Category Archives: Wild flowers of Manitoba

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.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Light in the dark: a Second Try

 

 

I went to Sandilands a second time in search of Calypso and was denied again.  Flowers were not excited by the cool spring. Neither was I. But I was rewarded because crocuses were still in glorious bloom. I nearly rejected this first photograph and then paused to save it for future consideration.  Later I wondered why I wanted to discard it because now it is one of my favourites. Lesson: slow down and be careful out there. Now I see it as suggesting light in the dark.

 

The Pasque flower or prairie crocus (Anemone patens), is one of the first plants to bloom on the prairie each year. They are a true indicator that spring is here. It is a time to cheer. It has petals that vary from white, pale pink, light blue, blue, pink, mauve, and purple.

These flowers are often found in disturbed land such as right beside a gravel road. Isn’t that  a strange place to grow? Why in he gravel and why so close to a road where vehicles can end their short lives?

The strategy of blooming early enables  this lovely flower to catch the attention of pollinators such as small bees and insects because there is little competition at this time of year from other flowers. This strategy of course has its risks. Sometimes the seeds are unable to germinate on account of severe cold during flowering, which can severely restrain seed production.   Often they appear before the snow melts completely. If the prairie soil is too dry the seeds will go dormant, then germinate the following spring.

Frankly, I have hundreds of crocus photos and each year I say enough already and then in spring I am so anxious to photograph wild flowers I find I must go out in search of them. I can’t resist their beauty. Only a Cretan would do that. The prairie crocus is a treasure of the prairie spring.

Manitoba Crocus: A Spring gem of a wild flower

 

The first botany trip of the year in Manitoba is always a big deal. Today was no exception. My doctor  called me on the phone yesterday and confirmed I could go outside because the chances of passing on pneumonia were now “extremely low.” That was good enough for me.

 

This has been a crazy year. First, we were driven out of Arizona in mid-March because of the COVI-19 pandemic. This was before I had any chance to see cactuses in bloom in Arizona. In other words, this was a “dreadful pity,” to quote the Red Rose tea commercials.

 

Then when we got back to Manitoba we were basically quarantined. We are not supposed to go out at all except for important matters and then only if we stay a safe social distance from people, which basically means 2 metres or more. I felt Sandilands Provincial forest was a very safe place to go. In fact I only saw 3 groups of people. 2 were in cars that drove past me without stopping. The other was a small group of people cutting some trees for firewood and I drove past them in my car. So I felt no guilt at all about being out and about.

 

I drove to ta site near  Hadashville in Sandilands Provincial Forest and had no trouble finding the crocuses site but found no calypsos. These are Manitoba’s first orchids each year.  This was plenty late enough for them to be blooming but this year has been very cold in spring. Did I miss them? I tentatively concluded that they were late this year, but that might just be wishful thinking.

 

Since I could not photograph calypso orchids the first of the Manitoba orchids I spent the time photographing crocuses. I already have hundred of photographs of crocuses, but I always hope to capture a better image. The fun is in the chase. Crocuses were still in bloom.

Life is good.

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.

Manitoba’s Cactuses

 

 

In June 2016 I went on one of my most spectacular botany trips ever. That is saying a lot since I have on some outstanding trips. This was truly one of the best.

Normally I am a bog guy. I love bogs. I love the orchids and other plants that inhabit our wetlands. Most of my flower hunting has been in these wetlands.  Today I felt a bit like a faithless lover because I wandered a near desert in search of cacti. I have come to love cacti as much as orchids. Both are pretty close to divine.

 

I love deserts. I just never thought I would experience one in Manitoba. Actually, I did not experience one that day. It is not really a desert but it is as close as we get in Manitoba. Spruce Woods gets about twice the amount that is the limit for what is considered a desert. The annual moisture received there is 300-500 millimetres per year-nearly twice the amount received in a true desert region. This rainfall enables plants to colonize the sand dunes, hiding most of the sand. In fact as I walked along the trail I was struck by the great variety of vegetation. For a plant guy like me that was fantastic.

 

Of the original 6,500 square kilometres of delta sand, only four square kilometres remain open today. The balance is now covered with vegetation that is gradually covering the sands. Most of the sands are now covered with a rich variety of plants and wildlife. The Spirit Sands had their origin more than 15,000 years ago when the ancestral Assiniboine River, was much larger than it is today and it created a huge delta as it carried glacial meltwaters into ancient Lake Agassiz.

The origins of the Spruce Woods require one to consider the massive continental ice sheets that covered Manitoba and much of the northern part of North America.  About 20,000 years ago, all of Manitoba was covered by an enormous ice sheet that in many places was up to 2 km. deep.  There was an awful lot of water locked up in that  ice.

When that fantastic ice sheet started to melt, a wide melt stream flowed into the recently created Lake Agassiz.  It was the largest lake the world has ever seen! As the water flowed in it dropped silt, sand, and gravel into many parts of Manitoba including a pathway that was centred roughly on what is now the Assinboine River.  This created a huge river valley.

The sand deposits thus created were vast and deep. In places they were up to 200 feet deep and covered approximately 6,500 square km. These deposits spread out in a fan shape that reached as far as Portage la Prairie. Winds created heaps of sand that we call dunes. Large dunes were built up in this area. Those dunes are still active today.

When the great continental ice sheets finally melted away, about 12,000 years ago, the Assinboine River was a mighty river, about 1.5 km wide. The modern descendant is a puny shadow of that.  The river drained into huge Lake Agassiz just south of present day Brandon Manitoba. As the glacier continued to retreat northwards Lake Agassiz drained south—opposite of today. The massive ice sheets blocked northward flow. This south flow of the river exposed massive sand from the river delta.

 

To the aboriginal people the Spirit Sands were a spiritual place close to the Great Spirit or Kiche Manitou. The present name—Spirit Sands acknowledges the religious importance of the dunes to indigenous people.

Today Spirit Sands is a fragile sand dune about 4 km2.  The rest of what is left is covered with vegetation. The dunes are moved along the prevailing northwesterly winds and like so many dunes, cover anything that stands in their way.

 

Cactuses or cacti  are magnificent. I have spent  a few winters now in Arizona looking at cacti and have come to love them nearly as much as orchids, as heretical as that might sound.  Our Manitoba cacti are small low plants but the flowers are extraordinary and can hold their heads up high to any Arizona cacti.  And they love sandy conditions.

Many people are surprised to learn that cacti can be found in Canada. After all, are cacti not a plant of the southwestern deserts? Yes and no. Certainly they can be found in the southwest of the US and are in fact famous for that. Yet they can survive in the north as well.

There are actually 4 species of cacti native to Canada. These are Escobaria vivipara, Opuntia fragilis, O. polyacanthaand O. humifusa. None of these species are found farther north than their locations in Canada.

There is another species of cactus in Manitoba that I have not seen yet. That is prickly pear and it can be found from BC to Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba. There are as well a few sites in northwestern Ontario. I have seen this cactus in Manitoba but not when it was in bloom. A nature group of which I am a part, Native Orchid Conservation Inc. went to see it but I had to miss that field trip. Sometimes life sucks.  Next year for sure!

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.

 

Coral-roots

 

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.