Sunday, August 14, 2016

Albino Woodland Plants

Albino Fagus grandifolia, Meredith, NH, July 2016.
Albino plants, which have lost the ability to make the green pigment chlorophyll, show up occasionally among seedlings or as abnormal growth from an established plant. This summer, I've noted a couple of photosynthetically-challenged native plants in my travels, including the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) above. American Beeches send up root-borne shoots as a method of vegetative reproduction; in this case something went wrong with chlorophyll synthesis in part of the root system of a normal mature beech, and there were several pale shoots like this in a small area of the forest floor. The albino shoots are supported by sugars produced by the original green, photosynthetic portions of the clonal grove of trees. The albino beeches were in a pine/maple/hemlock forest near Winnesquam Lake in New Hampshire.

 Albino Cypripedium acaule, Mansfield Center, Ct, May 2016.
Back in Connecticut, I discovered an immature Pink Lady's Slipper with a completely albino leaf. This was the first time I've seen a true albino form of this woodland orchid, though apparently others have been photographed, including one that grew to flowering size. Almost all orchids have minute seed and seedlings that cannot survive on their own at first, relying on symbiotic fungal hosts from which they absorb the nutrients they need to grow. All Pink Lady's Slipper seedlings go through a subterranean phase that can last several years, when they produce no foliage at all. Presumably, an albino Cypripedium seedling can survive for an indefinite period, by relying on its parasitic relationship with fungi long after normal green plants would be making most of their own food. 

White flowered Cypripedium acaule, Mansfield Hollow.
Back around Memorial Day I revisited the white-flowered Pink Lady's Slipper that I found two years ago in Mansfield Center, Ct. It's still doing well, although I looked last year and couldn't find it; possibly it skipped a year without blooming.