Craighead's Nodding-caps (Triphora craigheadii)
Part of the Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids WebsiteClassification:
Kingdom: Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
Subclass: Liliidae - Subclass containing lily and orchid relatives
Order: Orchidales - Orchid order
Family: Orchidaceae - Orchid Family
Subfamily: Epidendroideae -
Tribe: Triphoreae - Triphora tribe.
Subtribe: Triphorinae - Triphora subtribe.
Summary: This is one of Florida's rarest orchids, endemic to the state (i.e. found nowhere else in the world), as well as being one of Florida's smallest. Plants often stand less than an inch tall, but can reach 2-3 inches with robust plants. Leaves are heart-shaped with ruffled edges, dark green on top and purple underneath. The small flowers, green with white lips flecked with purple, last but one day.
Common Name: Craighead's Nodding-caps
Habitat: Terrestrial or occasionally lithophytic on forest floor of mesic to xeric live oak/pine/juniper hammocks.
Flowering season: June through July
Carl Luer first described this species to science in 1965, after three years of attempting to find this plant in bloom. The first year, he observed the plants late in their season long after they had flowered. The second year, he came a few weeks too late and found only fruit/capsules. It was only in his third year of attempting to see this species in bloom that he finally succeeded, having arrived during their brief blooming season of the last week of June and the first of July. Add to this the fact that each flower only opens for the span of one morning before closing by mid-afternoon (with all members of a colony seeming to synchronize their blooming similar to Triphora trianthophora), and you begin to see the extraordinary difficulty of catching this rare beauty in flower. Within six visits to two separate colonies, I have only succeeded in finding them in bloom once. More often than not, it seems that I am there a day too early or a day too late.
Triphora craigheadii is a tiny plant endemic to the state of Florida, meaning that it is presently found nowhere else in the world. When the plants are flowering, the ruffled leaves tinted with purple beneath are still not fully open. It is a number of weeks later that the small leaves, each the size of a small fingernail, finally open fully. Looking at the included picture of the plant with a US penny for scale reference, it is clear that this is truly a liliputian plant, growing in the understory of the understory of the mixed live oak/juniper hammocks nestled within the larger pinelands in west-central Florida. These plants seem to be associated almost exclusively with naturally occurring limestone outcroppings, sometimes growing in the barest pockets of humus accumulated between or on top of these rocks.
The flowers themselves are quite lovely when viewed through a magnifying glass or a camera macro lens. Each 1/2 cm flower, composed of only a few thousands of cells, still exhibits the typical orchid flower structure. The green sepals are nicely contrasted with the white petals and the white lip spotted with pink-purple. When viewed this close up, there is beauty on this microscopic scale to rival even the most magnificent Cattleya flower.
The lightly shaded counties on the range map indicate locations where purported plants of this species have been found, but have not been seen in flower.
Copyright © 2008 Prem Subrahmanyam, All Rights Reserved.
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