Just as I was getting over the worst case of poison ivy that I've ever had (here's a hint, genius... don't weed whip poison ivy while wearing shorts and flip flops), I joined Scott Holaday and Lee Casebere last Sunday to check out a property near Culver, Indiana. Scott and Lee had visited this private tract in the spring looking for Four-toed Salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum), and their description of the site, a swampy forest with a lot of ferns, sounded too good to pass up. Had I known ahead of time that there would be as much Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) as there was in this swamp, I still would have wanted to join Scott and Lee, but I'm not sure if Lindsay would have approved of me going.
Shortly after arriving, Lee found a mole salamander (Ambystoma) in the laterale-jeffersonianum complex, a group that is notorious for hybridization and that requires genetic analysis to accurately determine the species. This interesting complex of salamanders includes an all female triploid group that requires sperm from a male salamander from a related species in the same genus to initiate reproduction, but the sperm is often then discarded and no genetic material from the male makes its way into the offspring. This asexual form of reproduction is known as gynogenesis. The best that I can do is to say that this is either a Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale), a Jefferson's Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), or one of the Ambystoma hybrids.
Our focus quickly shifted kingdoms when Lee exclaimed, "Here's a Purple Fringed Orchid!"
When Scott and Lee first told me about this site, the possibility of finding Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes) amongst the Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) and Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) and beneath the Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra), and Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) immediately registered. Little did I know, however, that we would find the largest population of this attractive orchid that any of the three of us had ever seen. Had I done my research ahead of time, I might have thought that there would be less of a chance of finding Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid on this site, even though the habitat was perfect, as it was not mentioned in the monumental 1920s work by Evermann and Clark on the physical and biological resources around Lake Maxinkuckee. In addition, none of the distribution maps that I've seen show this species in Marshall County, Indiana. This makes our finding of an estimated 50 to 100 Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid plants an even more exciting find, as well as a potential county record.
In addition to Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid, Cinnamon Fern, Royal Fern, Black Ash, and an abundance of Poison Sumac, some of the more uncommon plants that we discovered in this swamp forest included Slender Sedge (Carex leptalea), Bulblet-bearing Water Hemlock (Cicuta bulbifera), Crested Wood Fern (Dryopteris cristata), Pipes (Equisetum fluviatile), Floating Manna Grass (Glyceria septentrionalis), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Stalked Water Horehound (Lycopus rubellus), Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense var. canadense), Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia), Dwarf Raspberry (Rubus pubescens), Great Water Dock (Rumex orbiculatus), Rough-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago patula), Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), and Smooth White Violet (Viola blanda).
After sludging through mucky soils, swatting at bloodthirsty mosquitoes, losing a gallon of sweat, and brushing up against Poison Sumac plants while trying to squeeze between them, I was convinced that the title of this blog post was going to be "Worth The Rash." Luckily, it appears as though I've escaped with only a small spot of the nasty underneath my left eye. To see 50 to 100 Lesser Purple Fringed Orchids, a single spot of poison sumac is definitely acceptable.