I found this plant in the woods early in May. Identifying it became an interesting challenge. There are not too many plants with whorled leaves at the end of a single stalk. So this was either Indian cucumber root or Whorled pogonia. The next plant I found — a few weeks later — was this one:
This clearly was Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) since some nearby plants were blooming with the distinctive flower associated with this plant. Let’s look at the annual growth cycle for Indian cucumber root and then we’ll return to the first plant (above).
Here is a group of young Indian cucumber root plants. I suspect they may need several years of growth before they flower — similar to how American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) develops over a number of years.
In this next photo, you can see several aspects of the developing flowers. There are flower buds in the center of the whorled leaves. Then there are the flowers hanging below the leaves (some not yet to the pollen stage, some with pollen on the anthers, and some which have been pollinated). And notice the pollinated flowers (which have dropped their tepals) now rising above the whorled leaves.
You can scroll back up to the second close-up photo of the Indian cucumber root flower to see how the central ovary sits in the flower and how it then becomes lifted upwards again before dropping its three styles.
The pollinated flowers develop into berries.
Returning to the first plant shown at the top of this post. . . . I saw it bloom the next spring and identified it conclusively as Large whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata). Let’s follow this plant through its annual growth cycle. Here are two young plants in early spring.
And here is a cluster of Large whorled pogonia plants. Two are in bloom. If you look carefully — way down near the bottom of the photo — between the two blooming plants, you can see a young Large whorled pogonia coming up.
Next . . . I created three sets of photos to more clearly compare these two plants. If you come across one or the other plant in the woods and it is not in bloom, here is how you can distinguish each from the other.
In this photo of the set of lower whorled leaves, Large whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata) is on the left and Indian cucumber root (Medola virginiana) is on the right.
The stem of Large whorled pogonia (on left) is smooth, looks soft and perhaps water-filled, and is usually purplish in color. The stem of Indian cucumber root (on right) can be covered with fine hairs (especially when young) and is quite wiry.