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

Spring Ephemeral of the Day – Trillium flexipes

I’ve been fortunate enough to find time to get out this spring and add some spring ephemeral wildflowers to my photographic list. Englemann Woods NA near Wildwood, MO has been a great place for this along with other nature observations. Today’s photo is Trillium flexipes. It is one of the white trillium that can be somewhat confusing to identify properly. I found a number of associated common names, but ‘nodding trillium’ seems to be the most commonly used.

Nodding Trillium
Camera settings: f/7.1, 1/25 sec., ISO-640, 90 mm focal length. Used Canon’s 90 mm tilt-shift macro lens with ~7° right tilt.

Observations on phenology and pollination of Triphora trianthophora (three-bird orchid) made during the summer of 2019

This post is a modified article that was originally published in the Webster Groves Nature Study Society’s journal, Nature Notes (January, 2020, Vol. 92, No. 1).

Finding the orchid, Triphora trianthophora (three-bird orchid, nodding pogonia), during open bloom can be somewhat of a chore, particularly among us weekend warriors. Casey Galvin and I were both intrigued about the possibility of getting photographs of this diminutive and gorgeous orchid since learning of their discovery at Babler State Park by the WGNSS Botany Group led by Nels Holmberg, John Oliver and others in 2018. The following descriptions and photographs are anecdotal and were not collected using rigorous scientific methodology.

Phenology

There are several reasons it is challenging to find this extremely ephemeral plant in bloom. First, being partially saprophytic, the plants exhibit periodic dormancy and may not send up above-ground shoots every year, persisting instead as subterranean tubers for extended periods (Homoya, 1992). Even when they do produce stems and leaves, there is no guarantee the plants will flower in a given year. Additionally, when they do flower, any one bloom is open for only a few hours during a single day.

Exhibiting a phenomenon known as thermoperiodicity, a group or population of these plants are synchronized to open mature buds on the same day. This first wave of synchronous blooming is reportedly induced by a drop in minimum daily temperature of at least three degrees over two or more consecutive days. Following another 48-hour period, all mature buds within the population will then open on the same day (Luer 1975). Being skeptically minded, this was something I wanted to observe for myself.

Beginning in late July, Casey and I began monitoring the easier to get to population at Babler State Park. The first wave of synchronous flowering occurred on August 3rd. We unfortunately missed this but know the exact date because of visits on days immediately before and after this date. Looking into historical temperatures collected from the closest publicly-available weather station (Babler Park Estates – KMOBALLW37) revealed the initial blooming date fit the required temperature pattern perfectly (see attached figure). I continued monitoring and collecting flowering data and observed two more large flushes of synchronized blooms along with three days interspersed where only 3–10 stems/plants opened flowers. For subsequent synchronized days, I did not observe a coinciding drop in temperature as described above. I assume that the trigger for the initial bloom works to synchronize the population and subsequent larger bloom days are consequently synchronized due to all plants ‘running ahead’ at the same rate. However, there could potentially be some other unknown environmental triggers that are playing a hand here.

The first synchronous bloom occurred on August 3rd, approximately 48 hours following a four-day drop of approximately seven degrees in minimum daily temperature. Data collected from https://www.wunderground.com/ accessed on 12/06/2019.
No longer “nodding”. Triphora trianthophora flowers open towards the sky en masse on just the right day. Photo by Bill Duncan.
Arrive a day too late and this will be what you find. Photo by Casey Galvin.
Much like the flowers, these developing pendulous seed capsules will become erect at maturity. Photo by Bill Duncan.

Pollination

Halictid bees have been reported to be the primary pollinator for this species (Luer 1975). I had this in mind as I observed and began taking photographs while visiting on a large bloom day but doubted I would be fortunate enough to observe or photograph a potential pollinator visit. However, patience allowed me to do just that. I first observed visits by small flies and Bombus impatiens. Although Williams (1994) reported that Bombus have acted as pollinators of this species, I did not observe any of these visitors with attached pollinia during the 10-15 flowers I watched them visit. Eventually, I observed three different Halictid bees as they visited multiple flowers and observed these were heavily attached with pollinia. As described by Williams (1994), seed capsule production (successful pollination) is a relatively rare event in this species. Nevertheless, this was a treat to observe and photograph.

Nectar thieving flies and developing buds can be seen along with an open flower. Photo by Casey Galvin.
Like a hand to a glove… This halictid bee (Augochlora pura) does not yet realize the burden it will be asked to take in exchange for sweet nectar. Photo by Bill Duncan.
Removing itself along with attached pollinium requires some gymnastic effort. Photo by Bill Duncan.
Removing itself along with attached pollinium requires some gymnastic effort. Photo by Bill Duncan.
If you had to make this bee anymore attractive? Augochlora pura with attached colorful Triphora trianthophora pollinium. Photo by Bill Duncan.
Bees in the genus Bombus have been described as active pollinators of Triphora trianthophora. I watched several B. impatiens each visit multiple flowers and observed no attached pollinia. Photo by Bill Duncan.

REFERENCES

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

Luer, C.A. 1975. The Native Orchids of the United States and Canada. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York, USA.

Williams, S.A. 1994. Observations on reproduction in Triphora trianthophora. Rhodora 96:30-43.

Tragidion coquus – Second Time!

Tragidion coquus female photographed at Hughes Mountain Natural Area, Sep. 28, 2019.
f/18, 1/30 sec., ISO-400, 234 mm focal length equivalent

For the second year in a row, a special beetle that has been described by our own Ted MacRae as “one of the rarest and most beautiful species of longhorned beetle to occur in Missouri” was found during the joint field trip of the WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography groups at Hughes Mountain Natural Area. Tragidion coquus, purported to be spider wasp mimics, mine in dead oak branches and can be found in flight between June and November.  I wasn’t happy with my photos of last year’s specimen (also a female), so I was thrilled to be able to take the time and set her on some foliage with fall colors. It was an almost disaster as she was able to take flight before we were finished. But, having the quick reflexes of a Marvel superhero, I was able to catch her out of the air with a quick grab with just a slight kink in her antennae in consequence.

Tragidion coquus female photographed at Hughes Mountain Natural Area, Sep. 28, 2019. f/14, 1/60 sec., ISO-400, 234 mm focal length equivalent