by Crystal Cockman
I recently made a trip to a friend’s property in Montgomery County looking to find an orchid he had spotted a few years ago. We thought the orchid might be a yellow fringeless orchid, which I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing yet in the wild, but we weren’t sure. We did not have a GPS point, so we were relying on his memory to find the small orchid again in the middle of the woods. It was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. We went last year trying to spot the plant in the pouring down rain and did not have any luck. This year we went on a sunny day, though I ended up getting just about as soaked from sweat from the heat and humidity as I did on the rainy day.
It was a long walk back to where the small boggy stream area was where the landowner remembered spotting the orchid two years prior. We walked up the stream through a jungle of a forest with plenty of smilax, or wait-a-minute vines, we had to gingerly pick our way through. We went by where he thought he remembered seeing it and did not find it, but kept going well past where it was likely to be. We were about ready to give up, but I thought we should go back through there one more time, as orchids can be hard to spot. It wasn’t long after that I saw the bright orange to my right and found two of the unique orchids in bloom.
When we found it, the orchid did have fringe on the petals, but it was about half the size of a yellow-fringed orchid, which is pretty common in Montgomery County along Tower Road and some other places. I sent an email with pictures of the plant to my botanist friends, and one of them, Bruce Sorrie, who previously worked with the Natural Heritage Program, emailed me back that the little beauty we had found was actually Crested Fringed Orchid, also known as Crested Yellow Orchid (Platanthera cristata). “This is an exquisite plant but not often appreciated, since it often grows in tangly streamheads and populations typically are small. The flowers are half the size of our other fringed orchids,” writes Bruce Sorrie. We thought at the time it might be a new record for Montgomery County. County records are the first documented specimens from the counties where they were collected or spotted.
We contacted Carol McCormick, Curator for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Herbarium and the NC Botanical Garden. She indicates that it is hard to determine whether a specimen is a county record or not because there might be a specimen in an herbarium in New York of St. Louis or Paris. She did find a historic record of this orchid being collected in Montgomery County by Dr. Al Radford in 1956. It is still impressive to locate an orchid that hasn’t been found in the county in more than half a century.
I did not collect one of the plants, as I didn’t want to disturb them. However, Carol had me send her high-resolution images of the orchid as well as the GPS location so she could print them on archival paper and keep a record of the finding at the NC Botanical Garden. She also put the data into sernecportal.org (Southeast Regional Network of Expertise & Collections). If you check sernecportal.org nothing more specific than the county is shown though, as orchids and other plants can be a favorite of plant poachers.
I was glad we made a second trip to try to locate this beautiful orchid, and especially glad we were lucky enough to stumble upon it this time. Keep your eye open for unique plants when you are out in the woods, and take a picture if you can if you find one. If you think you’ve found something unusual, I would love to hear about it or help identify it. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are still several unique plants that may very likely be in our area that haven’t been found in many years. You never know when you might find something that is a new discovery in your county or even state.