Sunday, June 12, 2011

Not What I Was Looking For

As I was rounding a curve in the vicinity of the Greenville Y, I spotted a patch of Bindweed, AKA Orchard Morning Glory. It wasn't safe place to stop, so I pulled over at a turnout about a quarter mile further. As I was walking along at the base of the roadside cliff, I was admitting to myself that I was just killing time and didn't want to go home and resume my chores. After all, the plant I was seeking is so common that most people consider it a pest. It is a non-native, and can overwhelm native species in some areas. This little diversion turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I discovered the Stream Orchid, Epipactis gigantea. I didn't really discover it, of course. It was just the first time I ever saw it. What an elegant flower! (That description may be redundant when it comes to orchids.)
While growing up in New England, I always associated orchids with nurseries and exotic lands I'd never visit. The only wild native I was familiar with was a lady slipper. My college genetics professor bred orchids as a hobby. His main research organism was the fruit fly. He was continually telling us stories about the difficulties of orchid propagation - as if we'd be interested.
Now that I've found six wild species of orchids in the forests around Quincy, I can understand his fascination. Not only are the orchids complex and beautiful, but their intimate relationships with pollinating insects and soil microbes are great stories. I haven't yet caught any insects in the act, but it is a goal for this summer. Meanwhile, the orchids I've seen in this area are: 3 species of Coralroot, the Mountain Ladyslipper (see yesterday's post), and the Stream Orchid.
The Stream Orchids were photographed on the rock walls on the left side of Hwy 89 going north, in the first quarter mile north of the Greenville Y. Pay attention to traffic if you seek these out. There's only a narrow shoulder between cliff and pavement, and you can feel the suction of passing log trucks. The orchids are in big patches hanging from cracks that carry runoff after every rain. The ones I saw were all at eye level or above, but I suspect with a little climbing, one could find them well up into the forest above the road.

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