As with so many flowers, the snowy orchid, Platanthera nivea, rewards attention at every stage of life. From tightly clustered buds to bright white flowers, it shines in moist woodlands, bogs, and pine barrens, where it also is known as the ‘bog torch.’ Common in Florida and other southeastern states, it’s considered rare in Texas, which lies at the western edge of its range.
As its buds develop, dark green flower stalks, perpendicular to the stem, become more obvious.
Soon, the flowers’ spurs emerge. These long, hollow tubes contain nectar; as butterflies and skippers probe for nectar, the pollinia — cohesive masses of pollen typical of orchids and milkweeds — attach to the proboscis and are transferred to other flowers.
As the plants develop, the combination of buds and fully opened flowers can be charming. Because they bloom from the bottom up, the familiar torch-like shape soon appears.
Each opened flower reveals a corolla of two petals and one modified petal called a labellum, or lip, which attracts pollinating insects. Unlike many orchids, the lip of the snowy orchid points upward, rather than twisting 180 degrees to point downward and serve as a ‘landing pad’ for pollinators. The botanical term for the process that results in a downward-pointing lip is resupination; because that twist doesn’t take place in either the snowy orchid or grass pinks, their blooms are described as ‘non-resupinate.’
While butterflies and skippers are the snowy orchid’s primary pollinators, spiders, ants, and other insects lurk among its flowers. Here, a katydid nymph hangs out, its white-banded antennae a nice complement to the emerging blooms.
As more flowers open, the raceme takes on an increasingly cylindrical shape and its fragrance — a light scent that some describe as citrusy — becomes detectable. Quite often, unopened buds and spent flowers are found together: the cycle of life demonstrated in a single plant.
I suspect these orchids still are blooming, along with the plants that often accompany them. Tomorrow, I’ll know whether that suspicion is warranted.
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