Tag Archives: Tipularia discolor

The Difference a Week Makes

A week ago, when I left home for a trip to Washington and Oregon to gather information for a 2017 garden tour, rain had finally returned to the Upstate, thank goodness.  Afternoon thunderstorms had popped up in our area in June and July, but my garden received no measurable precipitation for nine weeks.  Not even a sprinkle.  Temperatures, on the other hand, reached into the upper 90s almost every day.

The relief of those first rains continued throughout my absence (it was even drizzling when my plane landed just before midnight) and as I examined the garden on this first morning at home, I found tiny flower buds beginning to form on the dogwood trees (for next spring’s blooms) and a variety of mushrooms.

I know practically nothing about mushrooms, other than they are the fruiting bodies of fungi that break down organic material such as dead wood.  I enjoy eating the ones grown for culinary purposes, but don’t have the expertise to collect from the wild.  Nonetheless, they are a very welcome sign that our summer drought has abated, at least for now.

The recent wet weather has also given the cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) the courage to bloom, though the flower stalks I found are just half their usual height of 15 to 20 inches.

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Tipularia discolor

Common throughout the Southeastern US, this native terrestrial orchid is found in moist, humus-rich soils of deciduous forests.  Moths pollinate the plant.  Interestingly, a specialized structure that contains the flower’s pollen, called a pollinaria, hitches a ride on the moth’s eyes for transfer to another flower.

 

 

 

Bloom Alert

After another round of slushy snow on Wednesday and Thursday, today is bright and warm, so it’s been hard to stay focused on work.  Needing a break, I pulled my wellies on after lunch for a quick walk to see if any of the woodland natives had “endeavored to persevere” through our extremely cold winter.  I hoped to discover a sign or two of Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), my favorite spring ephemeral, but couldn’t find a trace.

Surprisingly, however, many of the Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy), which I rescued from a nearby area of development last spring, are up and already in bud.  There’s still no sign of other, established trilliums.

Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy)

Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy)

Erythronium americanum, commonly called trout lily for its speckled foliage, is even further along.  One bud has apparently been eaten by a critter, but the rest are within a few days of opening.   The plant, given to me by a friend from her garden in 2013, has bulked up since last year.

Erythronium americanum (trout lily)

Erythronium americanum (trout lily)

I also found foliage of Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid), easily identified by the dark coloring on the underside of its leaves.  The foliage will die long before flowers appear in late summer.

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

I often refer to the terraces that extend down to the Reedy River at the rear of our property.  In the upper right-hand corner of the photo below, you can barely see the retaining wall that supports the back garden.   And just to the left of the photo is a second, but shorter, retaining wall.

Woodland between house and river.

Woodland between house and river.

Each neon-pink flag marks a spot where an herbaceous plant grows.  Though unsightly now, they help me remember where it’s safe to add new natives, and they’ll be removed when the area is better established.

The garden surrounding the house contains many non-native ornamentals, while the terrace closest to the river cannot be kept clear of non-natives because of periodic flooding.  The woodland shown here, about a quarter acre, is a haven for native plants only.

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.

Weekend in Review

Tim and I headed back to the hills on Saturday, with friends Signe and Ron, to stretch our legs and revisit the trout lilies at the Chandler Heritage Preserve. We weren’t disappointed. Now at the peak of bloom, thousands of trout lilies are flowering on the short trail between Persimmon Ridge and the granite outcrop that overlooks northern Greenville County. The lilies are tiny and hard to photograph, but the pic below will give you an idea of how thickly they cover the forest floor.

Trout lilies (Erythronium)

Trout lilies (Erythronium)

Here is a better look at a single plant glowing in the afternoon light.

Trout lily, Chandler Heritage Preserve.

Trout lily, Chandler Heritage Preserve.

Then, early Sunday, I headed to the Paris Mountain area, located just five miles north of downtown, to collect a few native plants on offer from my friend Suzy. Suzy shared a generous handful of cranefly orchids (Tipularia discolor) from a large patch growing at her farm, and a heart’s-a-bustin’ (Euonymus americanus), which I planted in the woodland area between the house and the river.

Cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor)

Cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor)

The native orchid has a two-part lifecycle. In winter, it produces a single leaf that is green on top and purple below. The foliage dies in late spring and a couple months later, in July or August, the plant produces a flower spike with dozens of tiny orchids. For more info on this unique native, look here.

Recently, I’ve started a new project in the woodland, just beyond the stone retaining wall that supports the backyard, but I can’t take credit for its progress. I’ve hired a fellow to build stone steps that will allow me navigate the steep terraces on the north-facing slope down to the river. The idea is to keep the woodland as natural as possible, but to gain better access so that I don’t slip and break my neck. As you can see, there will be two stairways connected by a long, straight path.

New stone steps provide safe access.

New stone steps provide safe access.

Looking in the opposite direction, a second stairway will be located just beyond the tree.

Looking in the opposite direction, a second stairway will be located just beyond the tree.

The red and white flags you see in the photos mark areas where native perennials grow.

The native plants in my shady woodland are just beginning to emerge, however, so I explored my neighbor’s sunnier slope and found the first bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in bloom, as well as the first flowering sweet Betsy trillium (Trillium cuneatum).

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

It was a terrific weekend for wildflowers, don’t you think?