16 May 2010

Surprise After Surprise

Last September, I sampled transects through our 11-acre property so that I can track changes to the plant community over time. During my sampling, I came across several populations of Purple Twayblade (Liparis liliifolia), the second orchid species documented on our property. Because this is a spring/summer-flowering orchid, I made a note on my calendar to get back out in mid-May to the spot where I initially discovered it. As you will see below, I was not disappointed.


Purple Twayblade grows in a range of ecological conditions, ranging from dry woods to pine plantations to shrubby fields to savannas to mesic forests. It is even often found in fields that were recently cropped; however, it doesn't hang around long in these recovering fields. There seems to be a period of time when Purple Twayblade thrives, between the initial colonization of a field after cultivation and the heavy shade and thick leaf litter created by forest trees thirty to forty years later. In the heart of its range, Purple Twayblade currently seems to be increasing in abundance, possibly as a result of ever increasing anthropogenic disturbances.


I've read several accounts that note that the flowers of Purple Twayblade are not showy, or that they are inconspicuous. I wholeheartedly disagree. Until this year, I'd never paid close attention to its flowers... but have a look at the two close-ups below. Those are some of the craziest looking flowers around.


You can see the three sepals, three petals, and reproductive column in the photos above and below. The sepals are the ~1/2 inch long whitish structures. The petals are the pale purple structures. The two lateral petals are filiform; the third petal is the broad, circular or heart-shaped lip. The reproductive column is just above the lip. In some of the photos above and in the photo below, you can also see the shiny, waxy leaves for which the genus is named; Liparis is from the Greek word for "fatty" or "greasy."


When we bought our property in spring of 2007, I was pretty convinced that the land was a mundane pasture of Hungarian Brome (Bromis inermis), Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima), Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis), and Tall Fescue (Schedonorus phoenix). Purple Twayblade was one of the surprises on our property (but maybe it shouldn't have been, given the history of our property and the ecology of the species). Ragged Fringed Orchid (Platanthera lacera) was another. Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris), Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea), and Humped Bladderwort (Utricularia gibba) were also nice surprises. Recently, I've also found Inflated Narrow-leaf Sedge (Carex grisea), Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Sweet Crab Apple (Malus coronaria), and American Plum (Prunus americana) on our land. And today, while heading out to photograph Purple Twayblade, I found a couple of clumps of the dainty Purple-sheathed Graceful Sedge (Carex gracillima), shown below.


Our property plant list is up to 182 species, and it seems like I see a new plant every week. Our bird list stands at 107 species. There's no telling what surprise we will encounter next.

8 comments:

Ted C. MacRae said...

Nice plant list - what is the insect species count? ;)

Whoever said twayblade flowers are inconspicuous and not showy has no clue about what beauty is.

Schedonorus phoenix? What happened to Festuca arundinacea?

Tom said...

Scott- enjoy exploring, it will be interesting to see what else you may uncover. I found a population of Liparis liliifolia last year in a pine plantation in the Oak Openings and thought it was kinda weird, but after your description of this plant's ecological tolerances, it makes sense.

Are you planting any natives on your property or are you going to let things happen without intervention?

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks Ted. Insect count? I've got 47 on my list. Not bad for a botanist, I guess. I could really benefit from some time in the field with an entomologist, though. No tiger beetles, unfortunately. We have clayey soil... are there any I could expect?

By the way, I still call tall fescue Festuca elatior... it was difficult for me to type Schedonorus phoenix...

Scott Namestnik said...

Hi Tom. I haven't planted anything yet (except for a few natives as landscape plants). I also seeded ~0.2 acre of prairie along my driveway to reduce mowing. I'm planning to plant native trees throughout the property to speed up the development back into mesic forest. I also need to control Autumn Olive and honeysuckle. Plenty to keep me busy.

george manning said...

nice!

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks George.

Eric Hunt said...

Liparis (and the related genus Malaxis) are such underappreciated orchids. Some of them from the tropics are quite showy foliage plants.

Scott Namestnik said...

I agree, Eric. So many people want to see large, showy, gaudy flowers; I appreciate the inconspicuous much, much more.