CRANFLY ORCHID Tipularia discolor

In Matthew 13:44 (KJV) Jesus illustrated the excitement of discovery of God’s love and grace. He said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” (KJV)

The wildflower for today is an orchid. It is tiny and easily overlooked. One day I was looking out the kitchen window and saw a strange sight. A ray of sunlight had lit the ground through the leaves of an oak tree. Elsewhere, the ground was in shadows. In the center of the brightly lit area was a stick about a foot tall with flying bugs all over it, or so I thought. I rushed out with my camera and took more than a dozen photos. The “bugs” were really blooms.


Tipularia discolor

This strange orchid has blooms on a single stem with no leaves, as illustrated. In fact, after the seed pods dry and the stem dies, only a single leaf remains at ground level. It remains green throughout the winter (see the lower inset). The underside of the leaf is purple and in some cases the veins are elevated like ribs. As the daylight lengthens in the spring the leaf dies. Often there is no sign that the plant exists, then in summer a solitary thin stalk rises from the ground. Most of the activity is underground.

In the soil a corm exists, that is, a solid knot from which roots spread. When the time is right and it is fully nourished by the leaf, it shoots up a single stem sometime during the summer. The tiny blooms appear as early as June and as late as September, depending on the location, moisture, and warmth of the season.

The cranefly orchid is so named because, when in bloom, it looks like an upright stick on which a swarm of catchflies have landed. The bloom is tiny, measuring 1/2 to 5/8 inch across. The flower is tubular with four tiny pale yellow lobes. The width of the bloom is created by the four pale green sepals speckled with rust colored veins. From the back of the tubular structure a 1 to 1 1/2 inch spur projects, as illustrated in the upper inset.

In spite of all the uncertainties of the pandemic, may this summer provide you with many occasions of discovery. May you trust God to bless you with new friends and n

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Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit The Sketching Pad in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.

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