The Queen Orchid – Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae)

Cypripedium reginae (Showy Lady Slipper)

I was thrilled to be able to photograph this stunner of an orchid this past spring. Thanks to Casey Galvin who turned me on to this tiny population in Shannon County, MO.

A small cluster of Cypripedium reginae in bloom.

The Showy Lady’s Slipper is currently ranked as S2/S3 in Missouri, meaning this species is imperiled/vulnerable. We carefully tread around these guys and hide their specific locations as this is a species that may still be poached for horticulture purposes.

Cypripedium reginae – the queen orchid.

 

Flora of a Fen in June

Pogonia ophioglossoides (Rose Pogonia or Snakemouth Orchid)

Today I am sharing some photos of plants in bloom taken in a fen in Shannon County, MO. These plants were blooming in June and the combination of high temps, direct sunlight and high humidity made for challenging conditions to photograph indeed. The first subject is Pogonia ophioglossoides, the snakemouth orchid or rose pogonia. These were blooming in abundance at the fen but finding one in the peak of its beauty was the challenge.

Pogonia ophioglossoides is pollinated primarily by bees and other insects like syrphid flies pictured here.

As fantastic as it was, I found being in these fens to be quite stressful. First of all, you are typically forced to work in dangerous heat indexes. My friend, David Seidensticker and I made a visit to these fens during our birthday weekend and dreaded leaving the sanctuary of what little shade we could find and use as a base of our operations. If you visit these locations in the summer, be prepared by drinking as much water as you can before you get there and bring plenty of water with you. You really need to constantly drink as you are sweating profusely, losing water at nearly the same rate you can take it in.

Pogonia ophioglossoides prefers life on the marly edges of our fens. 

In addition to the off-the-chart heat index values, one must carefully select every footstep. This is not only due to the rare plants in bloom, but also because of the soil substrate that forms the base of these endangered fen ecosystems. These fens are comprised of two primary soil substrate types, marly soils and peat soils.

Pogonia ophioglossoides. The snake mouth orchid gets its name from the similarity of its foliage to that of the adder’s-tongue ferns (Ophioglossum). 

Marly soils are composed mostly of carbonates such as calcite and calcium or magnesium carbonate that precipitate out of ground water. These soils take thousands of years to develop and the typically high levels of magnesium create conditions that only the best adapted floras can survive.

Spiranthes lucida, or Shining Ladies Tresses, is the only spring-blooming Spiranthes found in Missouri.

Peat soils are comprised of partially decomposed plant materials that also build up over thousands of years. These soils can typically support more plant species and heavier vegetation loads. Care must be taken to avoid walking much on these soils as our footsteps will not only disturb the plants growing here, but will also act to compress the soil, expelling the gasses trapped and water-logging the root environments.

The best places to walk in these fen types are on the rivulets that run within these fens. Continuously flowing waters have moved most of the soils from these areas to leave a pea-gravel type substrate with gently moving water on top. Plants will still grow within these areas but finding a safe place to put your foot is typically pretty easy.

Spiranthes lucida dislikes competition, but enjoys disturbances in soil.

We found Spiranthes lucida growing at the edges of shallow peat soils next to these rivulets within the fen. Likely the easiest Spiranthes to identify in the state, this is the only Spiranthes species that blooms in spring, has a yellow lip and has an easy to identify growth habit with broad basal leaves that are present when the orchid is in bloom.

Calopogon tuberosus – the Grass Pink Orchid.

Calopogon tuberosus was just beginning to bloom in early June. This orchid is famous for its non-resupinate flowers, meaning that the flowers are not turned 180 degrees, as they are in most orchids. The lip of the flower is found on the upper side of the flower. This species also does not produce nectar or pollen as rewards for would-be pollinators, but uses visual subterfuge to entice insects to land. I found it interesting that Homoya, 1993, suggests that the reason C. tuberosa exists in space and flowering time with P. ophioglossoides (see above) is that the later does provide ample nectar rewards, thereby increasing the chances that a pollinator might land on the similarly colored C. tuberosa flowers.

Justicia americana, American Water Willow

Justicia americana is a gorgeous member of the Acanthaceae family that we found growing in early June. These plants were most likely to be found growing alone or in small groups along the gravel bottoms of the rivulets within the fen. They, like all of the plants shown here, are not strictly linked to fens per se, but fens do make a nice home for them.

This has just been a small look inside these glorious fens. I hope to continue visiting at other times of year to see other plants in bloom.

Thanks for the visit.
-OZB

REFERENCES

Much of the information from the above was taken from the following sources. I do recommend them both for learning more about the orchids that can be found in fens and anywhere in Missouri.

Homoya, M.A. Orchids of Indiana. Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. 1993.

Summers, Bill. Missouir Orchids. Missouri Department of Conservation Natural History Series, No. 1. 1981.

Playing Around with Infrared

Woodland Infrared

I have had some opportunity lately to try for infrared landscapes with my converted Canon 5D mkii. There is still so much I want to try with this, but between summer laziness and a lack of time and opportunity, I get by with what I can. The image above was taken in an Illinois woodland.

Infrared White Oak

I found this white oak in the same woodland and it screamed for the IR treatment. I’m still getting the hang of processing the images from the “supercolor IR conversion” of this camera. Although the basics are simple, I find the plethora of options one has in processing these files to be a bit intimidating. I’m trying to go a little more on the subtle side with these, but there’s a fine line between just enough and too much.

Hughes Mountain in IR

These final three images were taken at Hughes Mountain C.A. – a place that I find begs for the infrared photographic treatment. These were taken on one of the evenings of potential for extra color from the Sahara sandstorms. There was nothing extra for the sunset due to these storms other than increased haze, but the high clouds made for interesting skies in IR.

Hughes Mountain in IR

Finding green plants in the glade areas is important in getting the contrasts for an IR image. This hasn’t been a very wet summer but there was some green still left among the rocks. Optimally, it would be best to try in late spring to early summer to get this setting just right.

Hughes Mountain in IR

So these were some of my first serious attempts at IR landscapes with the newly converted camera. If you have any suggestions for improvement, particularly in the processing area, I would be grateful to listen.

-OZB

Missouri Orchids – Aplectrum hyemale (Adam & Eve Orchid)

Aplectrum hymale (puttyroot orchid)

Aplectrum hymale is a relatively common orchid in Missouri, preferring rich mesic forests, particularly along stream and river banks. It is known by two common names that are both widely used. “Adam and Eve Orchid” is used due to the presence of twin underground corms. The leaf of the current year is connected to the youngest corm (Eve), and is an offshoot of the previous corm (Adam).

Aplectrum hymale (Adam & Eve orchid)

The other common name, “puttyroot orchid”, is given to this species due to the putty-like consistency of the corms that were sometimes eaten, most likely for medicinal purposes.

Aplectrum hymale in early stages of flower development.

A. hymale is unusual in that it exhibits an alternate vegetative cycle. Leaves of this plant (one leaf per plant) develop in the autumn and overwinter. The leaves begin to senesce  in the spring and have almost completely withered by the time the plants are in full bloom, or shortly after. In the preceding photo you can see the leaves at the time of flower shoot formation.

Aplectrum hymale with senescing leaves and flowers just shy of blooming

These plants typically bloom in early to mid-May in Missouri. By the time June  rolls around the leaves will most likely be completely deteriorated and the only sign of the plant over the summer is the flowering stem (raceme) and developing fruit capsules.

Aplectrum hymale closeup of individual flower.

Thank you for visiting!

-OZB

Missouri Orchids – Corallorhiza wisteriana (Wister’s coralroot)

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – a single bloom. It is typical for the sepals and petals of this species flowers to not fully open.

The year 2020 has been smiling upon me with my attempts at photographing all the orchid species of Missouri. So far this year I have seen five new orchids and have photographed three of them in bloom. The focus of today’s post, Corallorhiza wisteriana, is known by its common names Wister’s coralroot or spring coralroot. The name coralroot is used due to the apparent likeness and growth habit of the plant’s rhizomes to undersea coral. There is one other known coralroot that I need to photograph in Missouri, that is the autumn coralroot, C. odontorhiza that I hope to photograph when it blooms this fall.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – raceme

C. wisteriana is one of, if not the earliest orchid to bloom in the state. Going by the number of posts from folks on Facebook, and the fact that I and a couple of friends found well over one hundred stems with just a few minutes of searching, this species is having a terrific year.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – raceme pair

This orchid is small, with a lowercase s. The leafless stems can grow 10 to 35 cm high and an individual flower when open  is only but ~ 8 mm long – A challenge to photograph. I anticipated this, but what surprised me is its showiness. Looking closely, this plant is beautiful, with many stems and flowers colored deeply with maroons and purples and the labellum/lip with purple spots on white.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – a small colony

I found these flowering stems in singles, pairs and large-sized colonial groups. Typically, stems from these close groupings will be from the same plant. Below is from the largest colony I saw this spring.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – a larger colony

Corallorhiza orchids are considered to be ‘myco-heterotrophic’ plants, meaning these plants parasitize mycorrhizal fungi (fungi that get their carbon needs from symbiotic relationships with green plants) to get their primary nutrients. Therefore these orchids contain little to no chlorphyll, do not produce leaves and photosynthesis is a very negligible part of how they make their living.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – an aberrant raceme.

The photo above shows an aberrant flowering stem – the only one I found, that was very lightly colored and that had no spots on the labellum whatsoever. After realizing how strange this was, I went back to it a few days later to better photograph the whole stem. Alas, the stem was smashed because this was located on the very edge of the trail.

Even little things need a hiding place.

The preceding photo shows a hymenopteran nymph (~5 mm in length) that is hiding underneath this flower’s lip. I am unsure whether or not  this insect is responsible for the webs seen here. These threads were often seen covering these orchids.

Wister’s coralroot, Corallorhiza wisteriana – a typical flower in profile.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know this little beauty. Stay tuned for more orchid profiles in the near future!

The interesting and important Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Until this spring, I assumed that spring ephemerals, like Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) and others that begin flowering in early spring, did not provide much sustenance for early season pollinators. For no reason in particular, I assumed that most of these plants preferred selfing versus providing the resources to attract insect pollinators.

After taking a closer look at the blankets of C. virginica that lie on the slopes of Beckemeier Conservation Area near our house, my eyes were opened. I found pollinators everywhere on multiple trips during this long and cool spring. Unfortunately many species were so quick that they eluded me and my camera. However, I managed to nab a few of the more cooperative and with some help of those smart folks at BugGuide.Net, I got as close to the right identifications as I could.

Andrena erigenidae, the spring beauty bee

Have you heard of oligolecty? Until doing this research, I had not either. Oligolectic is a term that describes certain bees species that have specialized preference to pollen from only specific plant groups – plants from a small group of genera, a single genus, or in this case, one single species.

Andrena erigenidae reaching for its nectar reward

The spring beauty bee (Andrena erigenidae) is a mining bee (Andrenidae) that feeds exclusively on the pollen and nectar of C. virginica. In fact, the larvae of this species cannot grow optimally on any other pollen source. So, it may not come as a surprise that this was the most common bee I found foraging on the fields of spring beauty.

Andrena erigenidae female with pollen-laden legs

These mining bees will take the pollen during a flight run that may last up to more than an hour and then bring it back to their self-constructed nursery hole in the ground. There they will turn the pollen into cakes and lay a single egg on each. This will be all the material needed for an individual larvae to develop into an adult.

Andrena erigenidae making another stop

The next pollinator is a bee from the same genus, Adrena. This is a huge genus, comprised of more than 450 species in the U.S. Most often they are impossible to identify to species without having the bee in-hand and available for close inspection.

A beautiful Andrena bee

This beautiful and hairy ginger was considerably larger than the previous Andrena. I estimate this bee was about two-thirds the size of the domesticated honeybee.

Mining bee (Andrena sp.)

I’m not sure if this individual was a male, or if it was only interested in getting nectar, but I never saw this species actively collecting pollen from C. virginica.

Mining bee (Andrena sp.)

The long tongue on this one will allow for it to collect nectar from a larger variety of flowers, while the hairs on this bee definitely help it meet its pollinator status.

Mining bee (Andrena sp.)

I found a couple cuckoo bees foraging amoung the C. virginica as well. This “nomad cuckoo” pictured below is a cleptoparasite, meaning the female will lay its egg inside the nest of a different host species. The cleptoparisitc larvae will hatch first and will often kill the eggs or larvae of its host and then use the pollen provisions the host mother left to complete its development. This particular genus, the Nomada, is known to primarily use species in the above discussed Andrena genus as its host.

Cuckoo bee (Nomada sp.) nectaring on spring beauty

The cuckoo wasp, like this metalic green beauty in the Chrysididae family are also cleptoparasites that likely will use Adrena bees as hosts.

Cuckoo wasp (Chrysididae) on spring beauty

Bees and wasps were not the only pollinators I found on spring beauty. I also found a couple species of ants (not pictured because they never stand still long enough) and a couple of dipteran species, like this tachinid fly.

Tachinid fly (Gonia sp.) on spring beauty

I now want to introduce what was probably the most interesting thing I learned about spring beauty this year. Having been able to work on Asian Soybean Rust for a couple years during my career, I have since been very interested in the complex life-cycles of plant rusts. I suppose due to the dense population of C. virginica at this location and the cool and wet spring we have had, I found that many plants were infected with spring beauty plant rust (Puccinia mariae-wilsoniae). With just taking a cursory estimation of the hillsides, I think that as many as 50% of this population was infected with this rust. When I took the succeeding photo ( I so wish I had taken more and better photos of this), little did I know that my investigation would take me into a complex relationship that not only involved this plant host and rust relationship, but would also involve slugs (yes slugs) and the very pollinators that enticed me to bend the knee in the first place.

Spring beauty plant rust (Puccinia mariae-wilsoniae) aecia (a type of spore forming legion) on the abaxial (lower) leaf surface of spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)

I am sure that anyone who has taken the time to appreciate spring beauty more than during one season and/or place has noticed the variability in flower parts coloration.  The majority of what is to follow here comes from an intriguing bit of work by Frank Frey (2004). C. virginica can vary from almost completely white to being mostly colored with pink to mauve to crimson stripes and other floral parts. Frank describes that plants that with higher levels of theses reddish pigments are preferred by pollinators and therefore, “…floral redness was associated with higher percentage fruit set.”  Well then, this should beg the question, if this is the case why are there still plenty of individuals and populations of the less-fecund whitish pigmented flowers? Shouldn’t selection have taken care of this by now?

Here is where the slugs and rust comes into the story. These two, surprisingly, affect opposing selective forces on the coloration of C. virginica flowers. Plants with more white-colored flowers hold up better against predation by slugs due to the anti-herbivore properties of the flavonol pigments that produce the white coloration in these plants. In addition, for reasons that are not completely understood, the rust pathogen does better at infecting and propagating new spores on plants with redder-colored flowers. This was eye-opening for me to learn that something besides pollinator preference was manifesting a selective force on floral morphologies.

This is a highly simplified summary of the story this paper holds. I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself by following the link below.

An aberrant spring beauty flower. Typical spring beauty flowers have five petals. This plant may be infected by virus or have a genetic mutation that caused the increase in petal numbers seen here.

I love the never ending stories that can be learned from a single, common and seemingly simple spring ephemeral wildflower. I’m sure that spring beauty still has a number of stories to tell. I wish I had taken more photos of the rust and I will try and see if I can find plants with telia, the next form of spore-producing legion by this rust. It occurs later in the lifecycle of the plant. I just hope I’m not too late to get it this season.

Thanks for the visit!

-OZB

Citations

Frey, Frank M. 2004. Opposing natural selection from herbivores and pathogens may maintain floral-color variation in Claytonia virginica (Portulacaceae). Evolution, 58: 2426-2437.

The Ruff

Ruff (Calidris pugnax)
Camera settings: f/8, 1/1000 sec., ISO-640, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.

Never have I worked so hard to get mediocre photos of such an ugly bird. The sky was clear, the air cool and this combination created a terribly turbulent atmosphere over the mud flats the bird was foraging in, making it near impossible to get the sharpness desired in a photograph.

Ruff (Calidris pugnax) Camera settings: f/5.6, 1/1250 sec., ISO-400, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.

The Ruff is a bird that is native to Eurasia, visiting North America somewhat regularly. There have been sightings of this species in Missouri and Illinois in the recent past (at least three during this spring), but this is the first one I’ve been able to track down and photograph. Josh Uffman happened to discover this bird near Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary on April 18th while we were in the area. I want to thank Josh who turned on the St. Louis birding community to this special visitor from overseas.

Ruff (Calidris pugnax) Camera settings: f/8, 1/1000 sec., ISO-640, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.

The Ruff is a member of the Calidris genus of shorebirds. Local members of this group include many of the sandpipers we are familiar with, like the peeps, Dunlin and Red Knot.

Ruff (Calidris pugnax) Camera settings: f/5.6, 1/1000 sec., ISO-200, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.

I know I called this particular bird ugly earlier in the post. However, if you are not familiar, look this bird up on the internet or your favorite bird guide. The birds in breeding plumage are absolutely stunning and their behavior on leks makes them a very special bird.

Ruff (Calidris pugnax) Camera settings: f/5.6, 1/1250 sec., ISO-400, 1120 mm focal length equivalent.

These were just a few of the couple thousand or so photos of this bird taken on that day. Most were boring shots of the bird foraging in the flooded farm field. Perhaps one day I’ll be fortunate enough to see these guys on their leks.

-OZB

Whooping Cranes visit Missouri and Illinois

Whooping Cranes
Camera settings: f/6.3, 1/3200 sec., ISO-320, 700 mm focal length.

I have traveled to Kaskaskia Island, IL at least 7 times in the past four years in hopes of being fortunate to find these beautiful birds in close distance to a road. Most visits result in being able to find them, but most often they are a football field or more away. Back in early January 2020, Sarah and I finally won the lottery.

Whooping Crane
Camera settings: f/8, 1/2000 sec., ISO-250, 700 mm focal length.

We found these birds quite close to the road and actively foraging in the permanent drainage canals of this river valley farming area.

Catching crayfish.
Camera settings: f/8, 1/2000 sec., ISO-250, 700 mm focal length.

Whooping Cranes are still endangered; however, thanks to the USFWS/USGS captive breeding and reintroduction program, this species has come back from the brink of extinction. In 1941 the species was down to only 21 individuals due to rampant conversion of natural habitat to farmland, coastal development, and unregulated hunting. The captive breeding program was initiated in 1967 and today there are now more than 800 birds in the wild.

Catching frogs in January Camera settings: f/8, 1/2000 sec., ISO-320, 700 mm focal length.

Captive breeding and reintroduction has now been transferred from the federal institutions to a good number of other organizations who will continue towards the goal of making the Whooping Crane self-sufficient again. This efforts is not completely without problems as there have been and continue to be problems associated with getting the reintroduced birds to migrate, interact and successfully nest.

Whooping Crane
Camera Settings: f/6.3, 1/2000 sec., ISO-250, 420 mm focal length equivalent.

A case in point may be the recent history of these birds in the state of Missouri (only the 8th record in MO since 1953). The first reports of a four-bird cohort observed in Columbia MO was in May, 2016. These were the same birds observed over-wintering in Kaskaskia Island, IL. These four birds were from a release who then strayed from their population that was following the traditional Wisconsin to Florida migration route. Since then at least two of the original four birds have died. Hopefully these two (I have been told, but have not yet been able to confirm that this is a sexual pair) will get back on track one day and do their part in propagating the species.

Whooping Crane Camera Settings: f/8, 1/2000 sec., ISO-125, 700 mm focal length.

Thanks for visiting.

-OZB