Toothpetal Orchid – The Punch-Buggy of the Plant World
Toothpetal Orchid at Walsingham Park
The signs of winter in Florida: my huge, sweet Ponderosa lemons are ripe, the robins, hawks and buzzards have returned, and the terrestrial orchids are blooming. At least, the only terrestrial orchid B and I can easily find and identify, so far – the toothpetal orchid (Habenaria odontopetala).
Before I go any further, I want to mention something (and I'll probably mention it again a hundred times.) We are amateurs. We know a few things, but not as much as a lot of people, and though we try hard to be accurate, we might easily be wrong. Sometimes I'm even wrong on purpose, like when I call the spiny orb spider a crab spider. (Can't help it – it looks too much like a crab not to be called a crab spider.) And B's excuse is that he's six. Anyway, please correct us (gently, we're sensitive) if we get anything wrong. And always check another source before you take anything you find in this blog as absolute fact.
Toothpetal Orchid Flowers, Walsingham Park
Toothpetal orchids are common as far as orchids go, but still infrequent enough that discovering one is always a joy. In December and January we have contests to find them – they are the punch-buggies of the plant world. Punch-plant!
Most of the literature says they prefer moist soils, but I usually see them in drier piney areas with a smattering of oaks and a light understory. Toothpetal orchids have a distinct smell which some people describe as unpleasant, but which I think is lovely, spicy-sweet. They are said to smell even stronger at night – they are pollinated by moths. I'll have to try a night hike soon.
Toothpetal Orchid, Lake Seminole Park
According to Florida Ethnobotany (Austin and Honychurch) toothpetal orchids were used by the Seminoles in funerary rites, and also to fortify the powers of shamans. Remember, the Seminoles weren't originally from Florida, so when they arrived they had to learn a whole new assortment of plant lore. I wonder if they once used a similar plant – there are other species of Habenaria in their original range – and then adapted to the toothpetal when they settled here?