three-birds orchis in situ+

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Jan 22, 2008
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elmer, nj
I've included an extensive trip bio so some of you can get an idea of what it's like sometimes to have to find and photograph native orchids, which don't always grow along the edge of the road (smile)

early last week a few orchid friends were going to a spot discovered by botanists long ago west of syracuse called Botrychium Woods. It hadn't been visited in probably 60 or more years (until about five years ago) and they wanted to see if they could catch the very elusive native orchid called three birds orchis or nodding pogonia (triphora trianthophora var. trianthophora) in flower. this is a very tiny orchid usually at most five inches tall to usually only three inches tall when in flower, and the flower opens for less than 24 hours! one of it's common names is 'nodding pogonia', because once the flower is pollinated the ovary behind the flower will swell and tip the flower downwards; this position is what most people who are lucky enough to ever see and take notice this plant will see. they usually grow and flower in the fluffy leaf litter of beech and yellow birch leaves, sometimes growing right out of the top or sides of rotting yellow birch branches only two or so inches thick. if you were to dig down into the black soil underneath the leaves, you'd likely find (tiny) old orchid corms that had flowered but have been buried by layers of rotting leaves. hopefully that means that if this soil was disturbed by an animal these corms might again grow and flower

my friends were going to the spot on monday. I had to work the late shift starting monday through this sunday so couldn't go along, so I decided to check out the spot the sunday before. a few people have come up with a meteorological formula they use to try and figure out when this orchid will flower. the plant will spring up and buds will develop, but then will sit there until the weather is just right. roughly speaking the temperature will drop for a few days and then about two days later the buds will open. observation has shown that the usually green buds will turn a brighter white and then open the next morning. I didn't think that this plant would be ready to flower that early (and had told a few people that a few times...) so was going take a road trip and check out the spot and give them an update (rather than sit around my apartment...).

well, the last time I was at this spot was three years ago and the power line right-of-way access path we used along a muddy swamp outlet had grown up with switch grass and blackberry/black raspberry bushes and I hadn't worn any sweatpants! I had to use my camera tripod to knock back and had to step on the brambles so that I could just get through to the power lines less than 100 yards away. to top it off, I even stepped into some of the deep 'quicksand' muck well over the top of my boots while dodging a fallen tree. by the time I made it to the power lines, I was bleeding and sweating rivers. to top it off, I had donated platelets at the red cross that morning so was already tired and was not in a very good mood for taking pictures! even under the power lines had grown up a lot since our last visit so it took a few tries to find a good path to the woods where the orchids were.

well; again I was surprised to find out that the main wave of orchid flowering had already happened! as usual, I should have listened to my friends expectations that due to the weather the orchids were going to flower a few weeks early. I did find three flower buds that were white, so it's most likely that they would flower the next day/monday. as usual the mosquito population had not diminished at all (since the orchids grow on the edge of a large swamp) and being covered in sweat I was ready to bag it and head home. I barely decided to go ahead and try to get some pictures, since I realized most people in their right minds would ever want or be able to get to a spot like this, and document for them what these orchids and the other flora looked like. I had to go back out into the open to change shirts and put on my long-sleeve mesh bug shirt that keeps the biting critters away so that I can barely have enough peace of mind to try and get some pictures. the mesh has a hood that zips in the front, so I had to unzip it about two inches so I had a clear zone that I could look through the viewfinder of my camera with (it's hard to find things or focus through close green mesh!). thus reinforced, I managed to get a few pics though most are hand-held (no tripod) as I didn't have patience enough to set up the tripod for pics other than the orchids (think lots more sweating, drone of mosquitos, long drive from home, impending thunderstorms, battling through the mess to get back to the car etc). it's also very dark and muddy along the edge of the woods/swamp where the orchids are, so it can be very messy and difficult to try and get a good clear image and stay somewhat clean

enough verbage on to pictures!


a budded orchid (three birds orchis) in the leaf litter


closeup of bud


tiny orchid seedling probably shorter than 2"


an old orchid flower; this nodding 'flower' is what most people see if they are lucky to spot this orchid on the forest floor


closeup of old flower


patch of orchids with old flowers


closeup of nodding pogonia picture from 2007

Botrychium Woods also has lots of fungi growing between or on the trees


orange toadstool type mushrooms


a very unusual black fungi that looks like a cobra coming out of the ground


orange 'snake' fungi patch



mushroom on side of fallen log


'brain coral' fungi



more pics in thread reply
t. b. orchis and fungi/wildflowers continued

there were also other interesting wildflowers and things in and around the edge of the swamp


cardinal flower



closeup of single flower


the orange vine growing around everything I believe is a parasitic 'plant'


flower rare in new york state I think called 'lizard tail'


can't remember name but think it's poisonous


ferns in the water. green on top of water is tiny plant called duckweed


unusual tree growth affected by changing water tables


shot from the swamp back into the woods where the orchids are; dark and closed-in
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Spectacular photos!!! It must have been quite impressive and exciting to be there!!! The pogonia is unique!!! I also liked he fungi... I love photographing them too! The green little leaves on the water surface (probably Lemna sp???) is quite usual in bogs here too and I like this effect of wilderness they create..!

Does anyone have seeds of Lobelia cardinalis that can be shared??? The colour is so vivid!!!!

Thank you for the tour Charles!!! :clap: :D
cool pix, especially the one with the trees in the water :clap:
super cool!
i think you take such groovy photos!

i believe the parasitic one is dodder
You are a most dedicated wildlife photographer. And, we benefit from it. THanks again.
thanks! thanasis, someone at work (also a fellow flower photographer) was telling me that cardinal flower was one of the first north american native plants to be exported to europe. I think someone must grow it there... otherwise it grows around in different places and someone would be able to get you seed
Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower) can be obtained through nurseries. I will keep an eye out for a local plant and see if I can obtain seed for you. It does grow in some of the ditches on the side of the road here.
Very nice Charles!
Incredible orchid hunting story, and very fabulous pictures. Thanks so much for sharing your adventure with us!!
This species has been on my native dream list for awhile and I appreciate the look! I wish I could find and stalk the populations that are said to grow near here in the Ozarks.
i believe the parasitic one is dodder

Yes, the leafless orange parasitic vine appears to be dodder (strangleweed, hellbine, devil's hair), genus Cuscuta (morning glory family, many species, worldwide). Though the rarer unrelated genus Cassytha (laurel family) is almost impossible to tell apart if there are no flowers or fruit, it shouldn't be this far north.

All the photographs are excellent. Makes me wish I could still hike in natural areas.

Lobelia cardinalis has been a pretty common garden plant for several centuries. It shouldn't be hard to get in Europe.

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