Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)

Unlike the familar tropical orchids, which root off tree bark or moss, all members of Orchidaceae in the Bay Area grow in soil. But like the rest of the family, there have a symbiotic relationship with fungi that penetrate their roots and help supply the plant with nutrients. This complex situation makes them very difficult to transplant or establish in native gardens. But if you find one in the path of a bulldozer, it's worth a try. Otherwise, they shouldn't be disturbed from their natural habitat.

The flowers have three petals in a two-lipped configuration; the third (lip) petal being markedly different than the other two. The three sepals are all similar. There is a single functional stamen, whose filaments are united to the style of the pistil. The lower pistil has three fruit producing partitions.

On Montara Mountain, at least two members or Orchidaceae may be found: Piperia elegans - Rein Orchid and Spiranthes romanzoffiana - Hooded Lady's-tresses.



Piperia elegans:
Rein Orchid

Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)

Flowers: White and green, 3 petals and 3 sepals, lip petal drawn out into a spur; in dense inflorescence along stem.

Blooms: July - September.

Leaves: Small and erect; tightly lining lower stem. Often dried up by time of flowering.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: In dry protected areas. A couple can usually be found each year along San Pedro Mtn. Road above Green Valley.

Status: Native - Uncommon

Piperia elegans

600 x 450 JPEG - 28K

Further description & Comment: 1 to 3 feet tall, with at least half the plant made up of the flowering part.

One of the best parts of summer is trying to find out where the orchids are coming up in any given year. Although they are perennial, known locations do not seem to produce flowering plants each year (or more likely they're producing them when I'm not around - the nerve!)

The image to the left shows one of the Green Valley plants. 600 x 450 JPEG - 36K



Spiranthes romanzoffiana
Hooded Lady's-tresses

Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)

Flowers: White, 3 petals and 3 sepals forming a "hood" with a constriction near the rounded tip of the lip petal. Inflorescence is distinctly twisted like hair tresses.

Blooms: June - September.

Leaves: A few light green lance-like leaves at the base, usually withered by the time of bloom.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: In damp meadows, near (but not in) seep areas and creek banks.

Status: Native - Uncommon.

Spiranthes romanzoffiana

600 x 450 JPEG - 28K

Further description & Comment: 4 to 20 inches tall, tricky to find as they are often hidden in the dried summer grasses. S. porrifolia - (Western Lady's-tresses) have flowers that are yellow to cream colored and have a pointed tip on the unconstricted lip petal.


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