|Cranefly Orchid by zxgirl, on Flickr|
Years ago, I saw a spike of something sticking up out of the ground with what looked like flies hovering around it. As I got closer, I discovered the "flies" were just tiny brownish flowers fluttering in the breeze. Incredibly, the flowers looked like orchids! I didn't expect to find an orchid in my backyard, so I went inside to look at a plant key. That's when I became acquainted with Tipularia discolor, the native cranefly orchid.
|Cranefly Orchid Flower by cotinis, on Flickr|
Cranefly orchid grows primarily in the southeastern US, but you might find it as far west as Texas and as far north as Michigan or New York. It is considered threatened, endangered or rare in several states, but is fairly common in North Carolina. Cranefly orchid, sometimes called crippled cranefly or elfin spur, likes humus-rich woods with acidic soils. In the piedmont, I have usually seen it underneath pine trees, sometimes oaks.
|cranefly orchid leaves in my backyard|
Although I had seen these spotted green and purple leaves many, many times since childhood, I never knew what they were until I read a post by The Queen, and made the connection between leaves and weird fly flower.
The flowers bloom from July to September, but it's interesting to note that the leaves have died down completely by then. I had seen the flowers in my yard only once -- but always see the leaves -- so now I mark the leaves when they're up. That way I know where to check back later at bloom time.
|cranefly orchid leaf by ellen x silverberg, on Flickr|
The leaves are easy to find because they are green when the forest floor is mostly brown with leaf litter -- from September until around May when they die back. The underside of the leaf is quite purple, which makes it even easier to identify.
|Crippled Cranefly Orchid Fruit by corey.raimond, on Flickr|
|Corm of Cranefly Orchid by cotinis, on Flickr|
|Tipularia discolor leaves by jhapeman, on Flickr|
It has been so much fun to find a more diverse flora in our woods since removing English ivy and Japanese honeysuckle. Cranefly orchid is one of the sweet rewards.