Plant of the Week
Crane-fly Orchid (Tipularia discolor (Pursh) Nutt.)
By Susan Hooks
The Crane-fly Orchid (Tipularia discolor), or crippled crane-fly, is a perennial terrestrial woodland orchid, a member of the Orchidaceae. It is the only species of the genus Tipularia found in North America. It is found scattered throughout the Southeastern United States.
The plant is easy to identify in the field because of its distinctive leaves and its plain-colored inflorescences. The leaf is a dull to shiny green above (sometimes with raised purple spots) and purple below. It appears as a single oval shaped leaf that emerges in autumn (September and October), over-winters, and disappears in the late spring to early summer. There are no leaves at the time the orchid blooms.
The flowering stem is 15 to 20 inches tall, erect, herbaceous, greenish-brown, glabrous, and essentially leafless. The flowering stem originates from a small corm from July to September. This orchid is found in moist humus-rich soils of deciduous forest along slopes and stream terraces, and in areas with acid soils, such as oak-pine forests.
Moths pollinate the plant. The flowers have pollinaria. Pollinaria are specialized structures containing pollen found in orchids. The moth travels to the flower, the pollinaria attaches to the moth’s eyes, and then the moth can transfer the pollinaria to another flower for pollination.