The Waterman and Hill-Traveller's Companion, a Natural Events Almanac
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Cranefly Orchid leaves, Tipularia discolor
Photo by Jim Jung. All rights reserved.

15 - Cranefly Orchids Easily Spotted

The Cranefly Orchid - Tipularia discolor - is one of our area's three above-ground winter orchid species making it easily spotted on winter hikes. Look for it under pines on moist, north facing slopes. Note the "warts" on some of the leaves. While not all plants in a colony will exhibit warts a significant number do, at least in our area.

This orchid gets its epithetical name (discolor = two colors) from the two colors its leaves exhibit. The top is bright green while the underside is a reddish purple. This is a common trait in winter evergreens and other low light plants. The red undersurface acts as a reflector that bounces light back into the leaf allowing the plant a second chance at photsynthesis - in effect doubling the amount of sunlight it receives. Significantly those plants that receive a lot of sunlight show less purple on their leaf backs than those in more shade.

Cranefly Orchids are a species that is apparently in the process of expanding its range. This southeastern species was unknown in our area until reforestation projects of the 1950's began planting pines secured from the southeast in large plantations here. The litter of needles, bark and branches so acidifies the soil that few plants are able to grow there. This is one of the few that does.

If you entered this site on this page expecting to find a different subject, please consult our Natural Events Archive
The information on this page is tailored to Southern Illinois, Southwest Indiana, Western Kentucky, and Southeast Missouri

Copyright © 2009 Ruby Jung