WILDFLOWERS OF NEW MEXICO

 
 

As many as 18 small but showy flowers bloom along the upper third of leafy stems that reach 3 feet tall. Streamside colonies may reach 1,000 plants in ideal habitats. The lower petal wiggles in the breeze or when touched, giving the flower its chatterbox name. Unlike tropical orchids that cling to tree branches, temperate zone orchids grow in the ground and depend on symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal soil fungi for nitrogen, carbon, and phosphorus absorption. They cannot survive without them, so transplanting is usually unsuccessful.


FLOWERS: March–June. Flowers about 1 1/2-inches wide (4 cm) with 3 lance-shaped sepals to 1-inch long (1.5 cm), lined with orange to purple veins. The 2 upper petals similar to sepals, about 5/8-inch long (1.7 cm), 1/4-inch wide (7 mm) with red or purple veins. The lower petal (lip) is hinged and movable, with 2 rounded side lobes, streaked with red to purple veins, and a central lobe, rose-colored, triangular, flattened.


LEAVES: Alternate. Blade elliptic to lance-shaped, 2 3/4–10 inches long (7–25 cm), 3/8–2 3/4-inches wide (1.5–7 cm), with parallel veins and clasping the stem, smaller towards top.


HABITAT: Moist sandy, gravelly soils, shady stream banks, springs, seeps; desert grasslands, pinyon-juniper woodlands.


ELEVATION: 4,300–7,400 feet.


RANGE: Widespread in western U. S.


SIMILAR SPECIES: The widely naturalized introduced Broadleaf Helleborine, E. helleborine, has dull green flowers with a flat, downward facing triangular lip; reported in Santa Fe County and the Rio Grande bosque in Bernalillo County.


NM COUNTIES: Widespread but scattered in northwest and southern NM in low- to mid-elevation moist habitats: Bernalillo, Carton, Eddy, Grant, Guadalupe, Harding, Los Alamos, Otero, San Juan, Sandoval, Sierra, Rio Arriba.


NOTE: The flower aroma of this orchid mimics the honeydew smell of aphids and fools Syrphid flies, whose larva prey on aphids, to lay their eggs inside the flower, pollinating it in the process.

CHATTERBOX ORCHID,  GIANT HELLEBORINE,  STREAM ORCHID

EPIPACTIS GIGANTEA

Orchid Family, Orchidaceae

Perennial herb

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  1. 1.Flower surrounded by 3 lance-shaped sepals with dark veins (upper arrow).

  2. 2.Two lance-shaped upper petals with dark veins (2 middle arrows).

  3. 3.Lower petal (lip) with 2 rounded side lobes and a central pointed lobe (lower arrow).

Lower petal with flattened, triangular central lobe, or “tongue” that wiggles in the breeze.

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