Sunday, January 11, 2015
That Strange Little Orchid That Grows in Mid-Winter
Along parts of the trail we saw a number of those strange dry-looking green and white striped leaves that I used to think were some kind of early lady slipper. Now I know they're little orchid plants called Aplectrum hymale or putty root. The odd thing about these plants is that their chlorophyll is present and active in the winter, even in weather like this week when the temperature hovers near and well below freezing. The single leaf comes out of the ground at its point of attachment to its corm, from which it gets its common name of putty root. The corm is made of very sticky gooey material that the early Cherokee and Pisgah people around here used for mending pottery and other adhesive-needing jobs. The underside of the leaf is either green or, in the case of many that we saw today, purple. In late spring the leaf disappears and a single stalk bearing a raceme of small flowers rises from the point of attachment of the leaf to the corm. Unusual for members of the orchidaceae family, these flowers often produce seeds that can be germinated fairly easily.