Go Native—Grow Native: the cranefly orchid

Submitted by Betsy Washington,

Northern Neck Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society

The rich purple coloring of the cranefly orchid leaf undersides is apparent. Photo by Betsy Washington

As we celebrated the New Year with our annual New Year’s Day walk at Hickory Hollow Nature Area Preserve, many participants were intrigued by a small, common terrestrial orchid, the cranefly orchid, Tipularia discolor, that greeted us along the paths.

Some were even more surprised to realize they had this orchid growing on their own properties! Oddly, this orchid has dark green leaves that appear in mid fall and remain handsome and dark green through the winter months despite the vagaries of winter weather and then wither away in late spring and early summer when the canopy closes overhead. This allows this forest floor dweller to soak up all the sunlight and accumulate energy stores during the winter while the canopies are bare, and sunlight can readily reach the forest floor.

The single to sometimes large patches of oval dark leaves stand out against the brown and tan leaf litter in….

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