An Eight-Orchid Day

June 5, 2021

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Some orchids have a vivid presence such as showy lady’s-slipper or stemless lady’s-slipper.  Some are small and demure, like early coralroot.  And some are persnickety about showing their colors above ground, such as striped coralroot which may bloom above ground one year and then not reappear in the same location for several succeeding years.  We’ve been on a quest to see all of the 49 orchids in Welby Smith’s book Native Orchids of Minnesota, and last Saturday we added two more to our list bringing our total of orchids seen to 36.  

A week earlier we’d seen a tightly budded flower stalk that had been identified as a Hooker’s orchid, and now we hoped to see a Hooker’s orchid with open flowers. On a day when the temperature was rising toward 100 degrees in the Twin Cities and none too cool where we were headed, we drove back up north, hoping to find a blooming Hooker’s orchid at Pennington Bog Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) or at a site nearby.   Our other goal: to find striped coralroot, an orchid I’d seen years ago but that Kelly had yet to see and photograph.  

Pennington Bog SNA, composed mostly of northern cedar swamp, lists at least 14 different kinds of orchid growing there, including calypso, dragon’s mouth, striped coralroot, early coralroot, heart-leaved twayblade, and several kinds of lady’s-slipper. A permit to visit is needed to help protect this fragile habitat, and we made sure to get our permit from the Department of Natural Resources before heading north. 

Another helpful wildflower searcher had told us about an area not too far from Pennington Bog where ram’s head lady’s-slipper and Hooker’s orchid grow, so we stopped there first. Tiger swallowtails flitted under the trees as we searched and found early coralroot and small yellow lady’s-slipper along with several ram’s head lady’s-slipper orchids, most of them past their blooming prime but a few still looking fresh.

Under a stand of cedars close by the ram’s head lady’s-slipper we spied an unfamiliar orchid with two wide basal leaves, its lovely white spurred flowers opening along the stalk. Yet another new to us orchid! Kelly took photographs, and we checked our pocket orchid guide,  narrowing the choices to two: blunt-leaved orchid or Hooker’s orchid.  Then we realized we’d had the same discussion last week about the orchid we’d seen in bud at the Lost Forty SNA. Of the two choices, only Hooker’s orchid blossomed in June which meant we must be now be looking (again) at a Hooker’s orchid, this time in bloom instead of in bud. Celebration ensued. 

We journeyed on to Pennington Bog SNA and had barely entered into the shaded light under the cedar trees when we spied striped coralroot. In my memory the striped coralroot I’d seen before had glowed deep pinkish red, and my memory turned out to be true.  Singly and in bunches, the orchids stood out like stalks of peppermint candy, each one fresher and more beautiful than the last.  

We wandered farther into the SNA, treading carefully on the mossy ground, coming across early coralroot, small yellow lady’s-slipper, a scattering of heart-leaved twayblade, and small round-leaved orchid just coming into polka-dotted bloom.  The most unexpected find of the day:  calypso orchid still blooming. We thought we’d come too late to see these tiny, exquisite orchids, and yet here they were, bright spots of color against the moss. Several calypso had gone to seed (or close to it), but a few were fresh and sweet. When we added up the day’s tally of orchids, we had seen eight orchids in all—a personal best.  

The day’s weather had been unusually hot, sweat dripping off of us as we searched.  We ended the day with a welcome swim in Blue Lake followed by an evening paddle to the wetland end of the lake tucked behind a sand bar. Round-leaved sundew grew in patches of moss, beavers worked busily near their lodge, and bladderwort, one of Minnesota’s carnivorous plants, bloomed its small yellow flowers. Maybe someday this wetland tucked behind a sandbar will slowly fill in as lakes do, becoming more of a bog.

Who knows? Maybe some day another wildflower chaser or two will come here in search of orchids that will have found a home in the moss. If so, we wish them well.

We wish them an eight-orchid day.

Thanks, Tony, for your help with a few of these spectacular finds!

Author: Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo,

Phyllis Root is the author of fifty books for children and has won numerous awards. Kelly Povo, a professional photographer for over thirty years, has exhibited in galleries and art shows across the country. She and Phyllis Root have collaborated on several books. This is their first book on Minnesota's Native Wildflowers.

3 thoughts on “An Eight-Orchid Day”

  1. beautiful! thanks so much for searching and sharing. hopefully you’ll do another book- with all the orchids you see!

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