Category Archives: Wild Flowers

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!

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.

Orchids in the News Again


It is hard to believe but orchids are in the news again. Last year it was the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid. A farmer in Southeastern Manitoba was charged with an offence because he was allegedly harming this rare orchid that is on the Endangered Species List. He said he was not aware of that. He had bought land from the Rural Municipality of Stuartburn and these orchids were found on it and he was farming the land. I could not comment on this case because our firm was involved in it.

Recently, I heard a Brandon member of Native Orchid Conservation Inc. (‘NOCI’) of which I am a member, interviewed on CBC radio on account of NOCI’s concern about a residential development in the city of Brandon. Apparently a private development firm owns land in Brandon on which Northern Small White Lady’s-slippers (Cypripedium candidum) are found. These flowers are considered threatened on the Endangered Species List. In fact this may seem strange but this location is considered the third best location for these orchids in Manitoba and it is right inside the city!

The developers hired a slick professional who made a strong case that the developers and owners acknowledged they had a legal responsibility to protect the orchids under Federal legislation and had no intention of shirking that responsibility. He kept repeating that they understood their “fiduciary duties.” Such an acknowledgement was bound to please environmentalists and politicians. That was a smart approach. He clearly painted a picture of the developers as good guys who would do their duty diligently. He suggested the owners would carve out a parcel of the land being developed and protect it, though he was vague about how that would be done. As so often happens in such cases, the devil is in the details.

NOCI is sceptical that it is possible to carve off a part of the land. Orchids belong in their habitat. That is exactly why the name of the Manitoba Endangered Species Act was changed to the Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act. It is not possible to sever orchids from their habitat and protect them. The habit must be protected to protect the orchids.

According to a hydrologist I know, the protection of drainage is critically important for orchids. You take away the water flow and you kill the orchids. How could the developers avoid that? We don’t know how. This could get interesting.

I was not able to drive to Brandon to look at the site due to my manservant responsibilities so I visited Kleefeld where I know the Small White Lady’s-slippers can be also be  found in ditch near town.

I wanted to show my faithful readers what these flowers look like.

They were difficult to see in the grass of the ditch even though they are such a brilliant white colour. No doubt that is what saves these flowers from people wanting to fill their homes briefly with beauty at the expense of removing them from nature where we can see them year after year. I made sure I did not groom the area around the flowers were to make them more presentable, as I figured that might also attract people who want to pick them for their mothers or wives.

I thought people should see what all the fuss is about.

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.


Beauty in the Bog

I made my first botanical jaunt to the Woodridge Bog. I had to battle mosquitoes and wind, but it did not rain. It was cloudy so lighting conditions were good for photography. So I bravely ventured forth into the wild bog. For some reason I feared I might not find any orchids. There were no yellow lady’s slippers on the way in as I thought there would be. No such luck. Too early I guess. This is a weird year.

The first flower I saw was Goldthread a gorgeous little flower. I always think of them as diamonds in the bog. So I stopped to photograph this little flower. It was difficult to get a comfortable position in the bog as I had to kneel to get down low enough for this tiny little flower. Kneeling down in a bog is an experience.  I basically had to sit down on the wet bog. Eventually I managed to capture an image I was happy with. According to Mary Ferguson and Richard M. Saunders in their fine little book, Canadian Wildflowers this plant is often found in the shade of a tree from which “the white flowers shine out like stars.” I think that is the perfect description and I wish I had thought of it. In a similar vein, my friend Doris Ames, who actually knows a few things about wild flowers, unlike me, described it this way: “The flowering stem is 5-15cm tall and bears a single star-like flower.” In any case to come across this sparkling celestial light on the floor of a dark bog is a great delight. After I saw this it didn’t matter if I was unable to find any orchids. I was satisfied.



Shortly after that, I found Ram’s-head lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium arietinum R. Brown). This is Manitoba’s smallest lady’-slipper and one of the rarest orchids in Manitoba. When international orchid enthusiasts came to Manitoba for the North American Native Orchid Conference a couple of years ago some of us from our Manitoba group showed them around and they were all excited to see this little treasure. I was thrilled to find it for the first time this year and naturally stopped to take a number of photos. These are so small it is very difficult to find them in a bog. They can hide under a dime.

A Hike down Cedar Bog Trail

I am a bog guy. By that I really mean wetland guy. There are many types of wetland, including  fens, swamps, marshes, bogs and others. Today I am lumping them all together as bogs. I like them all. And I know that is strange.

I drove to Birds Hill Provincial Park for a hike down the Cedar Bog Trail. I had not been there in years. It was great to return.  this is usually a very easy walk as by bog standards it is mighty tame. Today however, it was really boggy. I had not worn rubber boats because I thought I was safe without them on a park trail. I thought wrong. Again.

I stopped to photograph Yellow Lady’s-slippers and thought they were large yellow lady’s-slippers at first but then concluded that they were large Yellow Lady’s-slippers. It is difficult to tell them apart. I concluded it was likely Northern Small Yellow lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium parvi florum Salisbury var. makasin (Farwell) Sheviak). The origin of the name scientific name is from the Latin words parvi meaning “small” and florum meaning “flower”. The varietal name makasin is the Algonquin name for the shoe-shaped flowers. It is like a moccasin in other words, though not to be confused with Moccasin Lady’s-slipper. I also like the fact that the name “Sheviak” in the scientific name is likely named after Charles Sheviak a famous botanist that I had the pleasure of guiding in the Woodridge bog a few years ago. That is like carrying a glove for Mickey Mantle. My life was complete.

I was reasonably happy with the photographs I captured of this flower. Frankly, for some reason, I or my camera, I am not sure which, have a lot of trouble with yellow flowers. I have no idea why that is the case, but it is real. Usually my yellow flowers are either washed out or have highlight reflections that make parts of the flower look white. Not good to have white on a yellow flower. I wanted what Donovan called “electrical banana” in his goofy song “Mellow Yellow.” Quite rightly!

The colours on the Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) stood out today. Perhaps, because they were located deep in a boggy woods that contrasted magnificently with their yellow. This is a brilliant flower, but rarely have I captured it. I think this is my best shot of it  ever. Sometimes in a deep bog I have encountered some water, like a small slough or pond ringed by these yellow gems and it makes for a glorious sight. It is like a golden outline of the water. John Boroughs described it as “a golden lining to many a dark, marshy place in the leafless April woods or [mark] a little water course through a greening meadow with a broad line of new gold.” What a great description. According to Jack Sanders in his wonderful book The Secrets of Wildflowers, “to some Indian tribes, the plant was called by a name that translates almost poetically as ‘opens the swamps’.  My only quarrel with that suggestion is the word “almost” which surely could be dropped.

Sanders also commented on the fact that some call it “Cowslips.” I refuse to call it that because at least in North America so many flowers are given that name that it makes no sense to use it. As Sanders said, “A flower so early, common, and bright is bound to be well known and consequently picks up many names. Among people here and in Europe—it is native to both continents as well as to Asia—the plant has been known as King cups, water blobs, May blobs, molly blobs, horse blobs, bull’s eyes, leopard’s foot, water gowan, meadow gowan, Marybuds, verrucaria, solsequia, water dragon, capers, cowlily, cowbloom, soldier buttons, palsywort, great bitterflower, meadow bouts, crazy bet, gools, water crowfoot, and meadow buttercups.  That is about as impressive a collection of names for one flower that I have ever encountered!

The last flower I found I believe was Nodding chickweed (Cerastium nutans). I asked my friends at Manitoba Wildflowers for comments  about whether I was right or wrong when I suggested this name. Since no one posted I am claiming it as a definite Nodding chickweed. See how easy this plant identification is? Shakespeare called them Marbuds when he said said, “Winking Marybuds begin to ope their golden eyes.”

Spring Wild Flowers of the Sandilands


After I found my Calypso orchids in the Sandilands bog near Hadashville, on the way out of the boggy forest, I stopped to photograph Fringed milkwort or gaywings (Polygala paucifolia). The flowers are a deep pink to rose colour. I admit I am a sucker for pink flowers. These flowers are so pretty that my friend Doris Ames says they should really be admitted into the orchid family. It is called  “Gaywings” because of its gorgeous brilliantly coloured flowers that look a bit like wings.  The Iroquois used the leaves of this plant as a wash or poultice to treat abscesses, boils and sores. I have no idea if that helps but I suspect it did. Natives of North America have valuable traditional knowledge gained over millennia of living with nature. The common name, “milkwort” is derived from the genus name. Polys is Greek for “many” or “much” and “gala” is Greek for “milk.” At one time it was believed by ranchers that cattle eating this plant would produce a lot of milk.


I also photographed a violet also in the ditch. I am not sure if it was Early Violet or Bog Violet. They look very similar. Early blue violet (Viola adunca) is as the name would suggest one of the earliest spring violets in Manitoba, but Bog Violet Viola nephrophylla  is also early. According to Doris Ames Early violet is smaller than Bog violet. Early violet is also paler in colour than Bog violet. Now the violet I saw had a very large flower but it was pale. So which is it? I confess I don’t know. It could have either one of them. So I just call it violet. That can’t be wrong.


As well I saw Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). These plants had a lot of uses by indigenous people including medicinal tea that could cure insanity, as an ingredient for treating skin sores like eczema, which I wished my mother had known about. Apparently I had it so bad that my great aunt when she met me for the first time, was dumbstruck and she was so nice she could not say a bad word so she just muttered, “What an…….interesting looking baby.”

I also  saw some Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens). Some people call this flower cowslip, but there are many other flowers that are also called cowslip so I avoid that name. It is also sometimes called Indian paint. This plant has bright orange-yellow flowers that are so saturated with colour that it looks like it has been dripped in wet paint. It flowers for a long time.

With the calypso orchids I reported on earlier, I thought it was a pretty good day of botanizing.

No Nature



Dandelion: friend or foe?

On the last day of our trip, listening to CBC radio I heard about a scandal in Regina. Apparently they have a local bylaw there that if the “lawn” on your yard is more than 15 cm high it must be cut down. What a draconian rule! If you don’t do it the weed inspector will come down and do it for you and send you the bill.  No wild flowers permitted in Regina.

It reminds me of the war that most of us who reside in towns have waged on dandelions.  Such beautiful little yellow flowers. Some say the problem with dandelions is that they take over. They invade the lawn. That is true. Nature hates  monoculture. If we didn’t insist on creating monocultures on our property,  dandelions would have no place to invade. People forget that in nature there are seldom vast fields of yellow dandelions. Dandelions enter where nature has been destroyed. People in towns don’t want nature. So they get dandelions and want to use various horrid chemicals  to defeat them.

Some town folks even think golf courses are nature at her finest! Those wide fairways where golf superintendents apply vats of carcinogenic substances to kill the weeds are what they think is nature. They actually consider that nature. Just goes to show how far they are removed from nature, they have forgotten what nature is like. The only difference between a wild flower and a weed is a public relations firm.

On the way home from British Columbia I saw another example of our war on nature. This was actually a big example. Just after we crossed the Alberta/B.C. border we lost nature.  After we left Banff National Park we saw no nature until we arrived in Steinbach other than rain clouds. That was about 1,000 km.! Not one single animal other than an occasional cow. I don’t think cows were native to North America. The prairies that we took the better part of 2 days to travel through used to be grasslands.  Less than 1% of the tall grass prairie remains. Less than 30% of the remaining grasslands are gone too. Actually, to me it looks like more than that has disappeared. We saw none other than in occasional sloughs or river banks. The grasslands seemed to have vanished.

The first European explorers were stunned when they encountered what they saw as an ocean of grass. They had never seen anything like it. After all, the grasslands of Europe were all but gone before they arrived. Most of that grassland is gone.

We have destroyed so much of nature in the holy names of progress.

I have also been told that the wildlife in North America, before contact with Europeans,  was even more abundant than Africa. To me having been to Africa and having seen their depleted wildlife that makes ours pale into insignificance , I find that hard to believe. It is an awful desecration.

For two days,  we saw virtually none. That is a pity. As the Red Rose Tea commercial used to say, “a dreadful pity.”

I even like dandelions when they have gone to seed. I think there is a beauty in old age.

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.