Puttyroot Orchid (Aplectrum hymale)
All native orchids are special, and most are uncommon to rare, threatened and/or endangered. Some of the more “common” orchids to Maryland include cranefly, rattlesnake plantain and puttyroot.
The Maryland Biodiversity website notes nine counties in central Maryland that have documented puttyroot, both in the piedmont and western shore coastal plain, with a total of 42 records.
I have seen the single leaf on occasions, but never the flower stalks, until this year. My observations come from Upper Marlboro, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on a large tract of old, mature forest along Western Branch, which ultimately feeds to Jug Bay at the Patuxent River.
The first photo of a green leaf was taken on April 20, 2016, the second photo of a brown leaf was taken on May 12, 2016, when the flower scape were first emerging, and the last series of photos are of puttyroot at peak flower on May 20, 2016, from an aggregate of some fifteen individual leaves, mixed with a trifecta of showy orchid and cranefly orchid, in an approximate 50-foot radius.
Leslie, Will and I found a total of five flowering scapes, and the bulk of my pictures came from the one plant that was in the sunlight.
Puttyroot’s pale, ghostly flower stalk is difficult to find.
More evident is the single, distinctive basal leaf, which is produced in late summer or fall. The leaf is large, oval, bluish-green above and purplish-green beneath. It is corrugated, with many, prominent white veins. It persists through the winter, withering at about the time the scape of flowers is produced in the spring.
Each one-inch flower is generally a dull yellow or green with mahogany or purplish brown tips. A single stalk may contain as many as two dozen or a few as ten flowers. Several to many plants may appear in a single grouping, but not all plants will bloom in a single season.
Due to the muted color of the puttyroot orchid, the blooming stalk is quite difficult to spot popping up in the sun-dappled leaf litter and low growing vegetation that may surround it. In late summer, the stem dries and produces seed capsules that may remain until the next flowering season.