Small Green Woodland Orchid

Platanthera clavellata

A few weeks ago, while looking for mushrooms, I spotted a small colony of orchids growing along the moist banks of a woodland creek near Pandapas Pond in Montgomery County. I immediately got pretty excited, mainly because I didn’t know what kind of orchids they were! It is sad to say, but this is the kind of thing that passes as “fun” for plant nerds, so this discovery was soon followed by several more exciting trips to the same spot in an effort to photograph the orchids as they were coming into bloom. 🙂 The result is the series of photos you’ll find in the gallery below.

I now know that this plant is called Small Green Woodland Orchid or Green Wood Orchis. The names are rather nondescript for such a pretty and exotic wildflower!

The habitat where I found this stand was densely shaded, and the understory was thick with New York, Cinnamon and Interrupted ferns.

If you were walking along in the woods you might not recognize the plant as an orchid unless it was in full bloom. Each plant has a single, dominant leaf that looks, at first glance, like a wide blade of grass. The single leaf clasps the stem, has a smooth margin, parallel veination, and is roughly oblanceolate. There may be one or two much smaller leaves further up on the main stem– and those, if present, sort of look like bracts.

The stem is smooth, unbranched, and can be 6 to 18 inches in height. A terminal cluster of flowers at the top of the stem might bear 5-20 tiny flowers. When I discovered this particular colony, none of the flowers had opened yet, but even the unopened buds were intriguing to look at. It took about two weeks for all the buds to open.

Each individual flower is very small (0.3-0.5 in), pale, cream to greenish in color, with a prominent green ovary. There are technically 3 oval sepals and 3 petals, but they are hard to tell apart; 3 of these structures join together to make up the orchid’s hood. The lower lip petal (labellum) is short and squared off, and has 3 tiny lobes at the bottom (see the photos). There is also a prominent, thin spur behind each flower; its terminal end is slightly enlarged like a “club”. This feature is responsible for 2 other common names for the plant: Club-Spur Orchid or Little Club Spur Bog Orchid.

This plant was previously named Habenaria clavellata. Bloom time is July to August. The photos below were taken during the first two weeks of July 2017.


Rare Corpse Flower Is Blooming Now at Virginia Tech!

Update!  The Corpse Plant is blooming!  Head on over to the the VT Greenhouses and get a whiff for yourself! Go soon, because Phil will not wait!


BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 21, 2015 – As the song goes, you were never promised a rose garden. At least not at the Jacob A. Lutz Garden Complex where all eyes and noses will be on the exotic corpse flower — a prehistoric-looking plant that will bloom early next week, releasing a primordial stench akin to rotting flesh.

Stinky Phil in bloom at Virginia Tech August 30, 2015
Stinky Phil in bloom at Virginia Tech August 30, 2015

Lucky visitors to the complex on Virginia Tech’s campus will be able get a whiff and an eyeful of the rare plant next week when it blooms for the first time in five years.

Experts estimate the flower is set to bloom and unleash its stink bomb of a scent on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week at the complex, located adjacent to the Hahn Horticulture Garden where visitors will be able to see the plant, affectionately called “Phil,” up close. The garden and greenhouse are run by the Department of Horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Visitors to the corpse flower can visit the greenhouse beside the Hahn Horticulture Garden in building F-2 from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the second green house in from McComas Hall, and also engage with the college on social media using the hashtag #stinkyphil to upload photos of the plant on Twitter, and post them to the college Facebook page. Think you know when the plant will be at its peak bloom? We’re also taking guesses on Facebook and in tweets sent to us as to when the public thinks the stink bomb will drop and the flower is in full bloom. Check in at the Hahn Horticulture Garden on Facebook and check back on the social media pages for daily updates and a time lapse video of the bloom in progress.

This flower is no shrinking violet. A mature bloom can reach up to 7-12 feet in height, and a diameter of 3-4 feet. Those who want the true corpse flower experience will have to keep a close eye on when the flower actually blooms, since the blooming period will last only about 48 hours and the overwhelming stench is said to occur only in the first eight hours of blooming when the flower expends a lot of energy to attract pollinators.

The plant is native to Sumatra, Indonesia and was first discovered there in 1878 by Odoardo Beccari. The first organization to cultivate the corpse flower, whose scientific name is Amorphophallus titanium, was the Royal Botanic Gardens, in Kew, England in 1887. The plant first bloomed in the United States in 1937 at the New York Botanical Garden.

Virginia Tech’s Department of Horticulture owes its odorous legacy to James Symon, a medical doctor who collected the seeds of the plants in Sumatra and shared them with John Ford, a frequent visitor to Virginia Tech and a member of the Aroid Society, an organization dedicated to the study of plants that belong to the Philodendron or Arum family.

Thanks, John Ford!

Virginia Wildflowers meets Stinky Phil!

Round-leaved Orchis

Habeneria orbiculata

Round-leaved Orchis
Round-leaved Orchis

The early leaves of this green-flowering orchid are distinctly round, hence the common name, Round-leaved Orchis, and the second part of the Latin name, orbiculata. The leaves appear in pairs, and as they grow, the roundness gives way to an elliptical shape.

A single flower stalk emerges in June and develops very slowly. When the flowers finally mature, they are quite numerous and greenish white in color. Note the long, thin lip on the front of the flower, which is offset by the longer, curved spur behind the flower.

Also known as Platanthera orbiculata.

Credit once again goes to John Ford, for showing me where to find these subtle little orchids growing in dry woods in the Pandapas Pond area of Montgomery County. Thanks, John!

Swamp Milkweed or Silkplant

Asclepias incarnata

Swamp milkweed
Swamp milkweed

Pretty enough for any garden, the deep pink blossoms of this summer milkweed beg you to stop and smell the flowers! Dozens of individual blooms are borne on stout umbels at the top of a 2-5 ft. tall plant. Look closely to see the five, up-turned petals on each flower. Sweet! The leaves (see photo below) are opposite, entire, lanceolate, and 3-6 inches long.

The flowers will give way to large seed pods bursting with silky seeds (another name for it is “Silkplant”). When fully dry, the seeds become airborne by virtue of their silky parachutes. American Indians used this same silk to make thread.

I’m somewhat disappointed by the common name of this lovely flower, but it does well to describe the plant’s habitat. Look for swamp milkweed growing in moist fields or in open, marshy areas; bloom time is June through August.

I found these plants growing along the Gateway Trail in Blacksburg.

Compare this pink-flowering milkweed to Common Milkweed.

Capturing a swarm of honey bees

My husband has been raising  honey bees for the last three years, but today he caught his first swarm without a swarm trap.  These bees were gathered up in a dogwood tree in our neighborhood in Blacksburg. They are now safely in a new hive at our house.  It was a milestone day for this new beekeeper!