May 16, 2020
Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo
In this time of covid-19, we’ve made the decision to maintain social distancing while wildflower-chasing by avoiding parks with paths, but we make an exception for French Regional Park. John Moriarty, senior wildlife manager for Three Rivers Park District and author of A Field Guide to the Natural World of the Twin Cities has told us about a hillside with many showy orchis, Minnesota’s first orchid of the year, and we’ve come to the park in hopes of seeing them—wearing our masks and keeping at least six feet from other hikers and joggers along the wide paths.
On the path we pass nodding trillium, blue cohosh, and Jack-in-the-pulpit in bloom, and false Solomon’s seal just starting to bloom. And then we see them, more showy orchis than either of us together have seen in our lives so far, pink and white blossoms unfolding up flower stalks from a vase of smooth green leaves, the flower’s wide lower lip a perfect landing place for the queen bumblebees who visit them. John’s book states that the showy orchis is the Twin Cities’ most common orchid, and looking up at all the flowers blooming or almost blooming on the hillside we’re inclined to agree. But it’s also true that as habitat has declined, the numbers of showy orchis have declined, so this feels like a treasure trove of lovely, graceful flowers. The scientific name for showy orchis is Galearis spectabilis; spectabilis is Latin for remarkable, but I like to think it means spectacular, which is what these orchids are.
As a bonus we see a queen bumblebee investigating holes in the ground as she searches for a place to start this year’s colony after her solitary winter. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, flowers bloom and bumblebees reproduce. Maybe we, too, will endure.
The day begins with orchids, but we aren’t done chasing wildflowers yet. The wetlands are beginning to green up and flower, so we head to two wetlands we know in Anoka County. At the first one we find leaves we think are the very beginnings of some kind of orchid. The leaves are so new we can’t be sure what kind or orchid it might be, but we will definitely come back in a few weeks to see it again. A cluster of small red leaves with last year’s dried flower stalks and little flowers makes us think it could be some sort of saxifrage, but we’ll need to come back for this one, too, once it blossoms, to be sure of what we’re seeing. We also find the leaves and tiny flowers of small white violet (appropriately named—we thought the thick colonies of leaves might be some kind of lichen until we spotted the tiny flowers), a new-to-us sighting.
One last stop at a nearby restored wetland reveals lance-leaved violet, marsh blue violet, more small white violets, and round-leaved sundew, an unexpected find.
When we are wildflower chasing, nothing else matters for the moment. Come look at this! What is it? Could it be…? Isn’t it beautiful? We know that the world is waiting for us when we return to the rest of our lives, but for now, absorbed in the sunshine, the discovery, the delight of flowers we know and flowers we are just now meeting, we are content.