As spring rolls in, the north east is filled with colorful flowering trees. Most of which aren’t native. But one small tree stands out, the redbuds. A native large shrub/small tree, the redbuds are covered in magenta pink flowers that occur in clumps right on the tree branch, or sometimes on the trunk itself. It is pollinated by long-tongued bees.
As the flower shape suggests, the redbuds belong to the Fabaceae family, also known as the pea/legume family.
The showy and long lasting flowers are why this plant is common in cultivation and is used in gardens and homes to add color to their spring gardens. Because its native, it also helps native bee population in the early months of spring and summer.
Minuartia carolinanana, or the Pine-barren sandwort is a small plant in the Pink family (Caryophyllaceae) native to the eastern coast of the US. They are found growing on white sands of pine barrens. They usually grow alone or with some grasses. The leaves are small and grow along the stem, resembling some moss species in both size and shape. The flowers grow out of these stems in long branches with five-petaled flowers that can grow longer than the stems supporting them.
To the left you can see the stem which shoots the flowering branch.
Monotropa hypopitys, or the pinesap, is a cousin of the more common ghost pipe. Both plants are parasitic depending on mycorrhizal fungi found in the forest floor. Unlike its cousin, Monotropa uniflora, pinesap flowers with multiple blooms on a single flowering stem. Like the ghost pipe, it can be found growing near oaks and pines.
The flower colors are varid, from yellow to purple/red. This is a rare plant in New Jersey with few populations recorded. I was lucky enough to find at least three distinct populations growing in a hilly portion of Jersey. One was flowering, while ther other was past its prime and beginning to fruit.
Narrowleaf cow-wheat is a native herbaceous hemiparasitic annual. Its root structure invades the roots of other plants and allows it to extract nutrients from them. Cow-wheat can be found in common well-draining parts of New Jersey. These were near a cranberry bog along a roadside.
The flowers are interesting to look at, mainly because of their drawbridge-like bud opening! They are easy to miss if you don’t look for small flowers around you.
A less showy cousin of the much larger and showier white-fringed orchid (they were growing near each other in pinelands of New Jersey.) The plant has but one large leaves with others being reduced to bracts along its stems. This particular plant was a youngling that was probably flowering for the first time.
There is some controversy regarding its inclusion into the Platanthera genus. I do not know enough about the morphology of the genus to elaborate further.
The spot I found this orchid seemed to have a healthy population of orchids that were reproducing. One thing that concerned me was the thickness of the understory. As this location was used by people and was near a park for human picnicking, the area hasn’t burnt enough. Pinelands is a fire ecology, and I worry about what thick understory would do to the local orchid population.
The flowers of these orchids are not as showy as some others in the Platanthera genus, but that allows us to have a clear look at the twist that results in the resupinate nature of orchid flowers. Most orchids go through this, with certain exceptions like Calopogon. Resupinate flowers are those that twist and turn upside down. As an orchid bud develops, the lip of the orchid is towards the flowering stem (as can be seen below), but as the bud begins to open, the flower twists till the tip point down. In this orchid, you can see the twist that each flower went through.
Goodyera pubescens, the downy rattlesnake plantain is one of the most common orchids found in the eastern North America. Despite its high numbers it can be hard to find. The variegated leaves allow it to blend in with the forest floor. It is a terrestrial orchid with fleshy rhizomes with basal evergreen leaves. The beautiful leaves and its evergreen nature allows it to be seen throughout the year for orchid enthusiasts.
Swamp Milkweed is a tall moisture-loving plant found growing near bogs, swamps, fens, and streams. It prefers sunny spots where it flowers on a terminal spike in the summer. The flowers are showy pink to purple and carry nectar that attracts multiple pollinators. Shown here is a bumblebee trying to find its balance on swaying milkweed. It is a common species found across most of the continental US and into Canada. It is an excellent addition to any pollinator-friendly garden as its flowers are both showy and wonderfully scented.
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.
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.
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!