Monday, July 25, 2016

Bog Orchids

For those who felt that orchids were fussy little things growing inside within controlled temperatures, last week a surprising orchid story emerged. On July 23rd an article about millions of orchids now growing in a one hundred-acre wetland in upstate New York was published. The wetland, located at the site of the former Benson Mines, had formed from residue that developed on waste from the vast open-pit iron mine. According to scientists, the transformation is most impressive because it happened naturally. The wetland, which remains privately owned and off limits to the public, formed on part of thousands of acres of coarse sand left over when granite ore was crushed to extract iron from 1900 until 1978. That bare sand eventually gave way to moss, lichen, grasses, sedges and trees, including willows, poplars and tamaracks. Orchids arrived with the winds as dust-like seeds from surrounding areas. The wetland is now home to six species of bog orchids, including millions of rose pogonias and grass pinks.

"I've been involved in orchid-rich habitats all over the country for 40 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Donald Leopold, a professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He believes fungi colonized a plants root system and enhanced its ability to absorb nutrients… he was astonished the site went from bare mine tailings to a diverse wetland plant community in a scant 60 years without any attempts at restoration.  

In 2012 in a small two acre cranberry bog in east central Pennsylvania, two of the rarest orchids were discovered. The bog, ringed by sphagnum moss, is located at the edge of Valmont Industrial Park where an underlying layer of hard coal had created an extremely acidic, nearly sterile environment making the bog discovery even more significant. The rare Valmont orchids have a hyacinth-like ball of small, delicate blooms at the top… one is white-fringed, the other is yellow. Natural cross-pollination between the two has produced hybrids in an amazing array of exotic colors that have been seen nowhere else in the orchid world. Bob Sprague of the Native Orchid Conference has been working with local Pennsylvania groups to create a nature preserve to protect these as well as other amazing and unusual plant species growing nearby which include Bladderwort, Butterwort, Sundew and Venus Fly Trap.

With the unrelenting heat, good gardening news is rare, however these stories reinforce our belief that Nature has a mind of her own and that she possesses a will to create beauty in spite of all odds… they are a testament to Natures ability to heal herself.

Photo: From the Valmont Park site

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Horrid Humidity and Summer Heat

Water Vapor Rising in the Early Morning   

Those of us who reside in land locked Oklahoma rarely experience the geological condition known as humidity. Of late the weather reports daily on the humidity factor and few of us actually understand what causes it. Those in southern and costal states are well acquainted with humidity as it increases with the amount of forest growth or water bodies… we have so much desert-like land that it is odd for us to experience so much humidity. Humidity makes the temperature feel even hotter than it actually is.

Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. Water vapor is the gaseous state of water and is invisible. Humidity indicates the likelihood of precipitation, dew, or fog and we can thank the recent rains for the increase of temperature. Of particular note to those of us who garden is the fact that high humidity reduces the effectiveness of cooling the body through sweating by reducing the rate of evaporation of moisture from the skin. This effect is calculated in the heat index mentioned on the weather each morning.

As one wanders the garden before the sunlight begins to bake, it will be noted there is dew, which is damp glistening water which has built up on the grass, leaves, and cars overnight. This occurred as the temperature fell overnight because the air was saturated with moist humidity.  The temperature at which saturation occurs is called the dew point, which is also mentioned on the weather reports. The higher the dew point, the more misery may be expected. *Of interesting note is the fact that when this process occurs in the sky clouds are created.

High humidity has been scientifically proven to cause headaches, including migraines, even if one has not been outside. However if one has been outside too long heat exhaustion may occur and it is serious. Signs of it include: dizziness, excessive sweating, pale clammy skin, nausea, irregular pulse rate, and muscle cramping. If one experiences any of the above mentioned, immediately go inside to cool off, drink several glasses of water, and possibly take a cool bath to lower your body temperature. *Remember to take water with you to the garden.

Since most gardeners are compulsive, when you begin feel too hot or sweat profusely, please stop! Don’t make yourself finish just one more task; don’t pull one more weed, clip one more bush, or pick three more squash… go inside. Early morning and early evening, before the blazing sun appears then as it disappears in the west, is the best time to play outside now. Stay cool!

*Photo: Water Vapor rising in the early morning.