Category Archives: Orchids of Manitoba

Recovering from Photographic Disaster in the Woodridge Bog


This week I experienced a terrifying disaster.  I return to Adobe Lightroom the photographic editing program that I use. I discovered that more than 9,000 images were missing. How could that be?  It was impossible. So I thought. I had worked on those images and could not possibly have deleted them. Previews were available on my computer but that just meant I could see them. There was nothing I could do with them. I could not make copies, prints or slides from the previews. I could not share. I started to think of where the nearest bridge might be located so I could pitch myself over it. Suddenly all colour was drained from the world.

After initial panic I phoned the Adobe help line. They have wonderful support all the way from India. They had helped me through difficulties in the past. Surely they could do so again. Right?  Wrong!

After 2 days of “help” I reached the conclusion that the images were in fact gone. They had disappeared like South American rebels dropped from a government plane into the cold Atlantic ocean. They were officially disappeared!  Adobe blamed Nikon. Then they blamed me.  Unfortunately, is appears likely I was the culprit. Somehow I had mishandled them.


Then there was good news. About 8,500 images were merely on another hard drive. They were easily accessible. But I had lost all my images for the first 3 weeks of June when I had been on a number of vitally important photo jaunts. They were important to no one, but me. I could cry, but it did not seem disastrous enough anymore to go find a bridge.

Instead, I had headed out to the nearest bog to try and replace the photos I had negligently lost. In this case that mean the Woodridge bog. There I was not disappointed. First, I found the lovely Small Round-leaved orchid (Galearis rotundifolia). These are the gems of this bog. Conditions were perfect. No wind and no nasty sun that could penetrate the dark bog. Mosquitos were largely absent thanks to the extreme drought we have had in Manitoba this year.

These are very tricky flowers to try to photograph.  That is because the flowers are tiny and they are not flat. As a result with a macro lens the range of the flower that is in focus is extremely slim. You really have to pick the smallest aperture which necessitates a very slow shutter speed. That is why a lack of wind is essential. Then you have to choose what part of the flower that will be in focus. It is impossible to get it all in focus. So, like Sophie you have to choose which child to eliminate. That is not an easy task with such a gorgeous little flower.

The flowers were still in pretty good condition. They were just past prime. Sort of like the photographer. Or rather, no where near as past prime as him as evidenced by his gross negligence earlier. The bridge could wait for another day.



Celebrate What’s Right with the World: Small Purple Fringed Orchids


When my three lads were young I wanted to encourage them to pay attention to wild flowers. How best to do that? Offer them cash of course. I told them about how an American botanist had travelled to Manitoba in the mid-1980s and discovered 2 rare orchids. One at the Tall Grass Prairie which I have already posted about. The other was the c (Linnaeus) Lindley) which he found at Buffalo Point where we had a cottage.At the time no one knew we had it in Manitoba.

I tried to find it for a few years and then enlisted my sons. I offered them $5 each if they found it. I described it for them and they never actually found it (neither did I). They found a similar flower. Sedge Nettle that is actually also found at Buffalo Point in very similar habitat. But they never found what I was looking for.

Then one day I got an exact location from friends of mine who told me where to find it and I did find it. 
I had to wade into some pretty deep bog but managed to find it. A couple of years later I found another patch at another much easier location. I found them right in the ditch! I love ditches!

That is where I went to this summer and found only 4 specimens. Usually I have found about 20 specimens. Today just a few. Friends have explained to me that this is likely because it was dry here last fall. Like cactuses, they are dependent on rainfall in the previous autumn rather than the current summer in which rainfall was quite abundant here at least in the spring and early summer. I guess we had only a little rainfall last fall. What a pity. But at least I found a couple of specimens and two were in pretty good shape. So as DeWitt Jones, National Geographic photographer advised, I decided to celebrate what‘s right with the world. What was right today was these gems.


After I photographed Low Prairie Rose near St. Labre Manitoba, I drove all the way to Buffalo Point to see and photograph Small Purple-fringed orchids. It was quite sunny so I had to use a diffuser.

After that I went to Fire and Water Bistro and enjoyed a beer and burger. The food is great again. Hooray for the chef!

After that I drove home very tired but very satisfied with a great jaunt. Thank you Chris!

The Orchid that made Manitoba Famous: Western Prairie fringed-orchid


A few Years ago there was a native orchid conference held in Winnipeg which attracted orchid enthusiasts, some might say orchids nuts, from around North America and even some from Europe.  I was one of them. This orchid was the star of the show– the Western Prairie fringed-orchid (Platanthera praeclara).

This is one the flowers listed on the endangered species list  for Manitoba. The Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie is the best place in the world to see these orchids! This prairie contains from 750 to 24,000 flowering plants of this species each year in an area of about 2,000 hectares. It is the only place in Canada where these flowers still grow naturally. It is our treasure. Sadly, this year when I went to my favorite spot I could only find a half dozen in bloom where there should have been hundreds. I did not have time to check other spots.

The primary cause of failure to flower is late spring frosts that can kill the buds of the flowers. This does not usually destroy the plant. This may have happened this year. Fall precipitation may be linked to flowering in spring as well. The more water in fall the better the flowering in spring. Many cactuses follow a similar pattern.

In the United States this flower can be found in 7 states but only in about 500 hectare in total. In the entire US they have only about 50 to 2,000 flowering plants each year. That is a pittance compared to us. That is why so many Americans come here to see them. A few years ago there was a conference on the plant in Crookston Minnesota near their own Tall Grass Prairie but the attendees came to Manitoba to see ours. Who could blame them?


It was interesting that the first documented occurrence of this plant in Manitoba occurred in 1985. In fact they were discovered in one day by a scientist who also discovered the Small Purple Fringed orchid at Buffalo Point where I have a cottage. It is remarkable that no one knew they were here since at the right time, like early July, they stick out gloriously in fields and ditches around here. It is surprising that such a showy plant lived so inconspicuously. How was that possible?

We should be proud that in Manitoba we have the most of these magnificent plants. They are all found within a couple of miles of the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. Nowhere else. They can be found on the Reserve, in ditches, and on private land.

It was not that long ago when scientists thought there was only 1 species of Fringed Orchid. In 1986 a scientist Charles Sheviak realized there were 2 separate species of very similar orchids. For one, there was the Western Fringed-orchid that we have here and the smaller Eastern Prairie fringed-orchid that is found in eastern Canada. He realized that they were not pollinated the same way. Therefore they had a different pollinator and must be different species. I had the privilege of walking in the Woodridge bog with Mr. Sheviak when Manitoba hosted the first Native Orchid Conference of North America. He is like the Michael Jordan of North American orchids. Sadly, none of his greatness rubbed off on me.


Rose Pogonia: A rose by any other name would still be an orchid


Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides (Linnaeus) Ker-Gawler) is a tiny rare beauty of bogs and fens in Manitoba. A great spot is a small but lovely fen right beside a provincial trunk highway where I went to find this rare beauty

I did manage to find them but there were very few in bloom. In fact I could hardly believe how few were in bloom and I was pretty sure I was there at the right time. What happened to them. I found less than half a dozen specimens where usually I find hundreds. This was not good.

Please notice the deadly spider hiding in wait for prey inside this beautiful orchid. Sometimes life can be harsh.

I did see some good specimens and conditions were great for photography, but the numbers were worryingly sparse. I wondered if I was too late, but did not see any past prime. The ones I saw were all in excellent condition. The fen was pretty dry and wondered if for some reason it had not rained much here. In fact I concluded this must be the explanation.

This is one of Manitoba’s gorgeous pink orchids. Pink is the colour of Manitoba’s finest orchids. I wondered why it was called Rose Pogonia. I learned that it received its species name, “Pogonia” from the similarity of its single slender leaf to that of the Adders Tongue Fern (Ophioglossum). Then according to one of the most famous naturalists of all time—Henry David Thoreau—“it smells exactly like a snake.” Could that be? What does a snake smell like? I have never tried to discover that. According to A guide to the Orchids of Bruce and Grey Counties, Ontario, written by a committee of Field Naturalists, like our Orchids of Manitoba, “Many enthusiasts disagree with Thoreau and find that the flowers have a delicate raspberry odour.” I am ashamed to say I did not stop to smell it. I am a pretty lame naturalist.

I took this photo in a better year as you can see by the other orchids  flowering in the background. I hope those good times return again.

In Romeo and Juliet a real romantic claimed that it did not matter that Romeo was from her family’s rival house of Montague. He was named Montague but still was just as good.

So perhaps in this case Shakespeare was right, as he usually is, when he wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” When  a rose is an orchid that is.

Orchids of Brokenhead

Many people are surprised to learn that Manitoba has many good places for orchids. I have seen them as far north as Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world.

The best place to see them in the southern part of Manitoba is no doubt the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve. The organization of which I am a part, Native Orchid Conservation Inc. was very instrumental in having this area established as an ecological reserve. 37 species of orchids have been identified in Manitoba and 28 of those can be found in the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve. That’s why it is so special. I am one of the authors of Orchids of Manitoba and made some modest contributions to it. As that book said, introducing the trail we helped to establish in the Reserve, “A walk through the enchanted cedar forest and the flower-filled fen will relax your mind, re-energize your body, and refresh your spirit.”



One of my favorites is Grass Pink (Calopogon Tuberosus), certainly one of the more beautiful of our orchids. As far as I am concerned it is unmatched for beauty by orchids from anywhere else in the world. How can you not refresh your spirit when contemplating such beauty?



This year because of bad luck and pressing manservant duties, I largely missed the regal show Lady”s-slipper (Reginae Cypripedium).  But  I spotted this one slightly past its prime which made me feel kinship to it.

Pursuing orchids and pursuing truth. It’s all a wonder.


Grass Pink orchid: The flower that made me famous around the world




Grass Pink Orchid


This is the orchid that made me famous around the world. That is true—sort of. A number of years ago I captured a pretty good photo of an orchid called Grass Pink (Calopogon Tuberosus) and it appeared in the wonderful book Orchids of Manitoba created by a number of my friends and I. We were all part of an organization called Native Orchid Conservation Inc. (‘NOCI’)  It was produced by Doris Ames, our spiritual leader and President of NOCI, Peggy Bainard Acheson, Lorne Heshka, Bob Joyce, Richard Reeves, Eugene Reimer, Ian Ward, myself, and for the second edition David Toop was added. Most of the photos were supplied by Ward and Heshka with added photos from others mostly all members of NOCI.

I played a small role in the production of that book with an article on the laws of Manitoba and how they affected wild flowers. It also contained one of my photos of this magnificent orchid. That was the photo shown here. It was taken on film and I had it scanned for publication. The photo caught the attention of someone from Canada Post Corp as they were preparing a series of photos of orchids and wanted some images. Eventually, they contacted me and purchased the right to publish my image on a stamp. When the stamp came out, it was for a stamp used for international posts. As a result few people in Canada ever saw it, but it was seen literally around the world.

In truth, I never got famous as my name was not included on the stamp but was part of a display when the series was introduced. To ensure that my fragile echo was cracked they misspelled my name on that display and turned a pink flower into a purple one. I found out quickly that fame is ephemeral and pretty cheap beer.

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.