Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An imcomparable orchid

While pursuing Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, and Hooded Warblers in a beautiful patch of West Virginia woodland this morning, one of our party glanced into the shadows and spotted a majestic wildflower. We were very pleased by this distraction, and many photos were made of a truly fine specimen of one of our most interesting orchids.

Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis, fairly glows from the dim shadows cast by towering hemlocks. Once seen, the plant grabs the eye, but it is quite easy to pass right by these little orchids. A big one - and this specimen was a whopper - might tower six inches skyward.

The leaves are large and greasy-looking, and have a look to them that makes you want to rub them between your fingers. I have, and they feel pretty neat. Like so many of its orchidaceous brethren, Showy Orchis most always occur in areas that are subject to occasional disturbance. This plant was growing in a small ditch along a gravel drive.

The genus name Galearis is derived from the Greek word Galea, which means "helmet". It refers to the hood of the flower; the pinkish part. This "hood" is actually formed by fused or connivent petals and sepals, and it does resemble some sort of Roman battle helmet. The pink hood contrasts nicely with the snowy-white lower lip, and the overall effect is quite pleasing and nearly always elicits a favorable reaction from those who are fortunate enough to stumble into one. The specific epithet spectabilis is especially apropos; it means "showy".

Galearis spectabilis = "Showy Helmet".

This botanical gem is yet another reason to sing the praises of those large fuzzy bumblebees - they are primary pollinators of this stunning orchid.

Yet another jewel found during this year's New River Birding and Nature Festival. Tomorrow, it's off to Muddlety.


LauraHinNJ said...

Where? I need someplace to wander on Friday when I arrive in W. Va... A hint, maybe?

Jim McCormac said...

Hey Laura,

The orchis is right along the drive back to Opossum Creek - see you down here on Friday!


Wally said...

These are an old favorite. There used to be several in the woods behind my house, but they seem to have all died out over the years. Haven't seen any in a long time now.