Thursday, July 1, 2010

BEAR and PHANTOM ORCHID w/in 8 hours!!

First, the plant.

SO exciting. Hiking 3 days ago at our nearby National Forest we saw this WHITE plant that, except for it's extreme lack of redness, looked a lot like snow plant. We had no idea what it was.

I wondered if it was some cool orchid--TOTAL guess.  Just 'cause they're wacky.

Anyhow remembered to go back yesterday afternoon after work to take a picture. I had to use the flash for the last few shots as it was getting pretty dark (after 7 pm), especially under the trees, which is what this plant likes (dense, undisturbed forest). It was definitely further along that it'd been just 3 days earlier, but here it is (drumroll...), the Phantom Orchid:

 Well named, eh?

An elegant figure.

With a spooky face. =) Boo!

Cephalanthera austiniae, a NEW species for me, and apparently a threatened species up in Canada. It prefers (requires?) dense, undisturbed forests, and since those are becoming fewer and further in between, these guys are having a tough time.

This plant has NO green in it, doesn't "do" photosynthesis, thank you very much. Described as "pure white." It doesn't really even have leaves 'cause leaves are for gathering light, which the phantom orchid is "just not into." =)

So, I'm thinking it might do VERY well in the darkest of deep dark forests 'cause other plants would be struggling due to the lack of sunshine, and it'd be just fine and dandy.


I read it's a "symbiotic saprophyte." However, looking up saprophyte, I learn:

The term saprophyte is no longer in popular use since there are no true embryophytes or true plants that are saprophytic in nature. Plants that are once thought of as saprophytes such as orchids and monotropes are now considered as parasites on fungi. (

Which is much like what I read earlier this year re: snow plant. It's parasitic upon fungus. Alrighty.

Then I read this at

"Examples of saprophytes:

Plants which have saprotrophic nutrition are Rhizopus (bread mould), Mucor (pin mould), Yeast, Agaricus (mushroom), many bacteria etc."

I'm sorry, but aren't mold and mushrooms all types of FUNGUS? Isn't Fungi a (taxonomic) Kingdom completely separate from other Kingdoms like, say, Plantae?!?

Am I wrong? Like the biology-online thing says, there are no true plants that are saprophytic, so the term (wherin "phytic" means plant) is taxonomically gauche.

So, now I look up bacteria and fungi re: kingdoms and I first read that bacteria are lumped in with fungi (which makes my cock my head to the side like a dog that's confused), then learn: "Once considered a part of the plant kingdom, bacteria were eventually placed in a separate kingdom, Monera" (

Okay, feeling better, now.

And this ("plants which ... are ... mould, many bacteria") is a tutoring site?? Yikes. Scary!

SO, YOU BIOLOGIST SMARTIES--feel free to clarify if I've mucked things up, taxonomically speaking.


ANYhow, when we first saw our (now beloved) phantom orchid, this plant was TOTALLY white. It wasn't browning at all, and the flowers (which I only glanced at) looked round/balled up, and the way the flowers are flaring out now makes me think they weren't open when we first saw them. I'm thinking it was still unfurling this weekend.

So, I guess you could say it was furled on Sunday. =)

A furled phantom. Glad to know you.

(sorry, no pictures)

3 a.m. this morning I'm awake. Trying to sleep, window is WIDE open as it's been hot and we avail ourselves of every opportunity to cool the place down when we can.

So, I hear a weird animal noise and a cartoony DOING! like a bear has just distended something metal (due to prodigious weight) and it snapped back.

Given that the "Sheriff's Log" in our local paper regularly reports bears invading chicken coops, with unhappy (for the hens) results, I'm AWAKE.

I wake up MY bear and we head outside with flashlights. I happen to be on the side of the house where the bear apparently was. In response to my turning on all the lights and appearing outside, something low and big makes a startled sound and lumbers/darts from in front of the shed* to the left and (I believe) through or around the wood pile and back into the brush that surrounds our property.

"Uh... the bear's over here!" I call. The show, however, is apparently over. My bear wanders out a bit in that direction with our mag light then reports "Yup. Think that was a bear. G'night."

Yes, there's plenty of people out here in the sticks who freak out like that over a bear.

I lay in bed the next 30 minutes listening. And eventually pass out and it's over.

Needless to say, I'm doing a dump run today with our (apparently) ripe trash, work deadline or no work deadline. =) Somethings you just HAVE to attend to NOW.

Another benefit to working for a wildlife biologist who used to live in the sticks. She gets it.

And did I mention that I noticed 2 days ago my compost pile's surrounding wire fence had been unceremoniously removed? I remember standing there thinking (probably wishfully) "Could a deer do that?" When, really, I knew.


To be continued?


*our ONE REMAINING SHED that's not been destroyed by bears


  1. lol about the bear story.

    As for saprophytes, have you ever seen Indian pipes? A smaller, more day-lit version of your phantom orchids. Maybe related, otherwise an EXCELLENT example of convergent evolution.

    They are not, strictly speaking, fungi but they don't photosynthesize.

  2. That is SO COOL re: Indian pipes--freaky looking things, and I found this on the web re: Ips and fungi:

    "Mycorrhizal fungi may also form conduits for nutrients between plant species. The colorless, and hence heterotrophic Indian pipe (pictured on the right) is an angiosperm that must secure all its nourishment from mycorrhizal fungi that are attached at the same time to the roots of some autotrophic plant such as a pine tree. Radioactive carbon administered to the pine (as CO2) soon turns up in the Indian pipes even though they may be growing some distance away on the forest floor." (

    How freakin' cool is that?!? Thanks for the lead =)

  3. what a freaking cool find! MOst excellent! i wanna see it! Good bear story too :) We had one snag out suet feeder the other day, ooppps!


Cool people write inside rectangles....