Know Your Natives – Crane-Fly Orchid

Crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor) of the Orchidaceae (Orchid) Family is the only species of  the genus found in North America.  This perennial plant is found in the eastern US (except New England), west to Illinois and south to Texas.  In Arkansas, the species occurs throughout much of the southern half of the state in the Gulf Coastal Plain and Ouachita Mountains, also extending up the Arkansas Valley and into portions of the Boston Mountains.  It additionally can be found on Crowley’s Ridge.  Habitat is moist, fairly rich soils on slopes and terraces of oak-pine forest and woodlands, often in sandy soils, but it sometimes also occurs in wetlands.  Underground portions of crane-fly orchid consist of a series of connected edible corms with a few fibrous roots radiating form their bases.  One to a couple of new corms branch off the previous corm so that, over time, sizable clumps can develop.  Newly forming corms produce a single winter-time (hibernal) leaf that grows directly from the corm.

Glabrous leaves, appearing in late fall, mature to have a semi-glossy, dark green upper surface and strongly purple lower surface.  Leaves, with acute tips, are up to 3 inches long and elliptic with parallel veins.  Slight up-folding along veins gives leaves a convex corrugated appearance.  The upper surface is often marked by raised purple spots.  Winter-time leaves, easily seen in contrast to the decaying leaves and branches of a woodland floor (duff), lie mostly flat on the ground.  Leaves persist through winter months and then wither well before flowering in summer.

Photo 1 - November 20

Photo 1:  Two new corms of crane-fly orchid growing from “current” corm.  “Current” corm produced an inflorescence in previous summer.  (Photo date: November 20, 2014)

Photo 2 - April 4

Photo 2:  Crane-fly orchid leaves showing strongly purple color of lower leaf surface and raised spots on upper surface. (Photo date: April 14, 2014)

At flowering in  late summer, straight peduncles (flowering stems) with multiple flowers emerge from the duff.  Flowering stems of crane-fly orchid occur singly from corms that developed and had leaves the past winter.  Flowers, on pedicels (stems bearing individual flowers), occur along the upper half of peduncles in raceme-like inflorescences with all flowers (20 or more) maturing at the same time.  Although peduncles are tall (15-18 inches), their obscure color and that of the flowers cause inflorescences to be difficult to see in summer-time woodlands.

Down facing flowers, ½ inch across, are greenish to purplish.  Flowers have three sepals and two lateral petals.  Flowers are asymmetrical (unusual for an orchid) due to the dorsal sepal and lip (labellum) being off-set to one side on the central axis.  Also, one lateral petal is typically twisted down so that it overlaps the adjacent lateral sepal.  Flowers have a spindly crane-fly-like character, hence the name.  The lobed lip of the column, a modified third petal of irregular shape, attracts insects and provides a landing platform.  A long spur (nectary), more than twice the length of the remainder of flower, extends back from the lip.  Pollen packs (pollinia), attached to the eyes of noctuid moths, are transferred from flower to flower.

Photo 3 - August 10

Photo 3:  Crane-fly orchid peduncles with flowers.  All flowers open and mature simultaneously. (Photo date: August 10, 2014)

Photo 4 - August 23

Photo 4:  Spindly and asymmetrical flowers said to resemble crane-flies.  Note long nectary and adjacent “inferior” ovary. (Photo date: August 23, 2014)

After pollination, flowers form round, elongated, dangling seed capsules with slightly corrugated surfaces.  Peduncles with capsules become dry and tan-colored and persist even when new leaves emerge in fall.  Capsules contain multitudes of yellowish-tan, dust-like seed.

Photo 5 - October 26

Photo 5:  Peduncles of crane-fly orchid with mature seed capsules. (Peduncles arranged for photo.)   (Photo date: October 26, 2014)

Crane-fly orchids should be welcome in any garden with suitable habitat.  The plants provide a focal point in winter-time gardens while being innocuous.  Plants remain dormant through drought periods.

Article and photos by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Trees of Arkansas Is Now User-Friendly with Full Color Pictures

The tried and true handbook of the Arkansas Forestry Commission, Dwight Moore’s Trees of Arkansas, has been reissued (2014) in a smart, new, user-friendly, and full-color edition.


Photo by Joe Sundell

Moore’s book dates back to 1950, when the author revised Lewis M. Turner’s 1937 manual of the same name. For more than 60 years, Moore’s excellent handbook has been teacher and field guide to Arkansas’ schoolchildren and outdoor enthusiasts. (Until the 1989 publication of Carl Hunter’s Trees, Shrubs, & Vines of Arkansas, now regrettably out of print, it was the only field guide to our state’s beautiful, majestic, fascinating trees.)

The newly revised eighth edition of Trees of Arkansas faithfully conserves the heart of Dwight Moore’s book: his thorough, accurate species descriptions as well as his comprehensive and very readable overview of the forest regions of Arkansas. Also retained are the fine pen-and-ink drawings that date back to Arkansas’ original tree manual of 1924, Common Forest Trees of Arkansas: How to Know Them, by John T. Buchholz and Wilbur R. Mattoon. These detailed botanical drawings had lost clarity over many years of reprinting—finer structures such as the buds and bud scales of winter twigs, once so crisp, had become too muddy to be of any representational value. The line drawings were restored by technical editor Adriane Barnes using that factotum of the high tech age, the smart phone. Adriane photographed the line drawings, still sharp in Turner’s glossy 1937 manual, and sent them digitally to the manuscript of the new edition.

Two major changes to the old handbook should make this new effort an even better field companion: color photographs and rewritten identification keys.

Mexican plum.  Photo by Mike Weatherford

Mexican plum. with unripe summer fruit and rough-textured leaves. See page 123. Photo by Mike Weatherford

Each of the 115 pages devoted to full descriptions of the trees is now illustrated with usually 2-3 color photos of leaves, flowers, fruits, and most significantly, bark. Colored fruits and flowers and even plain old green leaves turn black-and-white pages bright and lively—and of course supplement the line drawings that supplement Moore’s descriptions.

Photo by Mike Weatherford

Mexican plum, with early, lovely spring flowers. See page 123. Photo by Mike Weatherford,

The bark photos, on the other hand, give visual information brand new to this edition.

Bark of Mexican plum. Photo by Mike Weatherford

Distinctive bark of Mexican plum. See page 123. Photo by Mike Weatherford

Photos were provided by Forestry Commission county foresters and other agency personnel as well as by several members of the Arkansas Native Plant Society: Linda Ellis, Marvin and Karen Fawley, Norm and Cheryl Lavers, John Simpson, Sid Vogelpohl, and Mike Weatherford. Sid Vogelpohl’s gorgeous picture of pawpaw flowers appears on the front cover.

To spare readers the chore of picture-hunting through more than 100 pages in search of their trees, Trees of Arkansas is equipped with identification tools called keys. These keys (to trees in both summer and winter condition) have been rewritten and are now strictly dichotomous—meaning that at each step along the way, the user is faced with only two choices. Keys in past editions offered as many as four and even five choices, making progress slow-going, something like Robert Frost’s “pathless wood, where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs broken across it…” The new keys are easier to use—and hopefully, just as accurate!

A few other changes can be mentioned. Three new species are added to the roster of Arkansas’ tree flora: Pignut hickory, Carya glabra, is one of the most common hickories in the Southeastern forests east of the Mississippi River, and probably the most poorly understood hickory species as well, with such a range of variability that botanists are uncertain whether the taxon comprises a single extremely variable species or a number of weak, closely related segregate species. Pignut, which occurs uncommonly in Arkansas, is very close to black hickory, Carya texana, and the two species can be hard to tell apart. Two alien invasive species have unfortunately become so widespread in the state that they merit inclusion: Callery pear, Pyrus calleryana, a scourge statewide and Chinese tallow tree or popcorn tree, Triadica sebifera, at present restricted to southern and central counties.

The use of DNA as a source of taxonomic evidence has become common and has exposed genealogical information that morphology and biochemistry had been previously too imprecise to reveal. This has necessitated, in turn, some surprising taxonomic changes, especially in the circumscription of plant families. Some familiar genera have been evicted from their longtime family homes and forced to move into unfamiliar quarters. For example, royal paulownia is out of the snapdragon/figwort family and into its very own princess tree family. Similarly, sweetgum is on its own now: out of the witch hazel family, into the sweetgum family. Most “counter-intuitive,” the hackberries, with their simple, alternate leaves, are transferred from the elm family, where they looked so comfortable, to the hemp family—the home of marijuana, with its palmately compound, opposite leaves. And there are one or two more. I could not quite force myself to vaporize the maple family, but if we see a new edition of Trees of Arkansas some time down the road, our maples will be no doubt submerged in the soapberry family. The arrangement of families has been changed from an outdated taxonomic sequence to alphabetical order by common name.

Books are available from the Arkansas Forestry Commission office in Little Rock and from most AFC regional offices around the state, for the price of $5 [sic]!

Article by ANPS member Eric Sundell

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Know Your Natives – Blanketflower

Gaillardia aestivalis is a lovely Arkansas native.  It shares the common name of blanketflower with several different Gaillardia species.  There are at least two forms of Gaillardia aestivalis in Arkansas.  One has red ray flowers (“petals”) and one has yellow ray flowers (“petals”).  The picture shown here is with yellow ray flowers.

Gaillardia aestivalis v flavovirens

Having observed this plant for several years now, I must say that sometimes it acts like a short lived perennial & other times like an annual.  The bloom time is very long – usually from late May through October.  It seeds around moderately & requires little care.  It seems to be happy in average to dry, unamended soils in full sun.

Height is about 24 inches with the width being about 36 inches.  Flower heads are approximately 2 to 3 inches across.  Attracts many bee species including honeybees, bumblebees, miner bees & Halictid bees as well as numerous butterflies.

 Article and photographs by ANPS member MaryAnn King

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