Three Birds Orchid                     Triphora trianthophora

Several years ago I was taking Scout Leaders touring the farm before a Camporee.  On a woodland trail, we came upon a cluster of tiny white flowers.  They had the lower lip of an orchid.  I came back 3 days later with a camera but couldn't find any flowers.  Weeks later I came back and found many small pods.  I coded the pod out as Three Birds Orchid.  Over the next 5 years we had several large clumps of the orchid at the same spot.  Some dry years we found nothing.  The meager information available at that time said the pollinator must be the Bumble Bee, but the pictures above shows a Black Gnat in the act, or maybe the small beetle in picture #1


















A PhD candidate contacted me because he had seen my earlier web page and thought that I might have a new sub-species.  He said I was correct that the correct pollinator was small beetles or Black Gnats.  This orchid is about 30% smaller than usual like the Michigan sub-species 'schwartzlow' but my strain was white, like the larger main species instead of lavender like the Michigan sub-species.  Genetic mapping of our orchid show this is a white variety of Triphora trianthophara schwartlow & not a new sub-species Triphora trianthophara wisnefskii. 

Since then we dug up some dirt adjacent to the clump and collected some of the spore-like seeds and inoculated 3 adjacent areas.  For many years we haven't had the correct weather pattern for these orchids to appear.  They need a wet mid summer with a 2" rain in early August followed by a 20-30 degree temperature drop.  They pop out of the soil and bloom often for only 1 day and are about 3" tall.  Since they are mainly an underground network of rhizomes they can remain dormant for up to 10 years and when conditions are right, up come the small flowers and seed pods.

Because of dry hot August's and my stroke 6 years ago we had not seen Three Birds Orchids for nearly a decade.  This summer we had the right moisture so I went to the spot to find a huge tree blown down over the area of the main patch.  I looked down and found two blooms in one of the spot we had inoculated almost a decade ago.  Next spring we will cut up the fallen tree, clear any Garlic Mustard and hope to find more orchids in the main clump and the other inoculated sites next August