Tom's Blog

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beautiful orchid in the Valley Prairie!

We had a great field trip yesterday, with 14 people plus leaders. The weather was cool and pleasant, and mostly sunny.

Gary Birch, one of our trip participants, made an exciting discovery in the Valley Prairie, the stunning specimen of the lesser purple-fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes) shown in the adjacent photo.

According to the UW Botany web site: "This is perhaps the most beautiful orchid in the Wisconsin flora. If it could be cultivated successfully, it would make a wonderful addition to any garden. Unfortunately, attempts to asymbiotically propagate Platanthera psycodes have been largely unsuccessful."

How did it get in the Valley Prairie? This is a planted prairie now in its 7th growing season and this orchid was certainly not in any of our seed mixes.

We have never seen it at Pleasant Valley Conservancy, but it certainly must be growing somewhere nearby. It is a wetland species which grows primarily in sedge meadows. The Valley Prairie is adjacent to our extensive sedge meadows, so we need to make a careful search for it.

We have been very pleased with how well the Valley Prairie has developed. Because the lower part of this prairie is adjacent to our extensive sedge meadows and cattail marshes, wet and wet-mesic species are thriving. This year for the first time we have compass plant and prairie dock in bloom, and the latter is especially thriving. Other wet-mesic species that are growing very well here are cream gentian, Culver's root, cup plant, great St. John's wort, gay feather, cord grass, and bluejoint grass. The upper part of this prairie, near the road cut, is of dry-mesic character, and there we find lots of butterfly milkweed and compass plant, plus little blue stem and side oats. In the middle is a large population of pale purple coneflower. Quite a contrast across a rather narrow strip of land.

We do have to monitor for invasives, including both yellow and white sweet clover and wild parsnip.

Hopefully, our new found orchid will in time spread farther. And perhaps we will find where in our sedge meadow it is currently hiding!


OpenID cqRTxj02npYGm2y2lario43kIxhpRw-- said...

Great find! It looks like the prairie's giving back to you, after all you've done for it. We went out to see it Monday evening, with the setting sun lighting it up.

July 22, 2009 at 5:40 AM  

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