Sierra Crane Orchid

This lovely, fragrant white orchid has many names, both scientific and common. It is seen in the literature as Habenaria dilatata and Plantantheria dilatata. Currently P. dilatata appears to be the preferred designation. Plantantheria orchids are known as bog, rein, crane and/or fringed orchids. Thus Sierra crane orchid, white bog orchid, rein orchid and Cascade crane orchid are common names for P. dilatata. Another colloquial name, scentbottle, refers to this orchid’s sweet odor.

There are three subspecies of Plantantheria dilatata separated by lip petal/spur length and shape. I believe this specimen is P. dilatata ssp leucostachys because its spur is much longer than the rest of the lip petal. This subspecies is generally referred to as Sierra crane orchid.

Sierra crane orchid is a perennial arising from a fleshy tuber-like root. It is found throughout much of North America, except for some Southern and Midwestern States at mid to high elevations. Its habitat is wet places such as swamps, bogs, seeps, moist meadows and stream and lake sides.

The erect stem of Sierra crane orchid is leafy throughout with the clasping, oblong to broadly lance-shaped leaves gradually getting smaller up the stem.

The Sierra crane orchid inflorescence is 5 to 30 waxy flowers in a spike. The individual flowers are either densely packed in the inflorescence or they may be loosely spaced. The flowers have bilateral symmetry (the same on both sides of a center line). Two of the three sepals are horizontal and one is pointed upward. Two petals point up while the lower petal is modified into a lip with a hollow appendage (spur) extending from it. The spur is lined with nectar-producing glands.

Numerous small Sierra crane orchid seeds are contained in the fruit, an elliptical capsule.

There are conflicting reports about the edibility of Sierra crane orchid. Some Native American groups considered the plant poisonous to humans and animals. The Shuswap even used extracts of the plant as poison on bait for coyotes and grizzlies. Others claim the tuber-like roots can be eaten. I would use caution and not attempt to ingest Sierra crane orchid.

These specimens were photographed in June along Cedar Creek off of CA Highway 299 between Alturas and Cedarville (Modoc County).


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