear in my mind the difference between the Spotted and Western Spotted Coralroots.  I had known that there was a difference in the shape of the lip, the Western Spotted having a lip whose midlobe has rounded sides, in contrast to the Spotted, with its straight sides, but  it was still hard at times to differentiate the two varieties.  This trip showed me that there are other differences as well.

We had made an earlier trip by several weeks to the Au Sable Institute and found the Western Spotted Coralroots blooming.  They were all finished this time, but the ordinary Spotted were in full bloom.  It was evident that the flowers of the latter variety are usually more cupped than the other.  Not just the lip but the shape of the flowers and the bloom times distinguish them, therefore, though unless one sees both varieties in the same location it can still be difficult to tell them apart.