Oh, Orbiculata!

July 18, 2021

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

This has been a summer of orchid searching and (mostly) finding.

As our list of orchids we haven’t seen yet shrinks, we made yet another trip up north in search of bog adder’s-mouth and large round-leaved orchid, also known as lesser round-leaved orchid, a confusion of common names that we resolved by using its scientific name, Platanthera orbiculata (or just orbiculata).

First stop Beagle and Wolf Books and Bindery, a wonderful independent bookstore in Park Rapids, for a signing of Begin with a Bee, the new picture book that Liza Ketchum, Jackie Briggs Martin, and I wrote together.

After the book signing we headed toward Iron Springs Bog Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) to look for the rare, elusive, and tiny bog adder’s-mouth. A few hours of very close observation later, we still hadn’t found bog adder’s-mouth, but what’s not to like about an afternoon spent among mossy green hummocks and orchids from tall northern bog orchid to tiny green adder’s-mouth?

Kelly had booked what might have been the last available room in the area at the historic Douglas Lodge in Itasca State Park. As the sun went down and the evening light stretched across Lake Itasca we felt transported back in time.

Sunday morning we headed for Paul Bunyan State Forest where we followed a path that a friend had told us about into a white cedar bog where he had seen orbiculata. Our first finds under the cedar trees were the diminutive white spires of lesser rattlesnake plantain in small and lovely bloom. Before long we saw our first orbiculata, then another, and another, and another, their pale flowers almost ethereal in the light under the cedars. We wandered from orchid to orchid, grateful to the friend who had sent us here. 

Still on our wish-to-see list are several of the ladies’-tresses, one of which grows in sandy soil under jack pines. We were only half an hour from Badoura Jack Pine Woodland SNA, a place we’d never visited, so based on the name and a whim we turned down a sandy road to check it out.  

The road bordered the edge of the SNA, and we drove by section after section of trees, some sections tall, some sections shorter.  Jack pine cones need the heat of fire to open and scatter seeds, so if fire burns an area all the trees from the seeds that germinate will be roughly the same age. Finally we parked by an area of the tallest trees and wandered in.  The sandy soil still supported green plants, including an abundance of blueberry bushes with the tiniest blueberries we’d ever seen. A small white flower turned out not to be a ladies’-tresses but a tessellated rattlesnake plantain, another flower on our wish-to-see list.  A cedar bog with orbiculata, a not-quite-random stop to wander among tall jack pines, and an orchid surprise: a great way to end a weekend of orchid searching—and a very satisfying amount of orchid finding. 

Author: Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo, flowerchasers.com

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.

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