Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pink Lady’s-slipper

Of all the native orchids in the Northeast, I've encountered the Pink Lady’s-slipper or Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule) more often than other species.  In addition to bog edges, it can survive in drier pine woods. Acidic soil seems to be the common denominator.

The bottom petal, inflated into a hollow pouch, is longitudinally cleft almost the entire length, providing access to larger insects like bumblebees in search of nectar, although smaller bees in the family Andrenidae are the major pollinators.  Charles Darwin observed that once inside, the smooth, “slippery” pouch interior and incurved edges of the main opening force the bees to leave by a smaller opening where they first brush against the (female) stigma which dislodges any pollen and then the bees pass the (male) anthers where they pick up new pollen that could be carried to the next lady’s-slipper.  After successful pollination the blossoms quickly discard their beauty as the top (dorsal) sepal drops down to seal the opening.

Corrections, questions and suggestions are always welcome at or connect through my Facebook page and photo page. There is a separate community-type page for The Northeast Naturalist. Other nature and geology topics can be found on the parallel blogs Northeast Naturalist and Heading Out

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cinnamon Ferns

Cinnamon Ferns -- © Dave Spier

The Cinnamon Fern is a large, coarse and attractive plant usually found in shaded to partly-shaded bog edges, swampy areas, streambanks and similar moist woodlands often in association with sphagnum moss. The green, vegetative leaves (fronds) grow in circular, vase-like clusters reaching a height of three feet or more. Around the end of May or early June, the separate, fertile fronds rising in the center ripen into bright, rusty-red (cinnamon-colored) stalks in preparation for releasing their spores.

The generally accepted scientific name, Osmunda cinnamomea, refers to the Saxon god, Osmunder, who supposedly hid his family from danger in a large colony of these ferns. In addition to creating new plants from spores, Cinnamon Ferns can form these widespread, monotypical stands by extending the heavy, hairy rootstocks. New plants are added at the front while the oldest bases eventually wither and decay. Theoretically, a single plant can continue to grow "forever" in this fashion.

Cinnamon Fern belongs to the Royal Fern Family (Osmundaceae), sometimes called the "Flowering Ferns" which is totally misleading since ferns are primitive predecessors to true flowering plants and to seed plants in general (Spermatophyta). In fact, the Osmunda's are among the most primitive of ferns based on the fossil record. The Cinnamon's relationship to other members of the genus is now a subject of debate. Recent genetic studies suggest it should be moved to its own (new) genus, Osmundastrum, (partly borne out by its apparent inability to hybridize), but that would have no effect on our enjoyment of the fern's symmetrical beauty and color. It makes an attractive ornamental if you have a shady, moist spot with acidic soil - and it's deer-proof!

Cinnamon Fern leaves taper to a point at the tip, but only semi-taper toward the base, meaning the narrowing ends abruptly. [For those needing additional identification details, the fronds are "twice-cut," i.e. the leaves are divided into pointed leaflets (called pinnae) which are then deeply lobed but not quite divided into blunt-pointed subleaflets (normally called pinnules). Look for small woolly tufts where the leaflets attach to the main leaf stalk (called the axis or rachis). Technically the stem or stalk (a.k.a. stipe) is the portion between the lowest leaflets and the ground.]

Cinnamon Ferns can be found throughout the eastern portion of the northern hemisphere and its range continues south as far as Paraguay. Surprisingly, it also occurs in eastern Asia from Siberia to Vietnam, but this is considered a separate subspecies.

The local variety is noted on several plant lists from the Adirondacks, such as the Moose River Plains, but I'd be interested in hearing about other locations where you've found it. I have some photos of the fronds turning yellow and then bronze in the fall, and if I remember to locate one of these (from Cranberry Lake? or another location), I'll post it at the end of summer.

Corrections, comments and questions are always welcome by emailing