Triphora trianthophora (Swartz) Ryd.

Nodding pogonia, three-birds

The genus Triphora contains about a dozen species confined to North and Central America. Only one species is found in Wisconsin. The generic name is derived from the Greek meaning "three-bearing," in reference to the three flowers typically borne on each plant. The specific epithet trianthophora is the Greek meaning "three-flower-bearing," again in reference to the three flowers typically borne on each plant.

DESCRIPTION: Plant glabrous, 8-20 cm tall, arising from a caudex of fleshy roots; roots typically spherical tubers at their terminus, from which new plants arise. Stem typically pinkish or purplish and appearing angular. Leaves 1-5 (typically 3-5 in flowering individuals), orbicular, 5-10 mm long and 5-9 mm wide. Flowers 2-4, located in the axils of the upper leaves. Sepals oblanceolate to elliptic, 1-1.5 cm long and about 4 mm wide, pink to pinkish white, rarely white; lateral sepals falcate. Petals similar to lateral sepals. Labellum tripartite, pandurate in overall appearance, 6-10 mm long and 3-8 mm wide, pink to whitish-pink and with 3 prominent rows of green crenulate, fleshy ridges in the central portion.

I know of no other plant in the Wisconsin flora that could be confused with Triphora.

Typically found in moist, rich deciduous forests. Most Wisconsin collections come from under Acer saccharum or rarely Populus grandidentata. In late summer, when Triphora is in flower, the understory of its typical habitat is dark and devoid of competing vegetation. Of course, this does not make it any easier to locate this reclusive rarity.

August 20-September 20.

Observations by Williams (1994) indicate that bumblebees probably serve as pollinators. Triphora has a unique flowering phenology: typically the whole population flowers synchronously, and flowers last only one day. According to Keenan (1992), this synchronicity apparently extends over great areas, as during 1990 he and others observed Triphora flowering on the exact same day in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. Most likely the synchrony is maintained by large scale weather patterns or daylength cues. Triphora flowers offer no nectar reward and are fairly rare; given this, the synchrony and brief duration of flowering probably evolved as a means of ensuring pollination by bumblebees, which quickly learn to avoid non-rewarding flowers.

DISCUSSION: Triphora trianthophora is extremely rare in Wisconsin, where it is at the far northwestern corner of its range. Any populations discovered should be left undisturbed and their location should be reported to the Wisconsin DNR.

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