Orange Fringed Orchid, Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaris)
Part of the Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids WebsiteClassification:
Kingdom: Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
Subclass: Liliidae - Subclass containing lily and orchid relatives
Order: Orchidales - Orchid order
Family: Orchidaceae - Orchid Family
Subfamily: Orchidiodeae -
Tribe: Orchideae - Orchidoids.
Subtribe: Orchidinae - Orchis and related.
Synonyms: Orchis ciliaris Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 939. 1753; Habenaria ciliaris (Linnaeus) R. Brown
Summary: One of the taller species of terrestrials inhabiting Florida. Plants to 36 inches (91.5cm) tall with a raceme of up to fifty flowers, each about 1 inch (2.5cm) from dorsal sepal to the end of the lip. The flowers are borne in a cluster at the top of the plant that can be six inches (15cm) tall. Flowers are apricot to orange in color, heavily fringed on the lip and bearing a spur at the back of the lip filled with nectar at the very tip.
Common Name: Orange Fringed Orchid, Yellow Fringed Orchid
Habitat: Found in moist, open acidic boggy areas, both along roadsides and in open pinelands where the understory burns with reasonable frequency to keep competing plants at bay.
Flowering season: July through September (peaking in August)
If there is one thing that can be said about this orchid, it's that it is not hard to spot. There is nothing that is even close to the same creamsicle orange of these dramatic flowers within the same environment. Occasionally a swamp milkweed or butterfly weed will cause a momentary double-take, but the habit and/or color of these is quite different. It is quite easy to see these orchids even when traveling at highway speeds down roads that penetrate through the types of open, moist pinelands where these plants thrive. After stopping the car and backing up to where they were seen, then the rest of the plant is revealed. The leaves, a light, almost bluish-green with several prominent veins, start out at the base of the plant at a pretty good size (in some cases 12 inches--30cm--long), and then rapidly decrease in size to mere floral bracts as they clasp higher up the fluted stem. One of the tallest of the bogland orchids, they can reach a height close to 36 inches (91.5 cm). Seedlings will produce a single leaf, or perhaps a few leaves in a basal rosette. Mature plants may sometimes revert back to this stage the next year after flowering.
No less dramatic than an entire inflorescence is the individual flower, with its deeply fringed lip and marginally fringed petals. The split anther (an uncommon structure among orchids) spreads to either side of the orifice, which leads to a slender spur filled with nectar in the last centimeter or so. Butterflies are the chief pollinator of this orchid, having to extend their tongues down the spur to drink the nectar. In the process, the pollinia, attached by long stalks to small, viscid discs that extend just past the ends of the split anther pouches, attach themselves to the eyes of the insects. The pollinia then flex inwards, like an extra pair of antennae, to position themselves where they will stick to the stigmatic surface positioned between the lobes of the anther.
This species has a very wide distribution, ranging from just north of Lake Okeechobee in Florida to the southern provinces of Canada. The northern plants are veritable dwarfs of the southern plants, less than 12 inches in height. It is in Florida that these plants reach their full potential heightwise.
Never common even where they are found, plants tend to form small colonies or isolated individuals over a wide area. They do not seem to be as particular about light requirements as some of the other bog orchids, sometimes being found close to the edge of woodlands where they do receive less light than in the open. It is possible, however, for the surrounding vegetation to overwhelm them. I knew of a roadside colony once in Leon County, Florida (the only known colony in this county and one that I helped bring to the attention of the local Florida State University biology department) that gradually became overwhelmed as the fetterbushes and gallberry plants grew to immense heights around them. After a few years, this colony disappeared entirely, and even when the vegetation was removed a few years later to clear-cut beneath the powerlines, the plants did not return. This highlights the need for good fire management and prescribed burn practices in wildlands where these plants can still be seen. It is only when an area remains open enough that these showy orchids can find their niche within Florida's ecosystem.
Copyright © 2008 Prem Subrahmanyam, All Rights Reserved.
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