We - Nina, Heather, and I - were standing roadside here last Saturday, doing our best to pick up the nasal tinhorn trumpets of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. We were tallying avifauna for the Beaver Christmas Bird Count, and our mission was to find as many birds as possible, and the little nuthatch had thus far eluded us. Across the steep-sided ravine was a wall of stately Eastern hemlock trees, their lacey evergreen boughs providing a jarring contrast to the avalanche of litter on our slope.
Here we see the distinctive overwintering oval-shaped puttyroot leaves. They are blue-green and thinly pin-striped, like the fabric of some fashion-challenged pimp's zoot suit. The color and pattern look quite nice on these leaves, though. As is so often the case with flora and fauna, the scientific name is instructive: Aplectrum = "without spur", which refers to the flowers' anatomy. The specific epithet hyemale is more telling - it means "of winter".
Photo courtesy Delaware Wildflowers: http://www.delawarewildflowers.org/
Voila! Come mid-May, after the pinstriped leaves have largely withered to nothingness, the puttyroot sends forth a beautiful spire of delicate orchid blooms. Their flowering takes place in a very different landscape than the winter scene in which the leaves are found. Nina's plants, when they blossom, will be serenaded by Louisiana Waterthrush, Hooded and Worm-eating warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, and myriad other songbirds. The orchids will add their radiance to a sea of showy spring wildflowers such as toothworts, large-flowered trillium, and wild blue phlox.