platanthera orbiculata in situ

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Jan 22, 2008
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elmer, nj
a few weeks ago ken hull, art clark and I decided to take a road trip to far western ny state out to the allegheny state park. last year we'd been given a location for platanthera orbiculata, which is called either the lesser or round-leaf orchid. it was a few weeks past flowering but we went back this year at the same time that our ny platanthera macrophylla was in prime flower, and the same orbiculata plants were in prime flower as well. we found the same five or six plants in a small area of hillside at or over 1500' elevation


nice plant with about sixteen buds, a few flowers just starting to open


after looking at a few flowers, I noticed right away a few differences from p. macrophylla. one that you can see here is that the flowers of p.orbiculata are quite small. almost all of the plants have flowers that are generally smaller than my thumbnail (except for some of the length of the spur)

it's difficult to tell p. orbiculata and macrophylla apart from pictures. there used to be lots of platanthera orbiculata listed for new york state, but then a new species was listed as variety macrophylla and then given species status. now in ny, there is a lot of platanthera macrophylla (goldie's or large padleaf orchid) and not so much orbiculata. herbarium specimens all listed as orbiculata had to be re-examined and most were changed to macrophylla. each time we found new colonies of padleaf orchids, we hoped that they would be orbiculata but it wasn't meant to be. it seems that macrophylla likes limestone areas where there there is clay-based soil, and orbiculata likes a rich, moist soil outside the limestone shield area of new york and surrounding states including canada. where we found it in the generally undisturbed woods, it was growing all over the place

a few days before we went out west, I went up to a spot a few of us call the jones road site and took some pictures of platanthera macrophylla


this plant was perched on a shelf into the bank, within easy view of the road. even though it is a large plant, it only has around fifteen flowers on it though the flowers are large


macrophylla plants are often quite white in the center and shiny, which makes it difficult sometimes to get a nice picture of it. also it's often growing in a very dark location which makes getting true color difficult


view of the plant from the road

...back to allegheny and the orbiculata


this flower cluster had nearly 40 flowers on it; a large macrophylla plant often only has around 15 flowers on the same size flower spike. the flowers are spaced at the same proportion apart, but the macrophylla flowers are larger and the spurs are longer, often 30mm and longer


same flowers but with a burst of sunshine through the trees


these two plants had wonderful flowers, but for some reason the leaves had been ripped off. I have never seen deer damage the leaves of padleaf orchids, though slugs can do a lot over time


orbiculata flowers are a bit greener than the macrophylla and/or not so shiny, which makes them a bit easier to photograph


after looking around for more orchids, we decided to head to the main lodge building for lunch. while there, ken decided to ask about the large rock formation. we were given directions and a map and headed back out near where we had been directed to the first orchids. as we turned up the gravel road that headed towards the site, I thought that the trees looked about right for more orchids. I said so and slowed down, and was rewarded instantly with the view of two p. orbiculata flower spikes just a few feet apart, in view from the car! I pulled over and hopped out, and we quickly were finding padleaf orchids all over the place. all in all, we found around 29 more plants, about 2/3rd's in flower after leaving the first orchid site


the photographer sitting next to one of the new populations of orbiculata seen from the road


both species of padleaf orchid have large, round leaves. though orbiculata is supposedly named the 'lesser' padleaf orchid and considered smaller (the flowers are certainly smaller), the leaves are the same size and sometimes larger than the macrophylla ones


this plant had an old flower spike with opened seed pods laying next to it, so has flowered at least two years in a row


a really nice plant that was growing in a pile of mossy rocks in the middle of a hillside seep
after looking around and taking more pictures we headed up to the rock formation called 'thunder rocks'. it was quite appropriate, because just as we got there, a thunder storm/downpour began! on top of one of the hills is this weathered limestone formation that you can walk through and underneath; lots of moss all over the rocks. after the rain stopped for a few minutes we all got out and looked at the rocks. I decided that I had seen lots of rocks before (even big ones...) so started looking through the woods looking for more orchids. I didn't have to look very far or hard...


art and ken cornering another padleaf orchid against a tree


art and ken playing paintball around the rock formations (I think nyeric is here somewhere too lol)


a tree growing right through one of the rocks


one of the few other flowers in the woods other than the orchids


one last nice orbiculata, complete with rain drops for good effect


eric, the padleaf flowers in that picture is in the top middle. actually no I forgot to ask; he has so many books I don't know if he would remember which one it was! I think he would get better gas mileage if the tub containing books were taken out of his trunk
Thanks again for those cool pics of platantheras (with impressive leaves), and that unique growing: 'a tree growing right through one of the rocks'!!!!

(your clothing is 'easy' compared to the companions one :) ) Jean
I wonder who will win -- the tree or the rocks...

:) there are actually two pics with tree vs. rocks... in the first, from the rocks' perspective the tree has already split it.. in the second, the tree is growing all over the rock but probably won't damage it all that much. of course, maybe the trees' offspring will finish the job ;)

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