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Vol. 7(10), pp. 9-11The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalOctober 2006

A New Orchid for Texas

Paul Martin Brown

Fig. 1. Close-up of flower: Triphora trianthophora var. texensis. Texas; Houston Co; Davy Crocket Natl Forest. Photo: Dick Pike.

It is not often that the opportunity presents itself to describe a new variety of orchid found within the United States. Most people assume that all new species and varieties are found deep in the jungles and rain forests of South America or on remote islands in the Pacific. Not so with Triphora trianthophora var. texensis. It was right there in Houston County, just waiting for the eagle eyes of Dick Pike to notice the perky white and green flowers and set into motion what would become the whole process of recognizing and eventually naming a new variety (Fig. 1).

Fig. 2. Triphora trianthophora var. texensis. Texas; Houston Co.; Davy Crocket National Forest. Photo: Dick Pike.

In late August of 2005 Dick, a Wildlife Biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and liaison to the National Forests in Texas, was searching for a site of Hexalectris spicata in Houston County and discovered the Triphora. On 26 August 2005, Pike observed 33 flowering plants of Triphora trianthophora in an area ca. 8-10 feet wide and 75-100 feet long. The strip is a short, shallow, intermittent drainage slope having very little vegetation and abundant mulch. The orchids are located in the bottom and sides of this drain. Although similar sites that occur nearby have been searched and suitable habitat may occur elsewhere in the National Forests of eastern Texas, to date this is the only site where the orchids have been observed. The site was visited again on 29 July 2006 and 11 plants were found and on 1 August with 80 plants seen. Pike visited the site again on 5 August and still no flowering plants were observed that day, but on August 10 there were 14 flowering plants (Fig. 2) in 100º heat! Given the difficulty of predicting "flowering days," the initial visit on 2005 was most fortuitous!

In October 2005 Christine Dudding, a graduate student, then working with the genus Triphora at the University of Florida, brought to my attention the report of a colony of Triphora trianthophora with white flowers that occurred in Texas. After examining a photograph of one of the plants, I contacted Dick Pike, who had already discovered and photographed the population that August. Unlike the forma albidoflava Keenan (Keenan, 1992) that occurs randomly and with great rarity in populations of typical T. trianthophora, all the plants here were alike and not appearing at all like forma albidoflava that, although it is white-flowered, has a yellow crest and yellowish green leaves. Flower color varies greatly in most populations of T. trianthophora and may range from the white and yellow of forma albidoflava to deep black cherry-colored flowers with reddish leaves to the multicolored forma rossii with white, green, and pink leaves and small pale flowers to forma caerulea with distinctly lilac-blue flowers. Plants have even been noted that appear to be lacking in all chlorophyll and those that have stems and leaves that are a soft pale golden color. In all of these noted forms the flowers are still typical T. trianthophora.

Fig. 3. Triphora trianthophora var. texensis. Artwork by Stan Folsom.

After determining that the plants were sufficiently different than those of typical Triphora trianthophora var. trianthophora in noting the ovate lip, crests to extending nearly the apron of the lip; flowers snow white with the petals, lip, and sepals edged in cerise, the beard lime green; the stems and foliage bright green, lacking the reddish pigment usually seen in the typical species except below the surface when the stems may be tinted pale purple and the flowers are uniformly smaller than most typical T. trianthophora var. trianthophora the decision was made to recognize the plants at the varietal level (Fig. 3). The name texensis was the logical choice to indicate that the variety is endemic to Texas. Rumor had it that others might possibly be considering a similar path and I chose to publish it in a summer issue of the North American Native Orchid Journal with the type specimens deposited at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Ft. Worth. Only time will tell if more colonies of the rare variety are to be found, and with the limitations of flowering time for Triphora, we all need the good fortune of Dick Pike!

Note: Much of this information was taken from my article in the North American Native Orchid Journal 12: 4-10. 2006.


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______. 2003. The Wild Orchids of North America., North of Mexico. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

______. 2003. The Wild Orchids of the Southeastern United States. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

______. 2003. The Wild Orchids of Florida, updated and expanded edition. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

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Watson, S. 1981. Descriptions of some Mexican species, collected chiefly by Mr. C. G. Pringle in 1889 and 1890. Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts 26: 131-158.

Copyright © 2006 Paul Martin Brown