A Local Wild Orchid Has Winter Leaves and Summer Flowers

Many yards are adorned in the spring by the red flowers of an ornamental plant called the red spider lily. It also is called the “naked lady,” because it has a long, slim stem with no leaves. Stalks of the plant are topped by a large red flower head, but there are no leaves on the plant at that time. During winter, these plants produce leaves but no flowers. Thus, beds of these plants provide green foliage during the winter and a red burst of flowers in the spring and fall. The flowers grow from a bulb that stores energy captured by photosynthesis when the leaves were out.

Tipularia Flower

Tipularia Flower
A native orchid has the same life history. The Crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor) gets its name because of the similarity of appearance between the flower and an insect called the crane fly (which looks like a large mosquito). 

Tipularia Leaves
A search in local forests during fall and winter should permit the discovery of patches of green oval leaves on otherwise brown ground. The cranefly orchid is a perennial plant that produces leaves that are dark green on top (sometimes with purple dots) but purple when turned over (photo). Leaves are about 75 mm (or about 3 inches) long and about 65 mm (or about 2.5 inches) wide. Each leaf grows from an individual corm (an underground structure similar to a tuber - potatoes also are tubers) that stores energy underground.
 


 

Tipularia Leaves
Tipularia Flowers Blackback

Tipularia Flowers Blackback
Flowers are not seen with the leaves, so must be sought during the summer where leaves were found the previous winter. Flowers have an overall tan coloration, but purplish and greenish tints are present. Because they are not brightly colored, the flowers are hard to see in the woods. A single stalk bears several flowers (photo). The stalk may be as much as about 600 mm (nearly 2 feet) tall, but most around Clark County are about half that height or less.
 


 

 
 
 
 
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