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Old Jul 4, 2013, 6:57 PM   #1
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Default Orchid Hunt

Several years ago, we found a small but healthy population of a very rare orchid up some nearby mountains. That was the day I learned to keep the dogs ON the leash while hiking: One of my 4-legged "hiking buddies" took off after a black bear, and got bitten (he's fine now, and perhaps a little wiser).

Decided to return to the "scene of the crime" to check on the health of the orchids. (This time the canines stayed on leashes!!). It's a fine mountain hike, perhaps 2 miles on the Appalachian Trail, 2 more miles on an old trail that receives occasional maintenance, and another mile or so off trail. Here's a typical view of the woodland in the off-trail section.
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Old Jul 4, 2013, 6:58 PM   #2
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It's a lush, rocky area with a great diversity of fern and lichen species...
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Old Jul 4, 2013, 7:01 PM   #3
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Interrupted Fern was especially lush this year. Strange name for a rather strange-looking fern... Most ferns have either separate fertile (spore-bearing) and sterile (vegetative growth) fronds. Or else they have sporangia on the underside of each their fronds. But some ferns produce the spores on only certain parts of each frond. Interrupted fern has its spore-producing parts only on the middle portion of each frond, which gives it that "interrupted" appearance.
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Old Jul 4, 2013, 7:05 PM   #4
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Speaking of strange plants, we found an abundance of an odd flowering plant called Indian Pipe. It is a true flowering plant, but has no chlorophyll, so cannot produce its own food. It "teams up" with a fungus to survive...

(PS - do you prefer the landscape or portrait orientation?)
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Old Jul 4, 2013, 7:06 PM   #5
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We also found an abundance of this small native lily. It's called Indian Cucumber root. Roots are said to be edible, and taste like cucumber. But I'd rather leave the plant alive, and enjoy its unique blooms.
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Old Jul 4, 2013, 7:08 PM   #6
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Our high-elevation native milkweed was also at peak bloom. Poke Milkweed has sparser flower clusters than the other species, but is still (usually) a butterfly magnet. No butterflies seen this time, due to cool and damp weather...
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Old Jul 4, 2013, 7:13 PM   #7
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But what about the orchids? We have two native Purple Fringed Orchids in Tennessee. The more common (but still rather rare) is called Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes). The endangered species is called Greater Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). The key difference in the flowers is the shape of the nectar-opening. It's round in the Greater, and constricted in the middle in the Lesser.

Well, we found one Greater Purple Fringed Orchid in bloom even before we got to the off-trail population. This rather small specimen was blooming right beside the old trail!
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Old Jul 4, 2013, 7:16 PM   #8
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After a mile of crawling through the catbriers and rhododendron thickets, we came to the main population. Good news is that there were over 2 dozen plants in bloom. Better news is that there was no sign of any human disturbance in the area. (Although we did see a lot of fresh black bear sign).
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Old Jul 4, 2013, 7:17 PM   #9
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Return trip was uneventful, although one of my dogs kept looking for his "friend" the bear!

Hope you enjoyed the trip, and the orchids, and that you will share your comments & critique!
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Old Jul 5, 2013, 6:17 PM   #10
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My Mum and Dad grew orchids for many years, thanks for the memories, the power of an image taking you down memory lane. The Greater Purple Fringed Orchid is beautiful.
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