Searching for Bog Adder’s Mouth

August 7, 2022

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

We’ve been chasing bog adder’s mouth orchid for a while now.  It’s small (only a few inches tall), inconspicuous, and, according to the Minnesota Wildflowers web site, “one of the rarest orchids in North America, if not the rarest.” (Minnesota lists it as State Endangered.)  We’ve made multiple trips to a state-protected site in Clearwater County and seen at least 13 different orchids there over the years, but bog adder’s mouth was never one of them.   

Year after year we wrote bog adder’s mouth on our “wish list.”  Even when a fellow orchid lover pointed us toward where he had once seen bog adder’s mouth and we searched every inch of the site, the orchid still eluded us. 

Then another wildflower friend pointed us in a different direction, so once again we drove north as rain spattered sporadically from an overcast sky. When a partial rainbow arced across the clouds we took it as a sign–today might be the day!  

After all, how hard could it be in a few hundred wooded, often wet, acres to find Minnesota’s smallest orchid, about the size of a blade of grass, pale green against the green moss where it grows, possibly with tiny flowers or seeds on its stem and a few small leaves near its base?  We pulled on our boots and headed into the woods, hopes high.

Was this bog adder’s mouth?
No, just pyrola gone to seed.

Was this bog adder’s mouth?
No, that’s naked miterwort.

What about this?
Nope, that’s green adder’s mouth that’s lost its mop top.

Hours passed. We scoured every mossy hummock where bog adder’s mouth might grow and found countless pyrola, naked miterwort, and green adder’s mouth.  

And then, just as we were about to concede defeat for this year– there it was.

Or was it?  

We’d been looking for a three-inch tall orchid, but the one nestled in the mossy hummock beneath a black spruce was at least twice that tall. Could this be white adder’s mouth, a similar-looking orchid, instead?  Close examination ensued.

White adder’s mouth has a single leaf, while bog adder’s mouth usually has several leaves plus a bulb-like swelling at the base of the leaves. The orchid in front of us had several leaves and the telltale swelling bulb.  

Next to the orchid a second orchid grew, this one only about three inches tall, with the same flowers, multiple leaves, and a bulb at the base. We had read that bog adder’s mouth sometimes reproduces by forming structures on leaf tips that drop and develop into new orchids.  We might even be looking at two generations of bog adder’s mouth. 

In the hush of the bog we felt a kind of reverence and gratitude that at last bog adder’s mouth had shown itself to us. 

Back in the cities now, we smile to know that somewhere north under black spruce and cedars, among mossy hummocks and wet pools, two bog adder’s mouth orchids grow.  We’ve seen them. At last.

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.

2 thoughts on “Searching for Bog Adder’s Mouth”

  1. Your extremely dedicated work pays off – a Big Congratulations & Kudos to you two! Thanks so much for doing what you do!

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