Monday, September 26, 2016

Gentian and Spiranthes

A couple nights ago, my nature pal, Dale, enticed me to join him for an orchid quest in western Dane County, Wisconsin. I'm a whore for orchids and had not seen Dale in a few months, so it was a no-brainer to venture beyond my recently shrinking comfort zone for a nature rendezvous.

Downy Gentian, Walking Iron Park, Dane County, WI
With visions of spiranthes and gentian dancing in my head, I set off to meet Dale at Pleasant Valley Conservancy late Sunday morning. We quickly found a few Spiranthes species along the path in the burr oak savanna. However we were not certain if what we were seeing was the state Special Concern species, ovalis, that we had come seeking.

Spiranthes sp. ?magnicamporum, ?cernua Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Spiranthes can be challenging to tell apart. I find some of the differences to be rather subtle in certain species. I am a bit unsure as to which species is pictured below. I suspect it is either Great Plains or Nodding Lady's-tresses. I am heavily leaning Great Plains, but am not entirely sure. I hope to narrow the ID. I found out afterward apparently one can tell the Great Plains Lady-tresses by their almond-like scent. We should have smelled them!!! Though tempted to go back for a sniff, I foresee no time in my near future to do so.

Spiranthes sp. ?magnicamporum, ?cernua Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI

As far as Spiranthes ovalis goes, identification of this orchid at Pleasant Valley only happened very recently after some orchid aficionados toured the natural area. You can read more about its discovery at Tom Brock's blog.

Spiranthes ovalis. Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
As we toured the savanna we found more specimens that we knew with certainty were Spiranthes ovalis. I won't lie, the Spiranthes group of orchids lacks the intoxicating appeal I find with other orchids. However I have to give the genus credit for its intricately spiraled inflorescences.

Spiranthes ovalis, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI

With the ovalis under our belts it was time to turn our attention to the various gentian species blooming.

Fringed Gentian, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Stiff Gentian (Gentianella quinquefolia) were blooming abundantly throughout the drier areas of conservancy.

Stiff Gentian, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
The moisture-loving Fringed and Bottle Gentian (Gentianopis crinita and Gentiana andrewsii) were found in the lower prairie along the wetland trail. Both were still blooming though past peak according to Dale.
Fringed Gentian, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Along the way Common Buckeye were encountered. They have been prevalent at most natural areas I have visited in recent weeks.

Common Buckeye, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Tis the season for asters! I believe the asters I photographed along the wetland trail were New England Aster. However I'm certain we looked at 3-4 additional aster species. This is where I tell myself I should have been paying closer attention to things like the leaves, colors, structure etc. Alas sometimes I just want to enjoy my surroundings without getting caught up in the categorization and nomenclature of everything before me.

New England Aster, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
I spied a bloom in the wetlands I thought to be the invasive Spotted Knapweed. For a minute I was surprised an invasive would escape the impeccable management of this conservancy. However I quickly realized the bloom was some sort of thistle. My conclusion on ID: Swamp Thistle. My identification is further confirmed by this species being included on Pleasant Valley Conservancy's checklist of wetland plants.

Swamp Thistle, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
A whimsical bug photo-bombed my time with this bloom. I did not mind.

Not a fan of yellow, but I will still take time to admire certain yellow flowers on occasion. I am not certain if I've seen Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) before or if I simply overlooked it because it's my least favorite color. I wonder if it makes one sneeze?  I pondered this as I admired the plant, but lacked the motivation to carry out a sniff test to find my answer. Perhaps another time.

Sneezeweed, Pleasant Valley Conservancy, Dane Co, WI
Wrapping up at Pleasant Valley, we moved to Rettemund Prairie in search of more Spiranthes orchids. We found a number of Great Plains Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) blooming as expected. This is a far easier place to see this species than Spring Green Preserve where I have hiked nearly 3 miles round trip to view a single plant! These were a mere 50 feet or less up the trail.

Spiranthes magnicamporum, Rettenmund Prairie, Dane Co, WI

Spiranthes magnicamporum, Rettenmund Prairie, Dane Co, WI
Last stop was Walking Iron Park for our fourth, and my favorite, gentian species of the day, Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta). This is the truest blue of the gentians. The bluest of blooms, alluring and brilliant.

Downy Gentian, Walking Iron Park, Dane County, WI

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