Saturday, July 28, 2012

White Bog Orchis and Alaskan Piperia on the Old Blewett Road

Our last stop on our Oregon and California trip was in Washington.  We followed Highway 97 through much of Oregon, across the Columbia River into Washington, through the Yakima Valley, across Umtanum and Manastash Ridges back into the Cascades.

We left the highway near Swauk and followed the Old Blewett Road for ten miles as it wound through the mountains west of the highway. The road is not maintained and we had to avoid fallen rocks and bushes growing out over the road, but the drive was ten miles of delight.

We were looking for a stand of Mountain Lady's Slippers which we did not find.  They were probably finished blooming by the time we looked for them, but we did find two other orchids, the Tall White Northern Bog Orchis, Platanthera dilatata var. dilatata, and the Alaskan Piperia, Piperia unalascensis.

We found the former in a wet area along and near the top of the road and the later further down on some sandy banks. Perhaps attracted by their scent there were several different kinds of butterflies feeding on Bog Orchids, including a Ti9ger Swallowtail and several smaller species.

Platanthera dilatata var. dilatata is notable for its beautiful white flowers and lovely fragrance and is always a delight to find though it is common in our area during midsummer. It is distinguished from its two other varieties by the length of the spur, in this case, somewhat longer than the lip.

The Alaskan Piperias are less showy than the Bog Orchids and are also common though we do not find them so often in our area. Their small flowers are green and though they have many flowers per spike are showy only when found in large clumps. We found only single spikes scattered on the hillsides.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stream Orchids and Western Ladies' Tresses along the Rogue River

Only July 11 we spent most of the day exploring the Knopki Creek Road in the California Siskiyous, leaving little time for other sites we had hoped to explore.  We did however manage to visit one other easily accesible site along the Rouge River in Oregon, where we had been told we could find the Stream Orchid, Epipactis gigantea, growing.

We were used to finding this orchid growing so close to water that it was almost impossible to photograph without getting wet, but in this case the plants, quickly found, were well back from the edge of the river, growing among the rocks and in the sand just at the edge of the vegetation on the riverbank and fairly well shaded by the other plants.

This plant is supposed to grow as tall as 100 cm, though we have never seen it that large.  Here the plants we found were less than 30 cm tall.  The leaves are pleated and the flowers are around 3 cm in size, very beautiful and very showy.  There can be up to twenty-five flowers per spike, though here there were on five or six per spike.

Just before we finished I noticed a small bee that had been hanging around the flowers was now perched on the anther cap of one of the flwoers and as I watched began to scratch at the cap and eventually pulled itfar enough up that he was able to crawl underneath.  He spent quite a bit of time digging around there and appeared to have some pollen attached to him.

We had been told about the Epipactis, but to our delight we found quite a number of spikes of Western Ladies' Tresses, Spiranthes porrifolia, growing with and among the Epipactis.  This orchid, though not uncommon elsewhere is found in only one place in Washington State and is not at all common in Oregon and even where common is lovely indeed.

This species is usually 30-40 cm tall  but here was only 15-20 cm.  The flowers are tubular, creamy white and usually grow in damp areas with good drainage.  The individual flowers are only 1 cm in size but each spike holds up to 50 or 60 of the flowers.  Like all the Spiranthes, the flower spikes appear to be "braided," giving rise to the name "Ladies' Tresses."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Three Native Orchids in the Northern California Siskiyous

July 9-12 was our big trip for the summer; down along the Oregon coast, into northern California to see the Redwoods and a day in the Siskiyou Mountains of northern California and southern Oregon for some orchid hunting, though we were also looking for Cobra Lilies and other wildflowers that we had not seen before.

The Siskiyous are part of the Klamath Mountains and are a  wonderful area with a unique flora that is due to its serpentine outcrops and soils rich in magnesium, nickel and chromium.  We spent a day in them and most of the day exploring the Knopki Creek Road in northern California looking for orchids there.

We drove nearly 40 miles on forest service roads, many of them very rough, but found all that we were looking for and more, including two orchid species that we had not seen before, one the strikingly beautiful California Lady's Slipper and the other the rather prosaic Few-flowered Rein Orchis.

These two orchids are often found in serpentine areas, the Lady's Slipper exclusively in such areas, and are often associated with the Cobra Lily, a carnivorous plant.  We found all three growing together in several different places and spent hours photographing them, but they were not all we found.

Early on in our explorations we found a few Phantom Orchids, Cephalanthera austiniae, on a bank with some beautiful pink lilies that we were not able to identify.  These orchid are rather uncommon, but we seem to have seen them everywhere this summer.  They are so unusual they are always good to see.

The California Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium californicum, is found only in serpentine areas and reaches the northern limits of its range in the Siskiyous.  It has small flowers but makes up for that by producing an abundance of blooms, as many as twenty per spike, the most of any native Lady's Slipper.

The plants grow to 120 cm tall, but those we saw were shorter, none more than about 75 cm.  The flowers themselves are 10 cm, variable in color from yellowish green through green and bronze, most of them with pink markings at the opening of the lip, a few without any markings.

The Few-flowered Rein Orchis, Platanthera sparsiflora, was always found growing with them, though we also found it growing by itself in the dampest areas and often in large clumps.  It grows to 75 cm, with 2 cm flowers, green and distinctive in shape with many per spike in spite of its name.

 The green flowered Platantheras can be difficult to identify but this should not be.  Its flowers are hooded, the dorsal sepal and petals forming the hood, with the long lip and spur point down beneath the hood and the rest of the flower folded back forming a bearded, cowled monk's head.

It was nice to see two new orchids and one old friend, and we hope to revisit the area another time and do some more orchid hunting in this amazing and wonderful area.  In fact, we spent so much time in this one area that we had little time left for exploring in other areas both in California and Oregon.