Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Candles and Ladies' Tresses at Lake Elizabeth

Lake Elizabeth is a small alpine lake on the east side of the North Cascades near Skykomish, Washington.  It can be reached by a Forest Service road, but until this year, some large sections of the road were washed out and visiting the lake required a 14 mile hike.  In spite of that we had visited the lake several times, including one visit with the Washington Native Orchid Society.  This year, however, the road was finally repaired and we were able to drive to the lake, with the result that we visited it three times, a side trip on the way to eastern Washington.

On the trip described here we were looking for a tiny and inconspicuous, but rare native orchid known as Chamisso's Orchid (Platanthera chorisiana) which grows in the sedge mat on the far side of the lake.  We had attempted on other occasions to find this rarity, but unsuccessfully.  This time we found it, but it was nearly finished blooming with the leaves already yellowing and I did not bother to take pictures.  We will have to go again next summer and catch it in bloom.  The picture below, therefore, was taken on another trip to Vancouver Island.

We did find a couple of other orchids blooming on this visit, two varieties of Platanthera dilatata, the Sierra Rein Orchid, and the Tall White Northern Bog Orchis, along with the Hooded Ladies' Tresses, Spiranthes romanzoffiana.  All were blooming in abundance in the same area as Chamisso's Orchid, though the Spiranthes, we were told by a friend, had not been very abundant the previous year.  Unlike the tiny Platanthera, which has very tiny green flowers, these have white flowers and are easy to find.

The Sierra Rein Orchid and the Tall White Northern Bog Orchis, Platanthera dilatata var. leucostachys, and var. dilatata, are two of three varieties of Platanthera dilatata, all three of them often referred to as Bog Candles.  These three varieties are distinguished by the length of the spur, in var. dilatata about the length of the lip and in var. leucostachys clearly longer than the lip.  We have not found the long-spurred variety as often as the others and were delighted to find it in this location.  All three varieties are sweetly scented.

variety dilatata

variety leucostachys

The Hooded Ladies' Tresses is quite common in our area and we've found it in a number of new locations this summer.  Its braided appearance, with the small cream-colored flowers usually spiraling around the flower spike is also a welcome find in spite of its broad range and the fact that it is so common.  In most cases here we found it growing as single plants but there were also a couple of nice clumps growing on small hump of land near some draining water.  Like the Bog Orchid it prefers wetter areas.

In addition I found a small plant that I am not even sure is an orchid, since the flowers were not yet open.  If it is an orchid, the only thing it can be is Coeloglossum viride, the Bracted Green Orchis, but I am puzzled by the tiny size of the plant, the few flowers and the location in which I found it.

Coeloglossum viride has two varieties, var. virescens, the Long-bracted Green Orchis, or Long-bracted Frog Orchid, and which is rare in Washington and only reported from one county.  It is rather robust plant, up to 80 cm tall, with numerous flowers and fairly thin leaves.

This plant was tiny, 8 cm tall, with only a few flowers and appears to me to be var. viride, Northern Bracted Green Orchis, or Northern Frog Orchid.  The difficulty with this identification is that the smaller variety has never been reported from Washington State, and is confined to Alaska and the far north.

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