My home garden is in Monroe, Ohio. Officially in USDA hardiness zone 6a, we still, however briefly, have hit zone 5a lows in winters not to distantly past. The soil in my immediate vicinity is Eden silty clay. In many local developments, the good stuff has been scraped away and sold off as topsoil to some other poor schmuck who also had THEIR upper soil horizons scraped away. Whatever we had upon our arrival has been amended with horse manure, coir, and compost. There is no bed in my yard that couldn’t have been amended some more.

13 March 2013

Putty in my head

Sometimes we may learn more from a man's errors than from his virtues.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sometimes my brain fails to deliver the right information about the thing I see. Please allow me to explain, to your benefit.

Yesterday found me outside (that's happening a lot lately, and should continue; warmer please!?), poking around in the woods at East Fork State park. I should be looking up. However, knowing that spring ephemerals are starting to show up (Hello, harbinger of spring!), I can't help but look down.

So, I'm pretty excited because I think I've spotted some putty-root (Adam and Eve is another common name; the latin name is Aplectrum hyemale) in a location that isn't as remote to me as, say, the Smoky Mountains.

Aplectrum hyemale, or putty root.

As I said, I was excited and I couldn't help but share my discovery with others around me (what point is there in knowing something cool without being able to share that knowledge?).

A native orchid! The leaves emerge in fall, persist through winter, and senesce (die back) just as the flower emerges. I have yet to capture an image of the blooms, but one can see images of those at the PLANTS database profile for putty root.

And then, last night, as I lay in bed, I realized that it wasn't putty-root that I found. I had soundly misremembered the name of what I had actually seen. The foliage I saw belongs to the crane-fly orchid (or cranefly orchid; Why crippled? I have no idea, but am willing to entertain any theories).

Like Aplectrum hyemale, Tipularia discolor also pushes up new leaves in autumn which then disappear as, or before, it blooms. However, those leaves look like this:

Tipularia discolor, or crane-fly orchid. NOT putty root.

Not green-and-white striped. Spotted. The spotting varies between individual specimens, and can be quite attractive. The underside, if one were to turn the leaf over, is purple (I've seen newly emerged leaves look purple on both sides). Again, I have yet to capture an image of this flowering, so I will refer the reader to the PLANTS database profile for cranefly orchid.

So, while they have a similar lifecycle, and while they take on a roughly similar form, it's relatively easy to distinguish the two when in leaf. The hard part is getting my brain to maintain the proper associations, and deliver the right name sometime sooner than eight hours after seeing the plant!

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