Skip to main content

Once thought lost, rare orchid reappears in Ohio

Heart-leaved twayblade, Listera cordata

Once thought lost, rare orchid reappears in Ohio

COLUMBUS DISPATCH
May 31, 2015

NATURE
Jim McCormac

The orchid family is gargantuan, with an estimated 22,000 species. It is thought to be the second-largest flowering plant family, barely bested by the sunflower family.

Orchids reach their peak in tropical climates, which Ohio is decidedly not. The Buckeye State hosts a mere 46 native species (and one weedy non-native, the helleborine).

Most of our orchids are finicky specialists. Many species are wedded to rare habitats such as bogs, fens and wet prairies. Changes to the landscape after European settlement have not been kind to orchids (or most of our 1,800-plus species of native plants).

In total, 22 orchid species are listed as endangered, threatened or potentially threatened. Another four are considered extirpated, or locally extinct. Extirpated species occur elsewhere but have not been seen in Ohio for at least 20 years.

When an extirpated plant is rediscovered, it’s major news in the botanical world. Thus, May 26, 2013, was a big day for Lake Metroparks biologist John Pogacnik and son Shaun. They had bushwhacked deep into Ashtabula County’s Morgan Swamp, a wild land owned by the Nature Conservancy.

While exploring the swampy ground, overshadowed by towering hemlock and yellow birch, the Pogacniks noticed a tiny, unfamiliar plant.

They had stumbled into a colony of heart-leaved twayblade (Listera cordata). This miniscule orchid had been found only once before, in 1933, also in Ashtabula County. It was a holy grail plant for field botanists. Because of the find, the orchid moved from the extirpated to the endangered category.

One can literally traipse through a twayblade colony and miss the plants. A whopper might rise 4 inches above the shady forest floor. Many specimens are only an inch or two tall. The ornate flowers are charming upon close inspection but aren’t much bigger than a mosquito.

Orchids are notorious for their booms and busts. Last year, few twayblades appeared aboveground. This year, several hundred burst forth. Pogacnik took me to the site on May 17, and the plants were at the zenith of their glory.

Heart-leaved twayblade occurs in cool habitats throughout the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. It was first described as Ophrys cordata by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1753.

In 1813, Scottish botanist Robert Brown placed it in the genus Listera, which he coined in honor of the great English naturalist Martin Lister. Not coincidentally, Brown helped pioneer the use of powerful microscopes. High magnification is necessary to see minute details of Listera blossoms.

Kudos to the Nature Conservancy for protecting Morgan Swamp. It is a crown jewel of Ohio natural areas and harbors many rare species. I’m sure the 1,400-acre forested wetland still holds secrets.

For more information on the Nature Conservancy in Ohio, visit www.nature.org/Ohio.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jim mccormac.blogspot.com.

Comments

Mommer1 said…
Thank you for your wonderful treatise on the swash-buckled find by the Poganciks, the Heart-leaved twayblade, Listera cordata.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…