First, some background on orchids. Although the word "orchid" conjures up images of tropical forests, Ohio does indeed have an array of native orchids. There are 46 species of native orchid (family Orchidaceae) which have been recorded in Ohio. Of these 46, 4 are sadly extirpated (locally extinct in Ohio). Of the remaining 42, 22 are state listed as either potentially threatened, threatened, or endangered (and 2 of those 22 are also federally listed). The vast majority of these orchids require a narrow set of ecological characteristics to live, with some being much more picky than others. This makes orchids generally uncommon and oftentimes hard to find in Ohio, depending on the species. (For a complete checklist of Ohio orchid species and hybrids, check out this link)
Isotria verticillata. Large Whorled Pogonia is an orchid of the forest. More specifically, this species prefers acidic soils of upland forests and the likes. It's relatively widespread across the Allegheny Plateau region of eastern Ohio, but it's an easily missed flower.
|Large Whorled Pogonia in bloom.|
This led to the next issue; within North America there are 4 varieties (in essence the botanical version of a subspecies) recognized. Many botanists then decided to call the overall species Cypripedium parviflorum, and then designate the varieties as var. exiliens (found in Alaska), var. makasin (found in the northern part of the range), var. parviflorum (found in the southern part of the range), and var. pubescens (found throughout the range). These varieties all have different ranges, different habitat preferences, and different morphologies, and one could argue that these are different species, depending on what your idea of a species is (as there are a few dozen concepts). In fact, this resulted in some deciding to elevate Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens to its own species, Cypripedium pubescens. Yet at the same time, all of the American "varieties" are extremely closely related when it comes to their genetics. This leads to a big question: How much does genetics play a role in designating what a species is, and how much does the ecology of the various populations play a role?
These orchids were only a sliver of the awesome plants I was able to see over the course of the weekend. Southern Ohio is a treasure-trove for botany lovers, and for nature-lovers in general. Thanks for reading!