We're on the cusp of Spring. The temperatures are rising. The birds who overwintered here are brushing up on their vocal skills. The Skunk Cabbage and Harbinger of Spring are blooming. The daylight period is getting longer. The amphibians are attempting to breed. The reptiles are leaving their hibernacula. Nature is preparing for a new season.
But I can't wait. I think it's because Winter never really came to Athens, Ohio. I love Winter, but I want it to be Winter when it's Winter. Sure, it got kind of cold on some days, and sure there were a few instances of flurries or maybe an inch of snow that lasted a day, but we didn't have any stretch of time where it felt like a proper Winter. So I gave up hoping for a real Winter and have since been impatiently waiting for Spring. Over the past week I couldn't wait any longer, so I ventured out to some nearby parks in search of some greenery to scratch my Spring-itch.
|The view from the Sourwood Trail in Riddle State Nature Preserve.|
Tipularia discolor. The Cranefly Orchid is one of the 46 species of orchid which have been recorded in Ohio. It has a rather strange range in Ohio; it can be commonly found throughout the southern third of the state, but can also be found in several counties centered around the Cleveland area. This range, however, appears to be changing; the Cranefly Orchid seems to be slowly expanding northward throughout much of its northerly limits. In the coming decades, there might be populations of this orchid in central Ohio.
|The leftover flowering stalk of a Cranefly Orchid with seed capsules.|
Cranefly Orchid flowers in the summer like many other species (as that's when insects are out to pollinate the flowers), but it doesn't grow a leaf until the leaves of most other plants are beginning to change late in the Fall. By the time the leaf is fully grown, the canopy is open and the Cranefly Orchid can exploit all of the sunlight that now reaches the forest floor. As I mentioned before, this is a hard strategy for most plants, which is why we don't commonly see this strategy. However, nearly all of the patterns we see in nature are a result of the interplay between costs and benefits. For the Cranefly Orchid, the benefits of trying to photosynthesize during the winter outweigh the benefits of trying to photosynthesize during the Summer, even when the plant factors in the costs associated with photosynthesizing through the freezing temperatures and shorter photoperiod. As Spring ramps up, this leaf will break down and the rest of the plant will then begin to send up a stalk for flowering before repeating the cycle all over again.
First up, Puttyroot Orchid, Aplectrum hyemale. Puttyroot is another orchid which utilizes a strategy like that of Cranefly Orchid. Toward the end of Fall, the underground part of the plant sends up a single leaf in order to capitalize on the open Winter canopy and avoid the competition associated with sunlight during the Summer. This leaf will live through the Winter months before breaking down by mid-Spring. Right after the leaf disintegrates, the plant will send up a flowering stalk.
As I write this, the weather is chilly and rainy. This is a far cry from the previous Friday, where Ohio teased us all with Spring-like weather in the high 70's. As we sink back into a more seasonable weather pattern, I can't help but continue to impatiently wait for Spring to rev up in earnest. Thanks for reading!