Home Happenings

While I was in New York’s Hudson River Valley, a couple of exciting things happened here at home.

In the category of flora, the first spike of cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) came into bloom. The species epithet–discolor–is Latin, meaning “two colors,” and refers to the wintergreen, summer-deciduous foliage. A single leaf, green on top and magenta purple underneath, arises from a small corm in autumn. Foliage wanes in late spring and by the time the flower spike begins to appear in July, the leaf is long gone.

Tipularia discolor

Tipularia discolor

A native perennial, the orchid is common in neighboring gardens but was absent from my woodland, probably because of the rampant English ivy (now removed). Lucky for me, a friend gave me a generous clump containing many corms from her nearby farm.

Individual purplish-green flowers are about one-half inch wide. Sepals and petals are narrow, as is the lip, which narrows into a crook at its tip. The column is bright green. A long spur, which accounts for the common name, extends from the back of the bloom.

Individual flower of Tipularia discolor.

Individual flower of Tipularia discolor.

According to Tim Spira (Clemson University), the flowers are pollinated by night-flying moths. In his book, Wildflowers & Plant Communities, Tim notes, “As a moth inserts its head into the flower to obtain nectar, a pollinium (a tiny ball of pollen) is attached to the moth’s eye and may inadvertently be deposited on the stigma of another flower. Amazingly, the deposition of pollinia on insect eyes is a common mode of pollen transfer in temperate orchids.”

In the category of fauna, my husband discovered a black snake coiled on a gutter of our front porch on Monday morning.

Black snake, view with head down.

Black snake, view with head down.

Although the photos aren’t well focused, you can clearly distinguish its dark form, with head down, taking stock of the situation. From the rear view, a faint diamond pattern can be detected across its midsection, while its darker tail loops downward. From the size of the hump in its midsection, the snake may have been resting after a meal. If so, I hope its breakfast was a chipmunk!

Black snake, back view.

Black snake, back view.

Although I don’t like to get too close, black snakes are welcome here because they’re not aggressive and are reputed to keep the venomous copperheads at bay. This one is an old friend. When I photographed it in April 2013, it was sitting pretty in an azalea in the woodland garden.

Black snake, spring 2013.

Black snake, spring 2013.

14 thoughts on “Home Happenings

  1. johnvic8

    Bravery touches us all from time to time…particularly in the face of snakes. I came upon a King snake in the garden, didn’t know what it was, and was a bit “rattled” when it began to rattle its tail. I checked the internet and identified it as non poisonous. AND…it like to eat voles.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Susie–You made me laugh. This is the second home we’ve lived in next to water (we were on Lake Murray in Columbia for a number of years before moving to Greenville), so I’m not as afraid as I once was. Believe me, I watch my step every where I go in the garden. But, I hadn’t thought to look up!

      Reply
  2. Gail Elfert

    Interesting information about the orchid, but how do you know it is the same snake you photographed last year? I know black snakes are “good” for your yard, but you must be getting much closer than I would ever dare to do if you know it is your old friend!

    Reply
  3. Marian St.Clair Post author

    Gail–Well, I can’t say for sure, but it’s the same size and has the same coloring and the snake is climbing in both photos. We have a few large cracks in the stone retaining wall behind the house and at least 2 snakes den there. I seem to be seeing the same 4 black snakes over and over–this one, plus a black racer, and two black rat snakes…one large and one medium in size. I’ve seen a brown snake twice, and a worm snake and a garter snake once. Just saw the garter snake last week, but it was gone by the time I grabbed a camera. He was in a hurry to get away from me!

    Reply
  4. Cathy

    I’m not sure I’d be happy to see a snake with a big hump in it…. I’d be worrying about what it had eaten! I would also be uncomfortable with ones that climb! As long as they are friendly non-poisonous ones I don’t mind them though. Your orchid is a real beauty. Hope it sets lots of seed for you!

    Reply
  5. Chloris

    I love wild orchids, I find them fascinating. This one is a real beauty. How wonderful for you.
    But oh dear, all those snakes you have. You are very brave. We used to have quite long grass snakes in my previous garden and even though I knew they were harmless they terrified me. It must be some atavistic thing; part of our genetic make up that makes us fear snakes. But you brave girl manage to overcome it. You were not even seriously worried about walking about where you knew there were rattle snakes.

    Reply
  6. Teri Clark

    Marion,re black snake. Our 5 lb Yorkie began barking incessantly on our front porch. When I went to see what it was there was a black snake coiled around our downspout in the same position as yours. We don’t have chipmunks, think he was after bummers as their feeder hangs close by?

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Teri–Could be! Several folks asked if we had a bird nest above the gutter. In winter, Carolina wrens sleep on the inside ledge of the porch, but the space is not big enough for nest. A snake would have to be really quick to get a hummer!

      Reply

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