05 September 2009

Lindsay and Scott's Orchid Farm

As I stated in my July 4, 2009 post on this blog, when Lindsay and I bought our property 2 1/2 years ago, we didn't buy it for its floristic diversity. Regardless, from the time we purchased our approximately 11 acres, I have had the desire to sample transects across our land so that I can track changes to the plant community over time. We have plans to plant trees to restore the mesic forest that was likely present here at the time of European settlement, and it will be interesting to see how the understory changes as the trees mature. This weekend is my first open weekend in quite some time, so today I decided to begin my pre-planting sampling.

This is what most of our property currently looks like. Lots of Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima). Underneath the goldenrod, Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is abundant and Hungarian Brome (Bromus inermis) is common, but there are several other species that are consistently showing up in my sampling quadrats: Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), White Avens (Geum canadense), Rough Avens (Geum laciniatum var. trichocarpum), Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), Panicled Aster (Aster simplex), and others.

At the far west end of our property, trees such as American Elm (Ulmus americana) and Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) have begun to recolonize the land. This portion of our property currently looks like this...

Quadrat sampling is unparalleled in terms of methodology for compiling a complete plant inventory for a site. Sure, a reasonably complete site inventory can be conducted by reconnaissance surveys, but smaller species, seedlings, and those underneath the dense growth of herbaceous vegetation can easily be missed. When sampling quadrats, however, one is on their hands and knees, wading through taller vegetation to ensure that no species within a given quadrat goes unrecorded.

That's how I discovered the plant pictured above this afternoon. This is Purple Twayblade (Liparis liliifolia), the second orchid species that we've found on our property (the first was Platanthera lacera). So far, I've located two populations of Purple Twayblade on our property; one of simply a single plant, which I found in a quadrat under lush growth of herbaceous species, and one of 20+ plants in an area being colonized by trees. The two photos below show flowering Purple Twayblade in Griffith, Indiana on June 7, 2005.

Before we bought our property, if someone had told me that there was an orchid on the land, this is the one I would have guessed first, as it is able to withstand and often thrive in disturbed soils. Purple Twayblade grows in dry to moist soils in both forests and old-fields. According to Mike Homoya's Orchids of Indiana, this species is most commonly found in well-drained, mildly acidic soils supporting young regrowth forest on land previously pastured or cropped. I have observed Purple Twayblade on several occasions in these exact conditions.

While finding Purple Twayblade on our property isn't necessarily significant, it is still exciting to know that we have two species of orchids on our land, which was used as a hog farm not that long ago, and which I expected to be nothing but Tall Goldenrod and pasture grasses. It also adds another piece to the puzzle as we try to understand the intricacies of the land and what it was prior to settlement.


Justin Thomas said...

I am so very excited that you are sampling your land. I want to do the same here but it is the height of seed tick season and I get enough of those bastards durning my workdays. I see Liparis liliifolia in young clear cuts and road cuts throughout the Ozarks. Your note solidifies my concept of it being a pioneer orchid. Which is conceptually difficult given the mystique of rarity surrounding orchids in general. I can't wait to see the results of your research.

Scott said...

I've been surprised lately that our American Dog Ticks seem nonexistant. I thought I remembered them being horrible all summer last year, but I haven't seen a single one (on Bootypants, either) in several weeks. As you saw in the first photo, there is a LOT of Tall Goldenrod, so the bees were pretty abundant while I was doing my sampling, but I was able to avoid being stung... I think most of them were honeybees. I hope you are able to sample your property soon.

There are several "pioneer" orchids, in my opinion, though Liparis liliifolia is probably the most opportunistic of these. Also included in that group could be Spiranthes cernua, Spiranthes lucida (shows up for a few years after excavation in sandy/gravelly wet soils and then disappears), Goodyera pubescens (maybe - I see it in pine plantations without much competition), and Platanthera lacera.

I hope to enter my data from sampling our property soon. It probably won't show much; I know that Solidago altissima is the most abundant species, likely followed by Poa pratensis and Toxicodendron radicans. What could be interesting is to see how the composition changes over time, but I don't plan to sample it again for many years.

Anonymous said...

A question/comment on Justin's comment on orchids:rarity/disturbance. I thought I learned that orchids or rather at least some orchids are plants of disturbance..for example arising in buffalo wallow or similiar disturbed areas. Does that fit with what you all know? Mary

Scott said...

Hi Mary. Yes, that fits with my understanding, at least for some orchids, especially those that grow in open conditions (fens, bogs, wet sand flats, prairies, etc.). This makes sense, as all of these communities would transition into forest eventually without some form of disturbance (fire, flooding, or scraping, for example). Buffalo wallows constitute soil disturbance on a smaller scale.

Justin Thomas said...

Which orchids occur in buffalo wallows?

It is my contention that besides Platanthera lacera and the two species of Liparis, the vast majority of orchids worldwide are species with very narrow ecological niches that rarely include disturbance. Also, even the species above seem to require a specific form of disturbance. I could be wrong. How about some examples to the contrary.

Scott said...


I don't have information on any specific orchids that occur in buffalo wallows, but I have heard (from you, even, I think) that scraping the soil/removing topsoil may mimic an historic disturbance such as large mammal wallows or footprints.

If you do a Google search for "orchid disturbance" (but not in quotes), many articles/books/websites result discussing the reliance of several species of orchids worldwide on different forms of disturbance. Maybe we are talking about different types of disturbance here. However, I've seen species such as Pogonia ophioglossoides, Calopogon tuberosus, Platanthera clavellata, and Spiranthes ovalis (in addition to some of the species discussed above) show up in scraped/excavated areas. In Orchids of Indiana, Homoya has a section entitled "Effects of Disturbance" in which he states, "in fact, most species appear to require disturbance at some point in their life cycle, and some, particularly the ladies'-tresses, would be quite rare or absent without it." One of the disturbance types he mentions as beneficial is small patchy soil disturbance. Case, in his introductory section to Orchids of the Western Great Lakes Region, discusses different habitats in which orchids grow, and one of those habitats is described as "damp to dry meadows, long fallow fields, ditches, and roadsides, especially where relatively bare patches of moist soil, moss patches, or ealier mild disturbance has created areas free from grass and sedge competition." I agree with your statement that orchids are species of very narrow ecological niches... but I think that disturbance may mimic the processes that lead to these narrow niches.

Some additional examples of species that do well with disturbance include Corallorhiza maculata, C. odontorhiza, Cypripedium calceolus v. pubescens, and Platanthera ciliaris.

Justin Thomas said...

Interesting. For what its worth, every orchid you mentioned in the last comment has a C-value of 8 or 10 in Missouri and probably is comparable in Indiana. Perhaps we are using different definitions of disturbance. Unless Homoya is referring to fire based disturbance, I would disagree with him.

For argument sake, I don't think of scraping or removing soil as being at all comparable to a buffalo wallow. Rather, when I think of plants around a buffalo wallow I think of weedy (low C-value) species like ragweed and Bidens. I admittedly lack the requisite experience with the flora of buffallo wallows, but their very nature seems little different than a bare pond margin.

Bottomline, I think that most botanist upon hearing the word "orchids" think of intact natural communities, not old fields, sand scrapes and compacted mud holes. And that most would agree that roadsides, long fallow fields and bare mossy spots are mimicing something other than a disturbance regime (such as light availability, fungal host or reduced competition) when they appeal to orchids.

Perhaps we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

Scott said...

I will agree to disagree if you will...

It seems that there may be some differences in orchid habitat between Missouri and Indiana, at least northern Indiana. Maybe it has to do with the soil texture. Several of our dedicated state nature preserves are sites in sandy soil that have been disturbed in the not so distant past, and orchids are fairly abundant at these sites. There is also a nature preserve in southern Indiana at which trees were removed and the site was scraped, after IDNR purchased it, specifically to create/restore this wet sand prairie habitat. Fire certainly is one form of disturbance that benefits orchids, but minor soil disturbance can also be beneficial by removing dense vegetation and exposing seed bank that has been covered by organic accumulation. After thinking more about it, I agree that buffalo wallows in heavy soils are likely not good habitat, as the soil would likely be heavily compacted. However, disturbance by macrofauna historically might have created the habitat that is being mimicked by scraping and other forms of disturbance in sandy soils. A bare pond margin in sandy soil in northern Indiana or southwest Michigan would be perfect habitat for Spiranthes lucida. At a pond in Starke County, Indiana that was excavated for fill for a highway overpass, a bare sand margin resulted, and S. lucida showed up. As this area becomes more vegetated, the S. lucida will likely decrease. In this situation, it needs disturbance.

Just for fun, here are the Indiana C-values for some select orchid species:
Corallorhiza maculata - 7
Corallorhiza odontoriza - 3
Corallorhiza wisteriana - 6
Cypripedium parviflorum v. pubescens - 8
Goodyera pubescens - 5
Liparis liliifolia - 3
Liparis loeselii - 4
Platanthera ciliaris - 9
Platanthera lacera - 4
Platanthera peramoena - 4
Spiranthes cernua - 3
Spiranthes lacera v. gracilis - 3
Spiranthes ochroleuca - 4
Spiranthes ovalis v. erostellata - 3
Spiranthes tuberosa - 3
Spiranthes vernalis - 3
Tipularia discolor - 4

Scott said...

So, Mary, did we answer your question??

Justin Thomas said...

Who said I was done?

Here are some other C-value 3's and 4's taken randomly from the Indiana list:

Antennaria parlinii
Arabis glabra
Anemone canadensis
Asclepias tuberosa
Botrychium dissectum
Carex retroflexa
Cercis canadensis
Festuca subverticillata
Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Helianthus grosseseratus
Heliopsis helianthoides
Menispermum canadense
Phacelia purshii
Ribes missouriense
Spirea alba
Viburnum prunifolium
Vaccinium stamineum
Viola missouriensis
Vitis aestivalis

I wouldn't say that these are species of disturbed areas. Rather, they are regular matrix species of different community types. In fact, most FQA's of decent to high quality communities usually end up with an average C-value of 3.0 to 4.0. But we are kind of talking about a different thing in terms of disturbance by using C-values. To me, the litmus test of whether a species is a "disturbance species" or not is how wide its ecological amplitude is. In this respect, the ecological amplitudes of most orchids, including those listed in the previous comment, are quite narrow.

Okay, I'm done.

Scott said...

I don't think anyone said you were done, and I'm glad. This is fun.

I actually agree with the C-values of most of the plants in your random list, based on my experience in Indiana, and have seen the majority of the species on the list in areas that have been disturbed. I see Antennaria parlinii in cemeteries in sandy soil with a lot of weeds. Arabis glabra grows in old-fields in sandy soil. Asclepias tuberosa grows with weeds in sandy soil, including along roadsides. Botrychium dissectum can be found in beater woods (including in a very young woods and in old field on our property). Helianthus grosseserratus certainly grows in disturbed habitats. Spiraea alba grows in moist disturbed sand, including in the sand scrapes in which I see many of the orchids we're discussing.

From the FQA report for Indiana: "The assigned C values represent an estimated probability that a species is likely to occur in a landscape relatively unaltered from what is thought to be a presettlement condition. The most conservative species require a narrow range of ecological
conditions, are intolerant of disturbance, and are unlikely to be found outside intact
remnant natural areas. The least conservative species can be found in a wide variety of
settings and actually thrive upon disturbance." Based on that, that C-values should give an idea of the amount of disturbance that a given species can withstand. Further, here are the definitions of 0-3 and 4-6 C-value plants...

0-3 Species that provide little or no confidence that its inhabitance signifies remnant conditions.

4-6 Species that are typically associated with remnant plant community, but tolerate significant to moderate disturbance.

The Indiana C-values were determined by group concensus. That group consisted of Paul Rothrock, Gerould Wilhelm, Mike Homoya, Tony Reznicek, George Yatskievych, and Kay Yatskievych, with additional input from Becky Dolan, Eric Knox, and William Minter. That's a pretty distinguished group with a lot of botanical field knowledge.

Finally, Rothrock points out that rare species can rely on disturbance... "In contrast, a few rare species are found in highly disturbed areas and are not conservative. Physaria globosa (Lesquereaux's mustard), another state endangered
species, is assigned a conservatism coefficient of 5 because it is found along a gravel road
in Posey County in disturbance communities. In fact, Physaria itself is limited to areas
where habitat is kept open and disrupted by road maintenance equipment."

In my opinion, the orchids that we're discussing certainly are uncommon to rare, and they are most often found in high quality habitats with high quality associates. However, where I see them in northern Indiana, often in sandy soil, they can tolerate disturbance.

Chlorophyll?! More Like BORE-OPHYLL!

Frankco said...

Hi Lindsay and Scott,

I enjoyed reading your blog and I am now a subscriber!

I am starting a project to propagate Platanthera (Habenaria) lacera, Ragged Fringed Orchid, through seed germination and shoot tip multiplication. My goal is to propagate this orchid and return it to the wild.

John A. Bacone, Division of Nature Preserves, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, wrote to me and suggested that I find someone who owns private property that is suitable for this orchid and is willing to accept the plants.

Since it looks like your property is suitable for this orchid, I was wondering if you would be interested in receiving Platanthera (Habenaria) lacera sometime in the future.

I will work out the best strategy for survival when reintroducing the plant. Hopefully, I will be able to correspond with Margaret From, Head of the Lab of Rare and Endangered Plants Dept. at Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE. for advice on reintroducing these plans to the wild. Margaret in an expert in the field of Platantheras. I’m waiting to see if she writes back.

This project is in the beginning stages but I wanted to get things squared away as I go along.

Let me know your thoughts on this.
Thank you,
Frank Tromble
Hobart, Indiana

Scott said...

Hi Frank. Thanks for following our blog, and for your comment. Lindsay and I would be interested in working with you on this project. We have only found one individual of Platanthera lacera on our property, which really doesn't seem like great habitat for the species to me. The majority of our land is old field dominated by Solidago altissima. We plan to plant trees throughout most of the ~11 acres; I'm not sure how that would work with your plans. We also have an area ~0.2 acre that was turf, but that I killed off and seeded with prairie species. Maybe this area would work for your study. If you think our property will work, we would be glad to work with you.


Frankco said...

Great! Since you had or have one plant growing on your property, it is worth a try. Right now I’m searching for seed pods to propagate the orchid.

My approach is to germinate them first by seeds, developing and perfecting the media in which to grow them. Then I will develop a protocol to multiply them in vitro. Seed germination is tricky and time consuming. Multiplying them in vitro has never been done before. I am also searching for a sample of soil taken next to a growing plant. The soil will contain the Mycorrhiza fungus related to the orchid. The Mycorrhiza fungus will be necessary for the reintroduction back into the wild.

I do have some experts with this type of orchid and orchid propagation in vitro to call on for assistance; Dr. Joseph Arditti , Dr. Joseph Arditti, Professor of Biology Emeritus University of California. Dr. Scott Stewart, Scott Stewart, Ph.D. Director, Horticulture & Agriculture Programs Kankakee Community College. Dr. Margaret From, Head of the Lab of Rare and Endangered Plants - Henry Doorly Zoo Omaha, NE.

Dr. Scott Stewart and Margaret From have worked with Platanthera. Dr. Joseph Arditti is the leading world expert on orchid propagation.

I am currently propagating tropical orchids in vitro via meristem and shoot tips but have not worked with Platanthera yet. This will be quite a challenge. I’ll keep in touch and let you know how the project progresses.

Thanks Lindsay and Scott!

Scott said...

Sounds like you have a good plan, Frank. How does genetic diversity play into your study?

Frankco said...

Hi Scott,

Good question. There will be genetic variations among the seeds in a pod. I’m hoping to start different plants from different seeds and use each to propagate plants and not just a plant from a single seed.

Even among the individual plants from the same seed there will be a small percentage, perhaps as much as 3%, probably less, of genetic variability through the process of tissue culture. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. I’ll keep an eye out for plants that don’t look normal and cull those.

Eventually, I’m hoping to get seed pods from different sources, raise a few and cross pollinate them to introduce genetic variability. One step at a time though. First I have to find some seeds.