Friday, July 13, 2012

An orchid - 175 years later

A diminutive club-spurred orchid, Platanthera clavellata, juts from the shady gloom of the forest floor at Cedar Bog. I made these photos yesterday, and will apologize up front for their relative lack of quality. I was helping to lead a field trip for the Botanical Society of America, and didn't have time to set up these shots in the manner in which I would have preferred.

I've written about Cedar Bog many times, including several times this year. It has been a banner season for orchids at "the bog", and now the club-spurred orchid can be added to the roster. HERE IS an earlier post about Cedar Bog's showiest representative of the Orchidaceae family.

One of the botanists that was along on yesterday's field trip was the incomparable Anton "Tony" Reznicek of the University of Michigan. Tony oversees the U. of M.'s herbarium, which is one of the largest in the country and contains some 1.7 million specimens of vascular plants, algae, bryophytes, fungi and lichens. I think something like a million or more of these specimens are vascular plants, such as the orchid featured in this post.

The University of Michigan herbarium houses a number of very old and valuable collections, including some of the first plant specimens collected in the Midwest. These holdings include a series of collections from a gentleman named John Samples, who was the first botanist to make specimens from Ohio's own Cedar Bog. Samples was an Urbana school teacher, and thus lived near Cedar Bog (for a comprehensive biography of Samples, CLICK HERE). From 1836 to 1840, he made numerous collections of plants from this area, at a time when Cedar Bog and other local prairies and fens were far more extensive than they are today.

 Upon his return to Michigan, Tony Reznicek ducked into the herbarium and had a look at some of John Samples' Cedar Bog plant specimens. Lo and behold, there was a collection of club-spurred orchid, with the following label information:

"Habenaria tridentata, Orchis tridentata [old synonyms for Platanthera clavellata]. From the Upper Cedar swamp, August 12th, 1837".

So, exactly 174 years and 11 months later, I photographed this orchid in probably nearly the same spot that Samples collected it, he in the same year that Michigan became the 26th state admitted to the Union. Were it not for the conservation of Cedar Bog, I can guarantee that the club-spurred orchid and most of its neighboring botanical treasures would no longer exist in that area.

I and others are fond of saying that places like Cedar Bog are living museums; places where people can go and see habitats, plants and animals that existed back in pioneer days. The example of this little orchid bears that out.


KaHolly said...

A beauty!! The orchids are just budding out here! I'm pretty excited. I love thinking about them being so old!! Great post!

treehugger_007 said...

Pretty amazing story for Club Spur as I always felt that they jumped around alot and weren't reliable from one year to another. Cool to think that the conditions have remained right in the same area for such a long period of time.

treehugger_007 said...

Great post Jim - interesting to think about as in NE OH Club Spurs rarely appear in the same location every year

Brent C. Kryda said...

For a moment there I thought that was a Platanthera Leucophaea and got really excited. Still a nice find though.