June 13, 2021
We love Minnesota’s Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs), but we’re not the only state to set aside wilder places. Wisconsin also has SNAs (Wisconsin calls them State Natural Areas), a whopping 687 of them. Many of these SNAs, like Minnesota’s, provide “some of the last refuges for rare plants and animals,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
On Sunday we were lucky enough to wade and wander in one of these Wisconsin SNAs searching for some of those rare flowers in a forested swamp surrounding a small bog lake. And we were even luckier to go with a fellow wildflower lover who knows his way around this swamp.
Last week when we saw eight orchids in one day we thought we had achieved an all-time personal best. But records are made to be broken, and around the boggy lake and under cedar, tamarack, and spruce trees we saw a total of twelve orchid species. Not all were blooming but many were, and even seeing the ones not yet in bloom or on their way to seed is always a thrill.
The day was warm and bright with enough cool breezes to keep the sweat down. No bugs harassed us, although we saw many butterflies and dragonflies. The usual bog suspects were blooming: three-leaved false Solomon’s seal, Labrador tea, cotton grass (at least two kinds), bog rosemary, bog laurel, small cranberry, purple pitcher plant. We looked, photographed, recorded, and admired them.
It wasn’t long before we saw our first stemless lady’s-slipper, then the yellow-green stems and flowers of early coral root under the trees. Along the edge of the lake we found delicate rose pogonia, vivid dragon’s mouth, and bright grass pink blooming. The spires of white bog orchid became the first new-to-us orchid of the day. Looking closely at the flowers on a white bog orchid, I thought I saw one of the flowers move. It turned out to be a small white crab spider which, our friend told us, hung out in the orchid waiting to catch an unwary pollinator for a meal. More white bog orchids, rose pogonia, grass pink, and dragon’s mouth grew scattered all along the edge of the lake.
Small streams meandered through the moss, and we waded across them and into the forested part of the swamp. Here we found yellow lady’s slipper, showy lady’s-slipper, blunt-leaved orchid in bud, heart-leaved twayblade past its prime, small round-leaved orchid, and northern green bog orchid just opening its buds.
We are trying hard to use scientific names for at least some of the orchids when we can, since folks who use scientific nomenclature tend to look oddly at us when we say, “You know, the little polka-dotted orchid.” We were especially glad to get tips on how to tell apart northern green-bog orchid (Platanthera aquilonis) and its very close relation tall green bog-orchid (Platanthera huronensis), since even the guidebooks confess that these two species are easy to confuse.
The white bog orchid, blunt-leaved, and northern green bog-orchid are all new to us, and we hope to see them back in Minnesota to add to our list of Minnesota orchids we’ve seen (we are approaching 40 out of 49).
It’s hard to imagine a day richer in orchids (although that’s what we said last week), and we drove home filled up with bog trotting, orchid spotting, and gratitude to the friend who shared this richness of orchids and this quietly amazing place.