WHITEFRINGED ORCHIS





(Habenaria blephariglottis) Orchid family



Flowers - Pure white, fragrant, borne on a spike from 3 to 6 in.

long. Spur long, slender; oval sepals; smaller petals toothed;

the oblong lip deeply fringed. Stem: Slender, 1 to 2 ft. high.

Leaves: Lance-shaped, parallel-veined, clasping the stem; upper

ones smallest.

Preferred Habitat - Peat-bogs and swamps.

Flowering Season - July-August.

Distribution - Northeastern United States and eastern Canada to

Newfoundland.



One who selfishly imagines that all the floral beauty of the

earth was created for man's sole delight will wonder why a flower

so exquisitely beautiful as this dainty little orchid should be

hidden in inaccessible peat-bogs, where overshoes and tempers get

lost with deplorable frequency, and the water-snake and bittern

mock at man's intrusion of their realm by the ease with which

they move away from him. Not for man, but for the bee, the moth,

and the butterfly, are orchids where they are and what they are.

The white-fringed orchis grows in watery places that it may more

easily manufacture nectar, and protect itself from crawling

pilferers; its flowers are clustered on a spike, their lips are

fringed, they have been given fragrance and a snowy-white color

that they may effectually advertise their sweets on whose removal

by an insect benefactor that will carry pollen from flower to

flower as he feeds depends their chance of producing fertile

seed. It is probable the flower is white that night-flying moths

may see it shine in the gloaming. From the length and slenderness

of its spur it is doubtless adapted to the sphinx moth.



At the entrance to the nectary, two sticky disks stand on guard,

ready to fasten themselves to the eyes of the first moth that

inserts his tongue; and he finds on withdrawing his head that two

pollen-masses attached to these disks have been removed with

them. This plastering over of insects' eyes by the orchids might

be serious business, indeed, were not the lepidoptera gifted with

numerous pairs. The fragrance of many orchids, however, would be

a sufficient guide even to a blind insect. With the pollen-masses

sticking to his forehead, the moth enters another flower and

necessarily rubs off some grains from the pollen masses, that

have changed their attitude during his flight that they may be in

the precise position to fertilize the viscid stigma. In almost

the same way the similar Yellow-Fringed Orchis (H. ciliaris) and

the great green orchids compel insects to work for them.



A larger-flowered species, the PRAIRIE WHITE-FRINGED ORCHIS (H.

lepicophea), found in bloom in June and July, on moist, open

ground from western New York to Minnesota and Arkansas, differs

from the preceding chiefly in having larger and greenish-white

flowers, the lip cleft into wedge-shaped segments deeply fringed.

The hawk-moth removes on its tongue one, but not often both, of

the pollinia attached to disks on either side of the entrance to

the spur.





NODDING LADIES' TRESSES or TRACES

(Gyrostachys cernua; Spiranthes cernua of Gray) Orchid family



Flowers - Small, white or yellowish, without a spur, fragrant,

nodding or spreading in 3 rows on a cylindrical, slightly twisted

spike 4 or 5 in. long. Side sepals free, the upper ones arching,

and united with petals; the oblong, spreading lip crinkle-edged,

and bearing minute, hairy callosities at bases Stem: 6 in. to 2

ft. tall, with several pointed, wrapping bracts. Leaves: From or

near the base, linear, almost grass-like.

Preferred Habitat - Low meadows, ditches, and swamps.

Flowering Season - July-October.

Distribution - Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico, and westward to

the Mississippi.



This last orchid of the season, and perhaps the commonest of its

interesting tribe in the eastern United States, at least, bears

flowers that, however insignificant in size, are marvelous pieces

of mechanism, to which such men as Charles Darwin and Asa Gray

have devoted hours of study and, these two men particularly, much

correspondence.



Just as a woodpecker begins at the bottom of a tree and taps his

way upward, so a bee begins at the lower and older flowers on a

spike and works up to the younger ones; a fact on which this

little orchid, like many another plant that arranges its b1ossoms

in long racemes, depends. Let us not note for the present what

happens in the older flowers, but begin our observations, with

the help of a powerful lens, when the bee has alighted on the

spreading lip of a newly opened blossom toward the top of the

spire. As nectar is already secreted for her in its receptacle,

she thrusts her tongue through the channel provided to guide it

aright, and by the slight contact with the furrowed rostellum, it

splits, and releases a boat-shaped disk standing vertically on

its stern in the passage. Within the boat is an extremely sticky

cement that hardens almost instantly on exposure to the air. The

splitting of the rostellum, curiously enough, never happens

without insect aid; but if a bristle or needle be passed over it

ever so lightly, a stream of sticky, milky fluid exudes, hardens,

and the boat-shaped disk, with pollen masses attached, may be

withdrawn on the bristle just as the bee removes them with her

tongue. Each pollinium consists of two leaves of pollen united

for about half their length in the middle with elastic threads.

As the pollinia are attached parallel to the disk, they stick

parallel on the bee's tongue, yet she may fold up her proboscis

under her head, if she choose, without inconvenience from the

pollen masses, or without danger of loosening them. Now, having

finished sucking the newly opened flowers at the top of the

spike, away she flies to an older flower at the bottom of another

one. Here a marvelous thing has happened. The passage which, when

the flower first expanded, scarcely permitted a bristle to pass,

has now widened through the automatic downward movement of the

column in order to expose the stigmatic surfaces to contact with

the pollen masses brought by the bee. Without the bee's help this

orchid, with a host of other flowers, must disappear from the

face of the earth. So very many species which have lost the power

to fertilize themselves now depend absolutely on these little

pollen carriers, it is safe to say that, should the bees perish,

one half our flora would be exterminated with them. On the slight

downward movement of the column in the ladies' tresses, then, as

well as on the bee's ministrations, the fertilization of the

flower absolutely depends. "If the stigma of the lowest flower

has already been fully fertilized," says Darwin, "little or no

pollen will be left on its dried surface; but on the next

succeeding flower, of which the stigma is adhesive, large sheets

of pollen will be left. Then as soon as the bee arrives near the

summit of the spike she will withdraw fresh pollinia, will fly to

the lower flowers on another plant, and fertilize them; and thus,

as she goes her rounds and adds to her store of honey, she

continually fertilizes fresh flowers and perpetuates the race of

autumnal spiranthes, which will yield honey to future generations

of bees."



The SLENDER LADIES' TRESSES (G. gracilis; [S. gracilis]), with a

range and season of blossom similar to the preceding species, and

with even smaller white, fragrant flowers, growing on one side of

a twisted spike, chooses dry fields, hillsides, open woods, and

sandy places - queer habitats for a member of its moisture-loving

tribe. Its leaves have usually fallen by flowering time. The

cluster of tuberous, spindle-shaped roots are an aid to

identification.





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