Or, The First Native American Crazy GlueNow that I have your attention, what am I talking about? I'm talking about one of the many species of native orchids that grow wild in these West Virginia mountains. "Adam and Eve" and "putty root" are two of the common names for Aplectrum hyemale. Now, if you've read any of my previous columns, you know how I feel about common names. Not that I'm a snob trying to impress folks with my pseudo-intellectual grasp of the "dead" language of Latin, that's beside the point. It's just that the scientific names of plants usually insure that two people involved in a conversation about a particular plant can be reasonably sure that they're talking about the same plant.
Anyway.....getting back to the plant which is really what this story started out to be about. The scientific name tells you something about the plant. The generic name Aplectrum comes from the Latin, a (without) and plectron (spur.) Meaning that the flowers have no spurs. The specific epithet or second word, hyemale, means winter and refers to the fact that this orchid has a solitary leaf that persists all winter. This leaf can be up to 10" long and 3" wide with beautiful parallel silver veining. In the spring, the leaf vanishes and a 12"-18" pencil thick stem of greenish-yellow-purplish orchid flowers appears.
In this instance, the common names are quite accurate, as they refer to two interesting characteristics of this unusual plant. First of all, "putty root" derives from the fact that Native Americans used the glutinous matter derived from crushing the bulb of the plant to mend broken pottery and to fasten objects together. Adam & Eve is a reference to the growth habit of the bulbs as the leaf and flower arise from the current seasons growth (Eve) while last years bulb (Adam), from which forth sprang Eve, is still present. One way of propagating the plant is to cut Adam away from Eve with a sharp knife and replant him. A. hyemale usually sets copious amounts of dust-like seeds in attractive looking, pendulous pods. This is one of the easier orchids to grow from seed. Pour boiling water over a pot of soil to sterilize it, let cool and sprinkle the seeds over the soil, cover with a dusting of fine Granite Grit to discourage the growth of lichens, mosses and algae and to prevent slugs from eating your seedlings, and set it outside and let nature take its course. The seeds will usually germinate the following spring and in a few years you will have flowering size plants.
I can't really recommend companion plants for Aplectrum hyemale because for my tastes, I have found that it looks best on its own in a natural looking colony. I'm sure that if space is a problem in your garden, you can use your imagination and find a pleasing neighbor for your plantings of it. Unlike some terrestrial orchids, there seems to be no apparent macrorhizal fungal requirement for these plants to grow happy and healthy in a normal garden environment.
Aplectrum hyemale is a woodland plant that, in the wild, can be found in the shade of rich moist woods. If these conditions exist in your garden, they will be very happy there and before long you will have a nice little colony of these eye catching plants that's bound to strike up a conversation among visitors to your garden. You can then impress them with your command of Latin and some interesting trivia about the plant.- Barry Glick
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