Botany Blog Plants of the Northeastern U.S.

August 19, 2021

Fringed Orchids

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 15:22

There are seven (recognized) species of fringed orchids in New York and two hybrids. Two controversial species are discussed as well. Our two most common species are P. blephariglottis and P. lacera, the others being rather local in distribution, some extremely rare, and one extirpated.

The flowers of ragged fringed orchid (P. lacera) vary from white to somewhat greenish and have a highly dissected lip. This species occurs in the widest range of habitats, sometimes occurring in open areas of swamps and in fens, but often in wet meadows, pastures, old fields and occasionally even in lawns. It does best in areas that are mowed once or twice a year at times before and after the main growing season. This species is known to hybridize with the two purple fringed orchids, though only the hybrid with P. psycodes (P. ×andrewsii) has been documented in NY. Despite being one of our most widely distributed orchids, it tends to occur in small numbers where it is found and populations are sometimes ephemeral.

Another relatively common white-flowered orchid is white fringed orchid (P. blephariglottis). The flowers of this species are shallowly fringed and pure white in color. This species prefers acidic habitats like bogs and poor fens and frequently occurs with Sphagnum spp. Though quite local, it can sometimes be abundant in the right habitats.

Rounding out the white-flowered species is the eastern prairie white fringed orchid (P. leucophaea), the only federally listed (threatened) member of this group that is now considered extirpated from the state and has a state rank of historic (SH). There are historic collections of this species from only three counties in north-central NY – Onondaga, Oswego, and Wayne. Although this species has prairie in its common name, in the northeast it primarily occurs in wet graminoid fens. There is a healthy population of this species just across the border in Canada and might still occur in remote fen complexes in the northern part of the state. It is thought that collecting may have played a role in the disappearance of this species (since some of the historic locations are still intact), so if you happen to find it only take a picture and report to the NY Natural Heritage Program.

A close relative of P. blephariglottis is the orange fringed orchid (P. ciliaris). Historically known from locations scattered across the state, there are currently only three known extant populations, all on Long Island and they are all quite small. As a result, this species is listed as endangered in the state and has a state rank of S1. Like P. blephariglottis, this species has a shallowly fringed lip and prefers acidic habitats, but rather than white the flowers are deep orange. Both species flower primarily in July in NY and in areas where they occur together the two species can form the hybrid P. ×bicolor (Fig. 2). Though this hybrid has been documented on Long Island it has not been seen recently.

The only other orange-flowered species in NY is the crested orchid (P. cristata). This is a smaller species historically known from Queens and currently only known to occur in Suffolk County on Long Island (state endangered, S1). While similar, it differs from P. ciliaris in that the flowers tend to be a bit paler in color, the spur is only 5-9 mm long (vs. 18-28 mm in P. ciliaris) and the rostellum lobes are slender and pointed downward (vs. triangular and directed forward). It occurs in similar habitats to P. ciliaris and occasionally the two are found together with P. blephariglottis.

A controversial species related to P. cristata is P. pallida, which has pale yellow flowers but is otherwise similar to P. cristata. When recognized it is considered to be endemic to dry dune slopes of Long Island and is known from no other location, though some botanists consider it to be just a pale form of P. cristata. As described it is most similar to the hybrid of P. blephariglottis and P. cristata (P. ×canbyi), which is not documented in the state, and it does not occur with the former putative parent. Platanthera pallida is said to be distinguished from P. cristata by a recurved, fringed lip and shorter nectar spur, with a tendency to grow in drier habitats.

The last two species in NY, P. grandiflora and P. psycodes (Fig. 3), differ from all the others in having purple flowers (rarely white) and are rather widely distributed in the state but also tend to be quite local. While easy to tell apart from the other orchids, these two species are frequently confused with each other.

Fig. 3. P. grandiflora (left), P. psycodes (middle), closeup of flower of P. grandiflora (top right), and closeup of flower of P. psycodes (bottom right). In P. grandiflora, note how the rostellum lobes (structures on either side of the stigmatic surface directly above orifice) are thin, triangular, and spreading. Also note the relative length of the anther sacs (darker structures on the upper margin of lobes). In P. psycodes the rostellum lobes are thicker (rounded on the outer surface), closer together, and the anther sacs are shorter. Also note that even though the opening to the spur (orifice) is round in P. grandiflora, it appears elongate in the picture due to the viewing angle. To view this feature accurately requires looking directly into the spur.

Platanthera grandiflora is known as the greater purple fringed orchid, though the size of the plant and inflorescence do not differ significantly from P. psycodes (only the individual flowers are slightly larger), and is slightly less common in the state. Platanthera grandiflora typically flowers in late June, a few weeks earlier than most populations of P. psycodes, and this can be a starting point for identification. While P. psycodes usually flowers in early to late July, occasionally populations (or sub-populations) have been found flowering earlier, so phenology alone is not completely reliable.

Characteristics often cited for telling these two species apart include the shape of the orifice (opening to the spur) and the depth of fringing on the lip, however these often prove unreliable. The shape of the orifice in P. grandiflora is round, while in P. psycodes it is more rectangular or even dumbbell-shaped. It is not that this is not a reliable characteristic but it is often misinterpreted because it must be viewed straight on and is rarely clear in photographs and can be difficult to interpret in diffuse lighting. The most reliable characteristic for identification is the shape and the position of the rostellum lobes relative to the anthers (Figs 4-6). This is described in detail by Stoutamire (1974) and is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in these orchids. The paper by Stoutamire does not include a key, so I am including one based what he described. While the shape and position of the rostellum lobes is difficult to describe, it is readily apparent once the concepts are understood and compared.

Pollinaria 3 mm long, viscidia separated by 4-5 mm, held in front of the column on lateral rostellum lobes; opening to the spur (orifice) circular, unobstructed P. grandiflora

Pollinaria 1.5-2 mm long, viscidia separated by a space of 1-1.5 mm, partially enclosed laterally by projecting rostellum lobes; opening to the spur oblong, often partially constricted by a projection on the upper portion of the entrance or just inside the orifice (the degree of constriction variable) P. psycodes

Only one hybrid has been documented involving these two species in New York, P. ×andrewsii, which is the hybrid of P. lacera and P. psycodes. Platanthera grandiflora is also reported to hybridize with P. lacera forming P. ×keenanii. A hybrid of P. grandiflora and P. psycodes is known as P. ×enigma and would presumably be difficult to identify given how similar the parents are.

There is actually a third purple fringed orchid, Shriver’s (P. shriveri), that has been somewhat controversial. It was first described from the Central Appalachian Mountains (Brown et al. 2008) and there have been a few possible sightings in New York that need further scrutiny. It is most similar to P. grandiflora but with a more open inflorescence and differences in lip shape and dimensions. It is said to flower later than P. grandiflora where the two occur together, from mid-July to early August. For those interested, a dichotomous key for separating P. grandiflora from P. shriveri can be found in Brown et al. (2009).

Literature Cited:

Brown, P.M., Smith, C., and Shriver, J.S. 2008. A New Species of Fringed Platanthera from the Central Appalachian Mountain of Eastern North America. North American Native Orchid Journal 14(4): 239-252.

Stoutemire, W.P. 1974. Relationships of the Purple-fringed Orchids Platanthera psycodes and P. grandiflora. Brittonia 26(1): 42-58.

July 16, 2021

Purple Bergamot: Hybrid or species?

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 21:19

For a number of years I have been growing the two common eastern species of Monarda, M. didyma and M. fistulosa. Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm or Oswego tea) is an important early summer food source for ruby-throated hummingbirds. It begins flowering in late June but continues into July.

The flowering period overlaps with the start of flowering of M. fistulosa (wild bergamot) so there is opportunity for hybridization between the two species. Their preferred habitats, however, differ quite a bit. Monarda didyma tends to prefer moist alluvial soils and is often found in moist woods or thickets, along streambanks, or the shaded margins of wetlands. Monarda fistulosa tends to prefer somewhat drier habitats and is often found on hilltops, in meadows, or on dry gravelly river banks or shores. Those latter habitats, as well as human disturbance, have the potential to bring M. fistulosa into close contact with M. didyma.

Back to my garden, last year a Monarda appeared that has flowers that were intermediate in color and other characteristics between M. didyma and M. fistulosa.

The only explanation for these plants was that they were a hybrid of the two species and the characteristics seem to match the description of M. media in the literature.

Getting a little more specific, beyond the color there are some differences in the corollas of M. didyma and M. fistulosa. Monarda didyma has a corolla that is more than 3 cm long that is hairless on the upper lip.

In contrast, the corolla tube of M. media and M. fistulosa is up to 3 cm long. In M. fistulosa the upper lip is bearded while in M. media it is glabrous or only sparsely hairy.

A number of papers have been published that propose that M. media is a hybrid of M. didyma and M. fistulosa (Egler 1973; Whitten 1981). The fact that these intermediate plants only seem to occur where the ranges of those two species overlap would seem to support that hypothesis. The habitat for M. media is said to be dry to moist open woods, fields, and roadsides, which is rather non-specific and could easily occur in close proximity to both putative parents. It has also been suggested that in the southern Appalachians what is called M. media may be the hybrid of M. didyma and M. clinopodia. While Monarda media is treated as a distinct, rare species in a number of states, very little information is available regarding existing populations that would provide support for recognition as a distinct species, e.g. population size, proximity to populations of M. didyma and M. fistulosa, how long these populations have persisted, ect. If Monarda media is a good species, then the name for the hybrid of M. media and M. fistulosa would be Monarda × mediodes (Duncan 1959), though some sources recognize both as hybrid taxa.

Literature Cited

Duncan, W.H. 1959. A naturally occurring F1 hybrid of Monarda media and M. fistulosa. Rhodora 61: 302-305.

Egler, F.E. 1973. The hybrid nature of “Monarda media Willd.” Castanea 38(3): 209-214.

Whitten, W.M. 1981. Pollination ecology of Monarda didyma, M. clinopodia, and hybrids (Lamiaceae) in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. American Journal of Botany 68(3): 435-442.

July 15, 2020

Geum aleppicum × canadense

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:03

This rare hybrid has been reported in the literature a few times but has never been given a formal name. To see for myself what it looks like, a couple years ago I manually deposited pollen from Geum canadense onto several flowers of Geum aleppicum at a site where both occur. I marked the flowers that had been pollinated and returned later in the season to collect seeds.

I was able to grow out about 30 plants from the seeds and at the end of June of this year they finally bloomed. While the majority of plants appear to be straight G. aleppicum, one plant is an obvious hybrid. Success!

Overall the plants are most similar to G. aleppicum but with paler flowers that begin flowering around the same time as G. canadense (G. aleppicum starts flowering slightly earlier). Also notice that the petals are a bit more slender than is typical of G. aleppicum.

The following image shows the fertile fruit of G. aleppicum (left) and the sterile fruit of G. aleppicum × canadense (right). Geum hybrids are typically sterile, one exception being the hybrid of G. rivale and G. urbanum (G. × intermedium).

The foliage of the hybrid is similar to Geum aleppicum but the upper leaves are less divided. They are also not as dark green. It remains to be seen if they will darken when dried, a characteristic typical of G. aleppicum.

This last image shows the flower of the hybrid (middle) with flowers of the two parents, G. aleppicum (left) and G. canadense (right).

September 9, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 20:54

Several years ago I started unknown Hibiscus from seed assuming it would be H. moscheutos. Each year the plants would grow about 5 feet tall but never flowered. One finally flowered this year and something seemed a bit odd about it. I believe it Hibiscus laevis, a related species with narrower, often hastate leaves that are smooth on the lower surface, and flowers with darker red centers. Would include a picture of the leaves but they have been badly eaten by caterpillars.

Just happened to pass a large population of Hibiscus moscheutos a couple days ago so I made a run out to get photos of the real thing. This species has more solid pink flowers, wider leaves, and the leaves tend to have a fuzzy pubescence on the lower surface. Otherwise it is very similar and has a range that extends further into the Northeast.

August 20, 2018

More Geum hybrids in NY

Filed under: Naturalized Plants,North American Native Plants — admin @ 22:10

Two years ago I found Geum ×catlingii in Cortland, New York. Since then I have seen this hybrid is several other counties including Cayuga, Chemung, Onondaga, Tompkins, and Tioga. It is a hybrid of Geum canadense and G. urbanum. It is fairly easy to identify for its pale yellow flowers and large stipules. It otherwise looks like G. canadense but is mostly sterile.

Overall habit of G. ×catlingii

Lower leaves showing large stipules and rather hairy stem.

Flowers of Geum canadense (left), G. ×catlingii (middle), and G. urbanum (right)

Earlier this year I found another Geum urbanum hybrid. At the time I knew G. rivale was one of the parents but it took a second visit to the site and closer examination of the plants to determine the other parent as G. urbanum. This hybrid is named G. ×intermedium and until now was only reported from Europe.

Nodding flowers with erect or ascending yellow petals and ascending to spreading sepals

Sepals are green suffused with purple

Leaves with rather rounded lobes and large stipules similar to G. urbanum

There was one other Geum hybrid that I was interested in finding this summer, G. ×macneillii which is the hybrid of G. laciniatum and G. urbanum. It was only known from Quebec, Canada and was described by the same authors who described G. ×catlingii. I set out to find a large population of G. laciniatum where G. urbanum was also common. A village park along a river floodplain turned out to the the perfect spot. There were three plants total, two rather small in stature similar to G. urbanum and one larger plant closely resembling G. laciniatum. Both forms had a combination of features separating it from the parents. These included yellow flowers with petals shorter than the sepals, stiff deflexed hairs on the stem, relatively large stipules, and flowers with numerous carpels that were consistently sterile in all of the plants found.

Overall habit of G. ×macneillii. This is one of the smaller plants found.

Stout, stiffly hairy stems and relatively large stipules

Yellow petals shorter than the sepals (paler than G. urbanum but not as pale as G. ×catlingii)

On a return visit to the site I found a plant growing among G. laciniatum that had the general characteristics of that species but the foliage more closely resembling that of G. canadense. Most of the G. laciniatum had finished flowering and were setting fruit but this plant was still flowering and had some flowers with normally developing fruit and others that appeared sterile. The petals were also a bit wider and lacked the creamy color typical of G. laciniatum. I took some back to the lab and noticed the achenes were fewer in number than G. laciniatum but more than G. canadense, and the receptacle they attach to had more hairs on it than G. laciniatum. Over the next few weeks I found two more populations, one in the same county and another several counties away. I eventually decided to name this hybrid G. ×cortlandicum and published this along with reports of the other hybrids in Phytoneuron. The full citation is

Hough, M. 2018. Geum ×cortlandicum (Rosaceae), a new natural hybrid plus three Geum urbanum hybrids new to the flora of New York. Phytoneuron 2018-59: 1–9.

This is the original plant of Geum ×cortlandicum that I found earlier this year

Stiff hairs of the stem

This is one of the more robust plants that I found at another site in Seneca County, NY

Closeup of the flower. Plants in this population had more carpels than plants at other sites but the number of stigmas is still fewer than is typical of G. laciniatum

Head of achenes under the dissecting scope. Notice glands on the body of the achenes which occurs in some forms of G. canadense (typical of that species where these plants were found). There are also some hairs on the achenes. While there is a variety of G. laciniatum that has some hairs on the achenes (var. trichocarpum), G. laciniatum growing with these plants all had glabrous achenes.

The fruiting receptacle with the achenes removed. In G. laciniatum all but the tip and very base would be glabrous or have a few very short hairs. The hairs on this specimen are like those of G. canadense but are less dense. This is an important feature of the hybrid but should be considered together with the other features described.


June 5, 2018

Geum rivale hybrid?

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 12:02

Found what appears to be a hybrid of G. rivale and either G. allepicum (G. ×aurantiacum) or G. urbanum (G. ×intermedium).

The flowers were nodding and the petals erect and yellow when I first found the plant. Sepals suffused with purple but only at the base.

Two days later sepals more purple and petals looking more orange.

At this point past anthesis and sepals still spreading and petals still somewhat erect. Flowers still somewhat nodding.

Basal leaves.

May need to wait until fruit matures to get a definitive ID. Though I’ve considered revisiting the site to see what species grow nearby, it is quite possible that G. allepicum and G. urbanum both occur at the site. The hybrid G. ×intermedium is fairly well documented in Europe but apparently has not been collected in North America, while G. ×aurantiacum has only been collected at one site in NY (Adirondacks, locality unknown) and a few places in Canada.


June 1, 2018

Yellow Lady’s Slippers

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 16:32

Late May is the best time to see yellow lady’s slippers in central NY. The large yellow (Cyperipedium parviflorum var. pubescens) is the most common and has a lip about the size of an egg.

Less common and considerably smaller is C. parviflorum var. makasin. This one has flowers not much bigger than a quarter and darker maroon lateral sepals. It is said to be less tolerant of dry areas and is also fragrant.

May 8, 2018

Great-spurred Violet

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 13:53

Got a really nice picture of Viola selkirkii today. This species is apparently rare throughout most of its range except for in NY and Ontario, and even in NY populations are quite small and local.

August 12, 2017

Southern NJ in August

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 11:41

First stop on August 9th was a dry woodland of pine, oak, and hickory. Several stems of cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) were in full bloom. The slightly asymmetrical flowers are pollinated by moths.

Northern Adder’s-tongue (Ophioglossum pusillum) was scattered in richer soil among a large population of lily-leaved twayblade (Liparis liliifolia). This is a eusporangiate fern (sporangia developing from several epidermal cells), while most ferns are leptosporangiate (sporangia developing from a single cell).

On the way out spotted a nice patch of pine sap. The pink stems and relatively late flowering time suggest this may be Hypopitys lanuginosa rather than Hypopitys monotropa, though mid-August is when flowering of the two species typically overlap.

I then visited a powerline right-of-way that cuts through a nearby Wildlife Management Area. Flowering along the roadway was lots of slender aster (Eurybia compacta).

Orange milkwort (Polygala lutea) was fairly abundant in wet sand along the access road. These plants have been blooming for over a month.

Engelmann’s arrowhead (Sagittaria engelmanniana) growing in standing water in the deep ruts of the access road. This species prefers acid water and has leaves typically narrower than the common arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), however examination of the achenes is best for positive identification. The latter has none or at most one facial wing on the achene whereas S. engelmanniana has 1-3 facial wings.

Golden hedge-hyssop (Gratiola aurea) was also abundant in the wet muck of the access road.

A rare species that was common here on dry sand was elliptic-leaved rushfoil (Crotonopsis elliptica). This species is quite small and easy to overlook.

The next day I visited a savanna that had formed on a former bog iron mining site. Here I found three flowering plants of the globally vulnerable yellow fringeless orchid (Platanthera integra). This site is threatened by encroachment of cedars and would probably benefit from additional disturbance in the areas where the canopy is beginning to close.

On the way out I stopped by a few disturbed areas closer to civilization. A nice patch of climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens) was flowering on the bank of a river.

Seems I find a new species of thoroughwort every time I visit southern NJ. This one is round-leaved thoroughwort (Eupatorium rotundifolium) and was growing along the edge of some woods.

July 13, 2017


Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 13:47

Five Pyrola spp. occur in New York. These plants are commonly known as wintergreen or shinleaf. I was able to photograph all but one of these in the last two days. The one that still alludes me is Pyrola chlorantha which, unlike the other species, has greenish flowers. It is not uncommon so I may still find it before the end of July.

The most common species is elliptic-leaved shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica). This one was found under a young gray birch on an old iron mining site. The leaves are often a darker green.

Two days ago I found a large patch of American shinleaf (Pyrola americana) growing in moist sand along the edge of a bog. I’ve also found this species in swamps. This is one of the largest species with round leaves and relatively large white-petaled flowers. It is probably the most common species in New York other than Pyrola elliptica (and possibly P. chlorantha which I have ironically yet to find).

Back at the old iron mine site there was a good population of the state threatened pink wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia) growing primarily in the shade of willows, tamarack, and black spruce. While the leaves resemble those of P. americana to some extent, this is the only species with consistently pink or pink-purple flowers. The petals of P. elliptica can sometimes have a faint pink hue but are mostly white and the thin (rather than shiny and leathery) leaves are quite different.

Shiny, leathery, rather round leaves of P. asarifolia.

The rarest species in New York is the state endangered little shinleaf (Pyrola minor), known from just below the alpine zone of one high peak and one other nearby location. There are probably less than 100 known plants in the state, though careful searches in the area might turn up more. This species is primarily a boreal species that inhabits subalpine coniferous forests in New York. It is smaller than the other species and also differs in having a short and straight style. All other species in NY have an elongate and strongly curving style (not counting the segregate genera Moneses, with solitary flowers, and Orthilia with flowers all on one side of the raceme).

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