Sunday, December 29, 2013

Orchid Hunting in Winter

It seems odd to be out looking for orchids at this time of the year, but yesterday was a nice winter day -- sunny with no wind, temperatures in the fifties -- a perfect day to get out to pursue my botanical interests after being cooped up indoors. Herb joined me on the hike.

After my find of the Puttyroot or Adam-and-Eve orchid (Aplectrum hyemale) growing on Wildcat Mountain last spring I learned that this orchid puts out its single leaf in the fall. The leaf persists through the winter to die back in early spring. I had been wanting to see these leaves for myself, and with no underbrush to obscure them, this seemed like a great time to look for them.

We left the house around eleven thirty and started climbing up the mountain around noon. A younger family moving at a faster pace soon overtook us on the trail and we let them pass. We took the left fork at the top and proceeded toward the area where I remembered seeing the orchids. Herb was lagging behind and called out to me as we were walking by one of the old stone walls. He had spotted something he thought might be what we were looking for and sure enough, here were two orchid leaves. One had an intact dried seed pod.

I had not seen any orchids in this part of the preserve last spring, and was surprised to see just how close to the trail they grew. The leaf is very distinctive with its pleated white veins.

Aplectrum leaf 
Another few leaves cropped up a bit farther along. Apparently there are quite a few more plants of this species here than I had been able to pick out last spring. When we finally reached the spot where I had sketched before, the place was rife with them!

There was more green on the ground than I had expected to see: Christmas ferns (covered with ice in the shadier places) and a club moss called ground cedar (Lycopodium digitatum).

With our objective accomplished, we looped around the trail and back down the mountain in the warm afternoon sun. Next spring we'll look for more native orchids: Wister's coralroot and lily-leaved twayblade are known to be found here, and who knows, perhaps there could be others?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sketching in Big Cypress

White Heron in Big Cypress, 14" x 10" watercolor.

During my recent trip to Miami, my friend Raquel and I took a jaunt to Big Cypress. We wanted to paint a bit on location, something neither of us had had much time to do recently. The swamp surrounding the Gallery at Big Cypress is such a lovely spot--the ancient cypresses shade and provide shelter for so many birds and other wildlife.

As we approached the swamp a great white heron posed at the base of one of the cypresses. He lingered long enough for us to take a few photos before flying off. We entered the gallery to check out Clyde Butcher's latest work and I couldn't resist buying a calendar and a couple of cards with his fabulous photos of ghost orchid flowers. This rare orchid has two long appendages on the lip (labellum) that resemble legs, and the frontal view makes the flower look like a whimsical little creature dancing. I hope someday I may get to see and sketch this fascinating orchid in the wild.

We took a leisurely  walk out the gallery's back door into the surrounding swamp and marveled at the cypress knees--there were several groupings that looked like sculptures. We saw this one that, to me, evoked something of Rodin's Burghers of Calais.

 After our walk we set up our gear overlooking the water and ate our lunch while contemplating what we were going to paint. I felt a bit rusty, not having done any plein air work in almost a year. I decided to include the great white heron from the morning in my sketch, but I had to do this from memory. As you can see, when comparing my sketch to the photograph below, memory makes for a poor comparison with the real thing. In fact, my whole sketch lacks the wonderful luminosity of the scene. I'll have to try this painting again, to see if I can achieve the effect from photos.

 Raquel's unfinished painting looked much better than mine--the cypress roots she chose to focus on had a similar anthropomorphic quality to the photo of the cypress knees. I can't wait to see her finished painting!