Pollination of Siberian Iris (INVASIVE)

I try never to post non-native plant species invasive to the North American ecosystem, but these images are too good not to share. Besides plant life, I like to document the creatures that surround and depend on them, and this hard-working bumble bee deserves its 5 minutes of fame. I had previously also photographed a bee pollinating the grasspink orchid that you can see here.

As I was driving to the Green swamp preserve in North Carolina, I kept an eye on the roadside; some interesting plants grow by the side of roads inhabiting a disturbed space. Besides, ditches ran around the roads used to direct rainwater. The trenches thus provide a wet ecosystem for semi-aquatic plants to thrive. Driving by one of them, I saw a flash of blue that needed closer inspection. I had initially hoped it would be the native Irises like the ones I had documented earlier but turned out to be similar-looking Siberian Irises.

Luckily for me, there were plenty of bees working on these flowers in the early cloudy summer morning, perfect for photography, lots of light for fast shutter speeds, but soft enough not to create contrast issues while editing! Enjoy the slideshow of the bee forcing itself inside the Iris!

Rhododendron periclymenoides (Pinxter flower)

Rhododendron periclymenoides, the Pinxter flower or the pink Azalea, is a native azalea found along the eastern coast from southern New York to Georgia. They flower in the spring with showy pink blooms and long stamens with a sweet smell.

I caught these finishing their bloom in the first week of June. Despite being late in its blooming season, it put on a good show, and the old flowers still caught my eye!

The plant is a good substitute for many non native species in the garden. Then plant forms a shrub near the forest floor and is used by birds and animals as cover.

Cleistesiopsis (genus: Spreading Pogonia)

Cleistesiopsis, or spreading pogonia, is a genus of three orchid species found in north eastern America. Despite their similar names, they are not in the same genus as the rose pogonia found from Canada to Eastern US. Flowers produced by the orchid are large and showy, ranging in color from light pale to white. The three species are endemic to eastern North America, primarily south of Virginia to Florida. However, the rosebud orchid seems to have been found in New Jersey, although rarely. 

Because this was my first encounter with this genus, identifying their species was hard. As they are not as widespread as Calopogon orchids, spotting them in the Green swamp preserve was hard. After moving less at less than half a mile an hour through the longleaf pine savannah, I was able to observe four distinct populations of these orchids growing in the preserve. Some flowers were much past their primes while others were fresh. But even the ones done flowering, were still quite a sight to look at.

I would not want to hazard a guess as to the species of these orchids; if others could help me, I would be thankful.

One of my dating attempts was to photograph the inside of this orchid, it was, moderately successful!

Calopogon (Grasspink orchid)

tuberous grass pink

Calopogon, or the grasspink orchid, is a genus endemic to North America. The orchid is frequently found in wet, sunny bogs and marshy areas. The name is Greek and means “beautiful beard,” referring to the hairs found on its lips. Unlike most other orchids, the flowers of the Calopogon are non-resupinate

Found in my trip were the two grasspink species growing in North Carolina, the tuberous grasspink (Calopogon tuberosus), and the pale grasspink (Calopogon pallidus). The flowers within the species show considerable variation in color that made it hard for me to differentiate between the species, but iNaturalist was of much help. Shown here are more photos and their possible ids. Please correct me if they are wrong.

The flowers do not produce nectar or offer a reward to pollinators. Instead, the hairs on its lips trick bees into thinking there is pollen for the taking. From the bee’s weight, it falls onto the column letting the pollinia stick onto the bee. I was lucky enough to capture this poor bees misguided efforts to feed itself.

Cypripedium acaule (Pink Lady’s Slipper)

The pink lady’s slipper is a large orchid native to much of north Eastern America. It flowers every spring-early summer and is the most common orchid found in New Jersey. Despite their relative common occurrence, their numbers are threatened by habitat loss and illegal poaching. If you wish to grow a Cypripedium in your garden, please make sure to buy it from a reputable nursery like Plants Delights.

The Pink lady’s slipper requires acidic soil and tolerates shade and moisture. Like almost all orchid species, it needs the help of fungi species from the genus Rhizoctonia. Since most orchid seeds lack any food for the plant embryo, the fungi strands have to break open and attach themselves to the seed, providing it with the nutrients it needs to start growing. As the orchid matures and produces more energy, the fungi can extract nutrients from the plant. The 

I found a large patch of these orchids growing in a state forest here in New Jersey. They were plentiful and were multiplying. Seen to the side is a patch of young seedlings still too young to flower. In the background, one can make out the fence used to fence in a large patch of these orchids. It’s necessary to fence them in because the growing deer population eats these orchids. Nevertheless, the seeds of these orchids are small enough to have been blown out of the fenced-off area. These orchids were growing in a piney forest beside a Blackjack Oak.

Galearis spectabilis (Showy Orchid)

A common native orchid found in eastern united states and Canada, the Showy Orchid, also known as showy orchis, purple-hooded orchid, or gay orchid, lives up to its name, albeit tinily. They bloom from April to June before the forest canopy is fully leafed out. The orchid thrives in humus-rich deciduous woodlands with a slightly acidic ph. As with almost all orchids, they depend on fungi for their seed germination.

These flowers were all over the reserve and indicated a stable population. There were many new orchids with a single leaf out. Most orchids had one or two blooms on them, but a few managed three!

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-pulpit)

This common long lived perennial grows in the eastern half of the United States. Its flowers are varied in color but are hard to miss. Its three petal leaves means it can be confused with a young poison ivy. The plant itself contains Oxalic acid and oxalate crystals that can burn if ingested.

The flowers emerge after the leaves in late spring to early summer. The striped spathe surrounds a fleshy spadix that bears tiny flowers pollinated by small flies. In late summer the plant produces red berries. Its attractive flowers and large trifoliate leaves should make this an excellent addition to anybody shady garden. The plant is easy to grow in shade in the state of New Jersey.

Trientalis borealis (Starflower)

Starflower is a small ground covering herb across the forests of eastern North America. It is from the primrose family, the name of the genus Trientalis, meaning one-third of a foot in Latin, refers to the average height of the plant. 

The plant grows as a creeping rhizome and blooms early in the summer. The leaves grow out of a single stalk in a whorled fashion, with a flower spike emerging from the center. To the right, a colony of starflower is seen growing alongside a blooming Canadian mayflower.

Clemmys guttata (Spotted Turtle)

On our kayaking trip recently through the pinelands, my wife and I were fortunate enough to spot not one but three Spotted turtles! I could only photograph the two instances, but we were lucky to have spotted them multiple times. These turtles are now classified as endangered and listed as Species of Special Concern by the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

Habitat fragmentation and destruction are important factors that have lead to the decline of this small turtle species, its appeal among the pet trade has worsened the ground reality. The turtle has a range from Maine in the north, to Florida in the south. Disjunct populations exist in Canada and Illinois.

White bog violet (Viola lanceolata)

Like the common violet, the lance-leaved violet blooms early to mid spring. It is among the very few white stemless violets growing on man disturbed habitats, marshes, sandy shores and wetland margins. I observed them growing in high numbers along the river system in New Jersey pinelands.

These plants can be found growing anywhere along the river shore, on the left we see a violet growing on an eroded bank out of an exposed rhizome. The stemless violets are not truly without stem, but instead grow from a modified stem buried underground, a Rhizome.

The flowers are small as seen by the lichens growing next to it. I was able to take these photographs thanks to the awesome birthday gift my wife got me. A day kayaking through the pinelands! We used pineland adventures, they are awesome and will highly recommend them!

If you look closely at this sedge mound (possibly a tussock sedge) you can see a small bog violet growing out of it. This demonstrates clearly the need for ecosystem preservation. The sand next to the sedge roots has been eroded out by the rivers flow, but the roots of the plant are holding on to enough soil to allow other species of plants and animals to survive. Native grasses and sedges have deep roots and help vulnerable habitats. The aquifer under New Jersey depends on these ecosystems to replenish itself with clean water.