Category Archives: Orchids of Manitoba

Moccasin- Flower




After leaving the bogs of the Brokenhead and Stead area I ventured into the much dryer Belair Forest in search of  another lovely Manitoba Orchid the Moccasin- Flower, or sometimes called Pink lady’s-slipper and scientifically called Cypripedium acaule Aiton. These orchids prefer dry pine forests of Manitoba, though I have seen them in a bog.


It is also sometimes called stemless lady’s-slipper since there is not aerial stem, but it has a stem under the ground. What appears to be a stem is actually a scape or flowering stalk. I have never liked the name Pink Lady’s-slipper since it is rarely pink and much less pink than the Showy Lady’s-slipper. People knew to orchids often get confused as a result.

Thanks to my friend MaryLou Driedger I have recently learned a much more interesting story of its naming. According to her, it is an ancient Ojibwe (or Ojibway) story and it goes like this:

Long ago in the depth of winter the people in an Ojibwe village were suffering from a terrible illness. Only one girl remained healthy and she said she would travel to a neighbouring village where the healers had herbs that could cure the others. The girl walked through a blizzard and got the needed medicine. On the way home she found herself in deep snowdrifts. Walking through them she lost her moccasins but her worry for her friends and family made her stumble

through the icy snow crystals barefoot. She left a bloodstained trail of footprints behind her. She made it home and the medicine healed everyone. The next spring her brother went looking for her lost moccasins and found that all along the trail of bloody footsteps where the girl had walked there were beautiful pink flowers growing that looked like the moccasins the girl had worn. The flower was the lady slipper known by the Ojibwe as the moccasin flower. They remind us of the courage and strength of the young girl who brought healing to her village.

I like that story much better.  But by any other name an orchid is still just as sweet.

Searching for Orchids



Recently I  went on what might be my last botany trip for a while, as Chris went to  the hospital  for hip replacement surgery and after she is released I became her manservant. So I chose to go to one of my favourite places, The Brokenhead Ecological Reserve just north of the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation with whom Native Orchid Conservation Inc. partnered with as well as the government of Manitoba and the Manitoba Model Forest to establish a wonderful place for the protection of native plants. Not just orchids.

Every time I got there I learn something. Today I stopped to think about a posted sign created by the First Nation. This is what it said,

Our elders teach us that all nature people and people are all part of the balance of life. When something is lost or taken, the balance is changed. When we lose one part of an ecosystem we put the entire ecosystem jeopardy. There must be a balance for Mother Earth to remain healthy.

Those are wise words. Well worthy thinking about.



It was a beautiful day for a visit.  I had spotted Dragon’s Mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa).  It is one of the gems of the reserve.

I also  went to the nearby Stead bog where I was easier to get closer to the Dragon’s Mouth.In the Ecological Reserve we have to stick to the board walk.

I also saw  a little rabbit that was chewing on the leaves of a young seedling. Thank goodness he ignore the orchid right beside it. The rabbit also had something around its neck that I  thought it might be mounds of ticks. I hope not, because I was sure that many ticks would not be good for the rabbit. In any event the rabbit graciously allowed us to take some portraits of it.



Wetland Wonders


There is a lot of treasure in the Woodridge Bog. Much more than just orchids. That is why our organization, Native Orchid Conservation Inc. nominated it for ecological reserve status and why the Province of Manitoba accepted that nomination. We are proud of that. It is the second one that we nominated that has been awarded that status.


I saw a few other flowers in the bog including Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum) which is a very common plants in Manitoba wetlands. Be careful of the name. I know some have called the tea produced with it “pleasant tasting” while others have called it “God-awful”. As well, taken in large doses it can be toxic. It is easily identified by its leathery leaves that have rusty brown fuzz underneath that makes it distinctive.

Another very common flower that I saw that day was Northern Starflower (Trientalis borealis). This tiny flower (most Manitoba flowers are tiny) really does glow like a star in a dark bog. Even though it is common it is well worth stopping to appreciate. After all, most of us a pretty common too and we don’t often shine like stars.

Another very common Manitoba flower I saw that day was American Vetch (Vicia american). The rich purple to blue colours on this flower are incredibly rich, particularly when soaked with rain. Never each vetches because some of them are poisonous.


After spending a couple of hours at this site, I moved down the road to a farmhouse where I spotted Yellow Lady’s-slippers in bloom in the ditch in front of the house.  The owners ignored me when they drove away. They have seen Wild flower geeks in their ditch before. Actually they have seen me in their wonderful ditch before. I  never thought I would call a ditch wonderful. Imagine having orchids like this growing wild in the middle of your ditch. Country living can be pretty grand.


Discovery in the Woodridge Bog


On my recent trip to the Woodridge Bog Shortly I made an amazing discovery. I found a new form of a familiar flower. It is called Small round-leaved orchid (Amerorchis rotundifolia (Banks ex Pursh) Hultén (Galearis rotundifolia (Banks ex Pursh) R.M. Bateman). This flower now has a new scientific name as it has been placed in a different Genus, namely, Galearis, of which it is the only member in Manitoba. What really excited me though was when I found one plant with flowers with a very unusual colouring. Normally, the plant has purplish-pink petals together with the dorsal sepal that forms a distinctive hood over the column. The three-lobed lip is white with red to purple spots, but this one plant did not have spots, it had dashes or broad, longitudinal, reddish bars. I have never seen one of these before. I was eager to post this to my orchid colleagues to see what they said about it. Fortunately I got a response from Doris Ames my good friend and former President of Native Orchid Conservation Inc. She actually knows a thing or two about orchids. She is not just a wanna be like me. Actually she knows a lot about orchids.



On my recent trip to the Woodridge Bog Shortly I made an amazing discovery. I found a new form of a familiar flower. It is called Small round-leaved orchid (Amerorchis rotundifolia (Banks ex Pursh) Hultén (Galearis rotundifolia (Banks ex Pursh) R.M. Bateman). This flower now has a new scientific name as it has been placed in a different Genus, namely, Galearis, of which it is the only member in Manitoba. What really excited me though was when I found one plant with flowers with a very unusual colouring. Normally, the plant has purplish-pink petals together with the dorsal sepal that forms a distinctive hood over the column. The three-lobed lip is white with red to purple spots, but this one plant did not have spots, it had dashes or broad, longitudinal, reddish bars. I have never seen one of these before. I was eager to post this to my orchid colleagues to see what they said about it. Fortunately I got a response from Doris Ames my good friend and former President of Native Orchid Conservation Inc. She actually knows a thing or two about orchids. She is not just a wanna be like me. Actually she knows a lot about orchids.

She said this orchid is very rare and was called Amerorchis rotundifolia forma lineata but I suspect that its genus name has change as well to Galearis. She said it had been seen in Churchill. I checked the Native Orchid Conservation Inc. website and sure enough there was an article by my old friend Lorne Heshka who had discovered it in Churchill and he mentioned that someone had seen it in Swan River. Now I can add a third spot to that list in Manitoba, the Woodridge bog! For me that was a fantastic discovery. I found this very exciting.

This is what they normally look like:


This one had a lot of white and just a few spots.

They are gorgeous little flowers.

One last gem.





In Search of the elusive Calypso


I drove out to the Sandilands near Hadashville in search of the elusive Calypso bulbosa. I went early so I would not feel rushed in my photography. I wanted to see if my new tripod, which I bought last fall would help me get better photos and it helped big time.

This was my third try at finding Calypso this year. It is usually Manitoba’s first orchid to bloom though the Yellow Lady’s slipper had already been spotted by some of my friends. I feared that I might have missed it, but I believed, correctly that this flower had just been reluctant to appear because of a very cool spring. Weren’t we all reluctant to leave our shelters? Patience and persistence is what I needed to find this gem.

Fairy-slipper or Calypso Calypso bulbosa (Linnaeus) Oakes var. americana (R. Brown) Luer is one of my favorite orchids. Its small size provides outstanding beauty. The flower is about the size of a dime. These tiny little orchids flowers usually live in wet forests and bogs.



I strolled into the cedar woods at my regular spot and found one before I reached the normal place I have been finding them each year. It was a gorgeous specimen in a perfect place for photography. I was radically pleased.  I found a total of 5 at this location. This was a bonanza. Life is good.

Conditions were sensational for photography. First, it was very cool, and this helped to keep the mosquitoes away. It was quite windy outside the boggy forest, but the thick stand of trees kept the wind away. The sky was cloudy so excessive sun was also not a problem. I was ‘little girl’ happy. I took a number of photos of this lonely flower before proceeding to the regular spot. I got my fill of images at both these locations.


Then I moved a little farther east to another spot where I have seen these gems. Sure enough I quickly found 6 more. 5 were close together so I managed to get a photograph of 4 of them in close proximity to each other. Again, I was very happy.

After that I explored a little farther. It sure is nice to have lots of time. I found another 2 flowers close together which enabled me to get a photograph of one in focus with another in the background out of focus.

I left the bog immensely fulfilled. Life is good, even in a time of pandemic.






Lady’s-slippers (Genus Cypripedium) This genus of orchids, for good reason, is named after Kypris the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The other part of the Latin name refers to the “foot” or better, “slipper.”  There are about 45 species in the world and 6 or 7 in Manitoba, depending on how you count. I have been lucky enough to see all of them in Manitoba. The flowers in this genus are all famous for having a pouch that looks like a slipper that has led to its name.  The slipper is really an inflated lip.

Insects crawl into the lip through an opening at the top of the lip but then usually are unable to get back out the same way. This forces the insect to to crawl inside the lip where there is an escape hatch. Orchids can be liars and cheats, but are not mean. The pathway in the Lady’s-slipper is pinched so that the hapless insect contacts the stigma (female organ) first where pollen on its back is deposited to start the process of fertilization.  Then it is forced to pass the anther (male organ) where it gathers pollen hopefully to deposit it in another Lady’s-slipper which will also be pollinated. Because the process is usually repeated in the next flower that ensures cross pollination.

At some of my favorite locations for Lady’s-slippers I have noticed holes where people dig them out. No other orchid is dug out more frequently than Lady’s-slippers and this has contributed greatly to their decline. The World Wildlife Fund in 1995 rated lady’s-slippers as among the 10 most wanted plants
or animals threatened by illegal and unsustainable trade. Transplanting them is rarely successful. We should all learn to appreciate them in the wild rather than horrid them at our homes.



The largest and flashiest of the Manitoba Lady’s-slippers is properly called Showy lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium reginae). The name is derived from the Latin word reginae which means queen.  It is the queen of every bog, swamp and fen in which it is found.



Moccasin- Flower or Pink lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium acaule) is not usually found in bogs and swamps though I have seen them there. They prefer pine forests.


Ram’s-head lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium arietinum) is the smallest of Manitoba’s Lady’s-slippers. The entire flower can be hidden by a dime. Here is one with a mosquito on it that shows the size well.

Small white lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium candidum) is the rarest of Manitoba’s Lady’s-slipper and is the only one on the endangered species list. Though all of them are rare and should be protected.


We have 2 species of yellow Lady’s-slipper in Manitoba, though some argue that there are actually 3 while others say all should be considered one species. Northern small yellow lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium parviflorum). Besides size, the most reliable way to tell them apart, though not without its complications, it has a smaller lip and usually darker petals and sepals that are often more twisted.


Large yellow lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium parviflorum Salisbury var. pubescens)is larger than the smaller cousin.


Then we have hybrids between the white and yellow Lady’s-slippers.


Sparrow’s-egg lady’s-slipper, Franklin’s lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium passerinum)is found in northern Manitoba. I have not included a photograph.   I have seen it as far south as Grand Rapids.


I found this very interesting when I found the small Ram’s Head Lady’s-slipper and Large Yellow Lady’s-sllipper side by side. Naturally I could not resist photographing them.

Unfortunately there is one very said fact I have to mention, though it gives me great pain. I have to report that there is a monstrous conspiracy among some scientists to have Lady’-slippers removed from the family of orchids. This is worse—far worse—than the movement to have Pluto ousted from the class of planets in our solar system. This conspiracy is so heinous I fear that armed rebellion may be needed to put it down. Keep your powder dry.






Mother Nature Abhors Average




This has been a strange year. In many respects, but certainly from the perspective of a flower child like me.  Any person, like me, who spends an inordinate amount of time pursuing truth and beauty in places of torture—i.e. bogs infested with mosquitos, horseflies, black flies, hornets and worse—has had to deal with fact that this year was not an average year.

The wild flower year started off in spring and early summer with bitter cold. No self-respecting flowers wanted to appear. Can you blame them? That was followed by hot. Again it was so hot that no sane flower would stick its lovely head out. Most flowers were late in making an appearance. To make things even worse, it was dry. In Manitoba until the last couple of days, it was the driest year since records were started to be kept about 150 years ago.  Recently we have been plagued with torrential downpours that point to a deluge. How can wild flowers survive that? Did they?

I went in search of an answer. I wanted to see Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) and Grass Pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus). Both of these gorgeous orchids usually appear at the same time. It was late in the summer for both but I thought in this untypical year my chances of finding them were good.

I know one very reliable site for Rose Pogonia a very rare orchid. There were none to be found. Not one. Even though we had massive rains in much of Manitoba recently there was very little water in the fen. That was a dreadful pity. As a result I show you 2 photos from earlier years.


After that I drove to the Brokenhead Wetland Interpretative trail near Gull Lake Manitoba. This is the best place for wild orchids in southern Manitoba and one of the best in Canada. It was incredibly hot and humid so I did not want to wear my elaborate and stifling  bog gear. So I went minimalist thinking even mosquitos would hunker down on such a day.  And I was right. Then miraculously, I found them. Diligence paid off.  Most specimens of Grass Pink orchid were spent. There was one fine pair of flowers deep in the fen where I am not supposed to go. That is why we have a boardwalk to keep us pedestrians off. It took supreme moral fibre for me to stay on the boardwalk because I could not photograph  it from there.

A little farther I was amply rewarded for my righteousness. A wonderful specimen right beside the boardwalk. Life was worth living again.

But I have not learned much about the year except the important lesson that Mother Nature abhors average. There is no such thing as  “an average year” in nature. It  just never  happens. Thank goodness.


What is an Orchid?


I am often asked what is an orchid? The fact is that orchids vary tremendously.  Some are little green jobs like this:


On seeing this tiny little flower, entirely green, who would ever think it is an orchid? But it is!  It is called Green adders-mouth orchid (Malaxis unifolia). There are a number of orchids that are so plain we call them “little green jobs” as birders sometimes refer to plain birds as “little brown jobs.”

The other day I made a trip through my favorite place in Manitoba for orchids—the Brokenhead Wetlands Ecological Reserve. I plan on blogging about it. That day we found some tiny little green jobs, but we also found the spectacular Dragon’s-mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa).


What do these two orchids have in common? Well you need a magnifying glass (or loupe) to tell.

An orchid is a flower that has 3 sepals (part of the outside ring of modified leaves) and 3 petals (part of inside ring of modified leaves). As well 1 of the petals is usually modified to form a lip or labellum. That lip is famous on some orchids like the Lady’s-slippers.


This is the Showy Lady’s-slipper with lip that here looks like a pouch or lady’s slipper.

The lip usually stands out as looking like a landing pad for insect pollinators.  This is obvious on the Dragon’s mouth, on the Green adders-mouth not so much.

This is not an orchid! It is the famous wood lily and clearly shows the separate sexual parts –stamens and stigma.

Unlike most flowers that have separate sexual parts, like the above wood lily, in orchids  stamens in the case of male organs and stigma in the case of female organs  are are fused together into a column that makes it all but impossible to tell those organs apart. As well all orchids have only one seed leaf.

There are about 25,000 species of orchids world-wide. In many we have 37 species from the far south to the far north of Manitoba.




These are not Manitoba’s most beautiful orchids. But they are among the most interesting.

Manitoba has 37 different species of orchids. They vary greatly from the small and mundane to the large and glorious.  Perhaps none though are stranger than those within the genus Corallorhiza(Coral-roots). We have only 3 of the genus in Manitoba. The name is derived from the Greek word korallionwhich means “coral” and rhizawhich means root.  This refers to the fact that these orchids spend most of their life underground away from the light. They live among the roots of trees and other plants in the forest. The ones in Manitoba rarely live in wetlands, though one comes pretty close.

Coral-roots are mycoheterotrophs meaning that they are not autotrophs, or primary producers, but rather heterotrophs, or secondary producers who cannot produce their own food like the green plants, but rather derive energy from consuming plant and animal tissue. Specifically, they derive their nutrition from nearby mycorrhizal fungiunder the ground who in turn get the nutrition from nearby roots of trees. Their underground life-style does not allow them to produce their own food from sunlight like green plants. Instead they take advantage of a beneficial mutualistic relationship with the neighbouring trees and the mycorrhizal fungi in the ground between them and on them. Since the orchids host the same mycorrhizal fungus that are found in the roots of the adjacent trees the coral-roots are able to use the fungi as a conduit to share the sugars produced by the trees. Trees have green leaves so they are able to produce food, unlike the coral-roots that are unable to produce food because they lack the green chlorophyll.

This is a colony of spotted-coral orchids.

The spotted coral-roots are my favourite. Notice how they  entirely lack green. That is why they are unable to produce food.

Notice how the size of these are reflected by the size of the mosquitos. They are about the same size

The striped coral-root orchids are very distinctive with their prominent dark red stripes.


These are coral-roots but they have some green and thus are able to produce some food and are likely not entirely dependent on the associated mycorrhizal fungus under the ground for nutrition.

All I can say for sure is that orchids are fascinating.

An invasive Orchid



We are accustomed to seeing invasive species as nasty. They  tend to outcompete their more timid local species that we like and may spend a lot of time and money to eradicate them. We never think of orchids as invasive species. Even though they are one of the largest families of wild flowers in the world, no where are they dominant or threaten dominance. They are like Canadians. Nice guys.

But just a couple of years ago a new orchid was discovered in Manitoba in St. Vital park. it is the Broad-leaved Helleborine orchid (Epipactus helleborine). This photograph does not really do it justice as it shows the flower just starting to emerge from the bud, but frankly it is a pretty plain orchid anyway. I got there too early to see it in bloom.