Tipularia discolor (Pursh) Nutt.

Cranefly Orchid

Tipularia discolor plant

Family - Orchidaceae

Stems - Flowering stem to +/-60cm tall, erect, herbaceous, greenish-brown, glabrous, essentially leafless. Flowering stem from a small corm.

Leaves - Basal leaf single, entire (the margins often sinuous), glabrous, to +9cm long, +5cm broad, elliptic to ovate or somewhat cordate, dull to shiny green above (most often with purple spots), shiny purple abaxially, acute to subacute at apex. Purple spots on blade often slightly raised compared to the rest of the leaf tissue. Petiole of leaf to +3cm long, glabrous, purple. Leaves of flowering stem reduced to minute bracts.

Tipularia discolor leaf

Tipularia discolor leaf

Tipularia discolor leaf

Inflorescence - Terminal raceme to 30cm tall. Pedicels spreading, to 8mm long, glabrous, each flower subtended by a minute scale-like bract. Bracts maroon, .1mm long (use a lens to see).

Flowers - Ovary inferior, 6-7mm long in flower, glabrous, greenish-brown. Sepals 3, spreading, 7-8mm long, 2-3mm broad, glabrous, elliptic, greenish-brown. Petals 3. Lateral 2 petals spreading, 5-6mm long, 1-2mm broad, linear-elliptic. Central petal deflexed, 6-7mm long, with 2 basal appendages, lighter in color than the other petals or sepals, glabrous, curled at base (slightly). Spur of central lower lip long, longer than ovary and pedicel combined, +2cm long, fairly straight. Column light green, rounded at apex, 4-5mm long, 1.5mm broad. Pollinia yellow, 1mm broad.

Tipularia discolor flowerFlower.

Flowering - July - August.

Habitat - Moist soil of mesic forests, stream terraces, tops of shallow sand dunes.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - T. discolor is a relatively new species to Missouri, having only been reported for the first time in 1983. It is believed that this species is expanding its range in the U.S. and the Missouri population may be part of this expansion. The plant can only be found in the extreme southeastern corner of the state. The plant is easy to ID in the field because of its distinctive leaves (which appear in the fall, overwinter, and wilt at anthesis) and its plain-colored inflorescences, which appear in the summer.
T. discolor is sometimes mistaken for another species, Aplectrum hyemale (Muhl.) Torr., but the latter has a silvery leaf with many veins. Here is a picture of the leaf of Aplectrum:

Aplectrum leaf

Photographs taken in Brown Summit, NC., 7-6-02 and 10-20-02.