Category Archives: Orchids of Manitoba





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.

Missed Opportunities


Showy Ladies’-slipper (Platanthera reginae)

I paid a heavy price for my recent trip to Iceland. I was gone from Manitoba for the last 2 weeks of June, probably  the best time for Manitoba wild flowers. As a result I missed some wonderful flowers so I will show some shots from my archives.

Grass Pink Orchid  (Calopogon tuberosus)



Rose Pogonia (Polonia ophioglossoides)

These are some of my favourite Manitoba Orchids. What a pity.

Woodridge Bog


After spending a couple of hours here it was time to leave. Actually I did not give it enough time, but today, as I said, I could not mosey along as I like to do. I drove out to the Woodridge Bog. Again conditions were windy and sunny–far from ideal. But you gotta dance with the girl you brung.


I was soon rewarded with one of my favorite flowers–Low Prairie Rose. That is one of my favourite Manitoba wild flowers. I love that flower!  It was very dry so I sprinkled a little water on some of the blossoms. I find a little rain (either natural or store bought) helps bring out the colours of this gentle gem of a flower. I do not consider that cheating. Do you?

Other flowers I saw here included Spreading Dogbane, Harebell, Showy Lady’s-slippers and Small round-leaved orchid but sadly past their prime.

Small round-leaved orchid


Showy Lady’s-slipper

The Showy Lady’s-slipper is  perhaps one of Manitoba’s most spectacular orchids but most of them were mostly spent. I found a few worth photographing.

Showy Lady’s-slipper

This is the price I paid for going to Iceland. It was a high price. I did find some gorgeous clumps and made a mental note to return next year, but you know mental notes are worth the paper they are not written on. I did later find one nice showy as a result of diligence and persistence. Righteous living was rewarded. For once!

2 Incredibly rare species in 1 Day

After our return from Iceland, and after realizing I had missed 2 of the best wild flower weeks of the year I was very anxious to get out and see some flowers.  I was not disappointed. In fact it was one of my most amazing natural history jaunts ever! In one day, I saw 2 of Canada’s most rare species—one a flower and one a butterfly!

First I drove to the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, one of my favorite places. I immediately walked towards the site where the Western Prairie Fringed-orchid (Platanthera praeclara) appear every summer. I was not disappointed.  This is the best place in the world to see this orchid. These orchids used to be fairly common on the prairies but have disappeared with the disappearance of their habitat. I had a little more trouble than normal finding the flowers. That was a bit disconcerting. Where were they I wondered? I soon realized that there were many flowering plants, but all of them without exception were small and short. No huge plants jutted out to the sky as they typically do.  I inferred that this was a result of very dry conditions this spring and summer. The prairie was dry and I concluded the flowers were keeping a low profile in order to conserve their energy and water. I just had to look a little harder to find them, but they were there.



I quickly set about trying to photograph them. Conditions were tricky. The sun was harsh creating deep shadows. Added to that problem, it was very windy. Trying to photograph these flowers was indeed challenging. I think I did a reasonable job under these difficult circumstances.

When I was done I also noticed a young lady in the field. I had been too absorbed to notice her.  Too absorbed in the flowers to notice a young woman. Imagine that. So I sauntered over (OK I meandered over) to talk to her. What was she looking for? I presumed the Western Prairie fringed too, but I was wrong. She was looking for a butterfly. A very rare butterfly.

She explained that she was employed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and she was doing a survey of a very rare butterfly called Poweshiek Skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek) (Parker, 1870).  She informed me that this butterfly could be found in only 1 place in Canada and this was it. Just like the Western Prairie Fringed-orchid that is found no where else in Canada. What a double header! I was very fortunate.

Were it not for the woman who worked with the Nature Conservancy there is no doubt I would not have found this butterfly. I had never heard of it before. I actually got only a fleeting look at it as it flew past a larger Fritillary butterfly. She said the skipperling loved Brown-eyed Susans and there were many of these wild flowers here, as I knew.

This skipper is very dark brown, with an orange suffusion along the costa. Below, the hind wings are dark greyish, with white-lined veins. The wingspan is only 24 to 30 mm. According to The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998 its range is in just a few states west and south of the Great Lakes as well as south-eastern Manitoba—i.e. here. There is only one generation of this butterfly each year and they  have been found in Manitoba between June 23 and July 8. That is not a very large window of opportunity.

It was discovered here in July of 1985, at about the same time as the Western Prairie Fringed-orchid was discovered here. It is believed to becoming scarcer all the time. The problem of course is that its habitat is becoming scarcer. The woman was very pleased to see a specimen that was a pregnant female that appeared to be in very good shape. Hopefully it would produce offspring.

By another amazing coincidence later in the week I read an article on this butterfly that I have never heard of before, in the Winnipeg Free Press. The article reported that 6 more Poweshiek by the Assiniboine Park Conservatory this week. That sounds like a puny number, but scientists estimate there are only 100 of them left in North America! This may be the most rare species I have ever seen!

The Assiniboine Conservatory had bred the butterflies over the winter in captivity. Last summer the conservancy brought 2 wild female Poweshiek skipperlings  to the Assiniboine Park Zoo for 3 days to lay eggs before releasing the 2 will females back into the wild.

Once the eggs hatched, specialists monitored the caterpillars in a climate-controlled incubator over the winter.  In the lab they placed the skipperlings in a n incubator at a constant temperature of -4ºC to mimic conditions in the wild where normally they would spend the winter under the snow.

The program was very successful. “Every caterpillar survived the winter.”[1]I was extremely lucky to have met this scientist and seen this rare butterfly. What an amazing day on the prairie!

I did not get a good look at the butterfly. It was very small and whizzed by me and I had no chance to photograph it. What a pity.

Other flowers I saw included the following: Western Wood Lily, Creamy Peavine, Common Milkweed, Swamp milkweed, Brown-eyed Susan, Heal-All, andPurple Prairie Clover.I was in heaven, but my luck had only begun.


Western Wood Lily or Prairie Lily



Purple Prairie Clover

What a great way to return to Manitoba. I am blessed.

[1]Erik Pindera, “Endangered butterflies released into wild,” The Winnipeg Free Press, July 5, 2018 p. B3.

Discovery Day at Brokenhead Wetlands Interpretive Trail



I led the Steinbach Garden Club to the Brokenhead Wetlands Interpretive Trail today. We saw 10 different types of orchids in bloom, plus 1 that was spent showing just its seed capsule. The Brokenhead Wetlands is one of the premier sites for orchids and other wild flowers in Manitoba. It contains 28 of Manitoba’s 37 orchids.

The 37 orchids of Manitoba range from gorgeous large Showy Lady’s-slippers to Coral-roots that have no leaves and produce no chlorophyll and hence no food. Instead they depend on mycorrhizal partners for sustenance. Manitoba produces 3 Coral-roots. This is spotted Coral-root, my favourite.

The Ecological Reserve contains 23 of Manitoba’s rare and uncommon plants including 8 of Manitoba’s carnivorous plants. If you look carefully you will see 2 of Manitoba’s sundews on this photo. Sundew leaves are covered with hairs that secret a shiny substance to attract unwary insects and then aids in their digestion. This is one of those cases where the plant world turns the tables on the insects, which usually eat the plants. When the hapless insect has been digested all that is left is the dry exoskeleton. I saw one plant that was rolled up around its prey. Later it will unfurl again, leaving the remains to blow away in the wind.


Dragon’s Mouth orchid  (Arethusa bulbosa) was the highlight. It i certainly one of Manitoba’s most beautiful orchids. Last week I went there and was very happy to see Dragon’s Mouth  in glorious bloom. I thought the Garden club would not be able to see them this week. Thankfully, I was wrong. There were even more in bloom than last week and some, very cooperatively, were right beside the boardwalk.


It was difficult to photograph the tiny Small Round-leaved orchid as it was blowing in the wind. Fortunately I found one that was deep in the forest and hence somewhat protected from annoying wind.


The Showy Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium reginae) just emerged. This truly is the Queen of orchids in Manitoba.


It was a great day in the bog.