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.