July 2 & 3, 2021
Minnesota’s orchid season always feels brief to us. Many orchids bloom for only a short time, deep in wooded swamps or bogs in the northern half of the state, and some orchids (I’m talking about you, bog adder’s-mouth) are so small that we might never find them. But we love the looking and the places we look, and we take every opportunity we can to go searching.
Lavender streaked the sky as I drove to pick up Kelly at 5 a.m. and we set off to look for even more orchids before the orchid season is over. We were headed for Iron Springs Bog Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) , one of our favorites places, but our first stop was Roscoe Prairie SNA, a native prairie remnant, to look for showy milkweed. Last year around the fourth of July we had tentatively identified two plants at Roscoe Prairie as showy milkweed, and we wanted to verify that identification.
We arrived at the prairie around seven a.m. Sunlight silvered the leaves of leadplant, and birdsong sweetened the air. This was our first high summer prairie visit of the year, and we walked among leadplant’s purple flowers, black-eyed Susan, mountain death camas, purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, blazing star in bud, wood lily—a whole cast of native prairie flowers. The smell of Virginia mountain mint broke out from under our feet in places as we walked. Whenever we came to a milkweed blooming we peered closely at the flowers. Were these “horns” on the blossoms pointed and longer than on other milkweed? Did the leaves feel smooth on top and hairy underneath? Were the plants short, only two to three feet tall? We weren’t sure, but we thought we could confirm a couple of plants as showy. Leaving the prairie behind us, we drove on north. Along Highway 71 some milkweed caught Kelly’s eye, and two u-turns later we pulled up beside milkweed whose flowers had long pointed “horns,” leaves that were shiny on top and hairy underneath, and were only about two feet tall. Defintiely showy milkweed. Looking at the flowers, we could tell that the ones we had seen earlier at Roscoe Prairie were definitely not showy milkweed. Still, we were glad for our first native prairie morning of the year.
Another quick stop along the way revealed western spotted coralroot, striped coralroot gone to seed, ram’s-head lady’s-slipper gone to seed, round-leaved orchid gone to seed, and lesser rattlesnake-plantain, its distinctive leaves so small and buried in the moss that we only spied it because of the budding flower stalks.
The main destination of the day, Iron Springs Bog never disappoints, and we were barely out of the car before we saw our first northern green bog-orchid. Farther down the road we came across a long-bracted orchid still in bloom with tiny flowers whose long lower lips, like tongues, must give the orchid its common name of frog orchid. Showy lady’s-slipper bloomed in the low area across the road, some flowers just opening, many already past their prime. We followed a path under the trees in a section of the SNA we hadn’t yet explored and found ourselves in utterly orchid territory.
Our first find was tiny, a pale green orchid with a single leaf whose identity we weren’t sure of. Nearby were gone-to-seed stemless lady’s-slippers and gone-to-seed early coralroot. A tiny green adder’s-mouth caught our eye, then a orchid we thought might be bluntleaved rein-orchid and another we thought might be a small green wood-orchid. Crossing to the other side of the road we found tall green bog-orchid blooming robustly.
Across the bridge in another section of the SNA we found more showy lady’s-slipper, more tall green bog-orchid along with northern green bog-orchid (thanks to a friend we can now tell these two apart), and heart-leaved twayblade. By the end of the day we counted up fourteen different orchids, including two we think are new for us to see here in Minnesota.
It’s a good day when we find an orchid, much less fourteen of them. We’ll verify our identifications of the ones we’re unsure of, and we’ll keep searching for the ones we have yet to see (still talking about you, bog adder’s-mouth). We love the searching as much as the finding, and we can’t think of a better place to spend a wildflower-chasing day than in a bog or a forested swamp (with good, effective bug spray).