Category Archives: Wild flowers of Manitoba

Tangled Up in Blue


This odd combination of  2 blue flag Iris flowers intrigued me. At first I thought it was one very odd flower.  In time I realized it was 2 flowers that had been growing so close they became intertwined.  I solved this mystery. Another one I could not solved.

The image brought to mind one of Bob Dylan’s classic song, “Tangled Up in Blue” . it is a deeply mysterious song from a classic album “Blood on the Tracks”. I always loved that song particularly the refrain of the words “Tangled up in blue” at the end of each verse. Yet I always had a very hard time trying to figure out what Dylan was getting in the song. What was tangled up in blue?


in the song he talks about meeting a woman at a topless bar.  It is sort of a love song. But not really. They don’t last together for long.

At one point she picks up a book of poems:

“Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true

And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue”


In New Orleans where they met Dylans sings:

“I lived with them on Montagüe Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air

Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside

And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keeping on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue”


Everything about the song is mysterious to me.  Who was the 13th century poet?  Dante was born in the 13th century but straddled the 14th century. Once Dylan said it was Petrach but that can’t be right. I am not sure it matters. I think the references to revolution and slavery suggest freedom but I am not sure how that fits in. If you know more let me know. Enlighten me a lowly pilgrim seeking light.

What is blue? The dress of his mother in the song?  Once he said he was thinking of Joni Mitchell’s also classic album “Blue” that came out in 1971. Amazingly I was actually listening to a radio documentary about the record on CBC radio at the time I was shooting the images of this blue flag iris. What an incredible coincidence? It was almost supernatural.

The song is still mysterious but I like it. The flowers I saw were just about as mysterious. When I untangled them to realize they were two flowers, that made them a little less mysterious. But no less beautiful.

A Royal Lineage

Jack Saunders pointed out in his book The Secrets of Wildflowers, that the name “iris” comes from the Greek goddess Iris who sat on top of Mount Olympus and acted as a messenger between humans and the other gods who also sat on top of the mountain. It was said that wherever she went a rainbow followed her. The Greeks said the rainbow in the sky was a sign that the goddess Iris was delivering a message. One of the duties of the goddess Iris was to guide the souls of the dead to the afterworld and so many Greeks planted the iris flowers next to their graves.

Saunders says this about its regal history:

“The ancients considered the iris a symbol of power and majesty. Egyptian kings used the design of the blossom on their sceptres and placed it on the brow of the Sphinx, believing its major petals to be symbols of faith, wisdom, and valour.  Modern use of the iris as a royal symbol may trace back to Clovis, a sixth-century king of the Franks. According to one legend, a large force of Goths trapped his army, with his back against the Rhine River near Cologne. As he searched for a way to escape, Clovis noticed in the distance a large colony of golden irises extending far out into the river. He realized this was a sign that the water was shallow enough there for his troops to cross.”

As a result Clovis men escaped. I had a short visit to Cologne

King Louis VII of France selected the iris as his house emblem when he was a young crusader and in time it became the famous fleur-de-lis or fleur-de-luce, all o of which are corruptions of ‘flower of Louis.’ Some people say the blue flag iris got is name because kings like the Louis’ of France frequently employed the design on the flags and banners of the monarchies of Europe. Others suggest that the leaves of the iris look like reeds, and the Middle English word for reeds is flagge. The wild blue flag is the official flower of Quebec

All of this is interesting (to me at least) but I admit I love them for their outstanding beauty alone. What more is needed? Irises bear a resemblance to orchids and I have had people ask me if the blue flag is an orchid. It is not, but perhaps it should be adopted into the family.

Blue Flag Redux


This year my botanical goal was to find and photograph the Blue Flag iris. They are not orchids but they sure are beautiful.  I have missed them for a couple of years and it is time I returned to their splendour in the grass. Well, splendour in the reeds actually. These flowers like to have wet feet.

I actually found and photographed those flowers earlier in the year but my computer program disgorged the images without me knowing it until it was too late. But it was not too late to try again.

I returned to municipal road near Labroquerie Manitoba and found them in abundance. I was well rewarded for my diligence with many  blue flag iris flowers.  This is a stellar place for blue flag iris. I had seen them before here but never like this. I had a great time. Life was good. I even let heretical thoughts enter my mind such as considering that perhaps the lost images were worth the loss! How could that be possible?

I am known as an orchid geek. There is good reason for that. I love orchids, particularly wild orchids. But when it comes to flowers I am promiscuous. Other favourites include cactus flowers, water lilies and others. I particularly like the Blue Flag Iris of Manitoba. It is an outstanding beauty.

Yet one of North America’s greatest naturalists was not bowled over by them. Henry David Thoreau said, “This is a little too showy and gaudy, like some women’s bonnets.” It has to be showy at the time it blooms because in June the competition to attract pollinators is fierce in Manitoba.

The blue stripes against a purple/blue background are thought to provide guidance to potential pollinators.

It is a large flower and hence attracts many visitors.  If you look closely to the flower above you can see an insect that might be a pollinator for Blue Flag iris. Unfortunately, some of the visitors are too small to much good when it comes to propagation. They drink the nectar but provide puny pollination services in return. These insects include butterflies and moths that really are too small to gather or deposit pollen. Thank goodness, as Jack Sanders said in his delightful book, The Secret of Wildflowers, “the iris has plenty of nectar to go around, and perhaps it is no accident that the blue flag iris is a denizen of wet places, swamps and moist fields—making production of large amounts of nectar easy.”

The leaves are nicely designed for life in tightly packed bogs or ditches. The leaves are thin and grass-like allowing sunlight to penetrate through the mass of vegetation., As well, unlike most broad leafed plants, the leaves can assimilate sunlight on both sides and not just the upper. Sometimes it pays to be AC/DC.

Sadly, Blue flag Iris is not as plentiful as it once was because so many wetlands in places like Manitoba have been drained for the “progress” of residential subdivisions and shopping malls. They can however form into impressive colonies. We once had an impressive colony near our cottage at Buffalo Point but it had to give way for the “progress” of a  sewer line for a proposed hotel that never appeared. That phantom hotel was considered  more important than flowers.


Irises like to find a place where their feet can be wet most of the year. The blue flag iris is a stunning flower and even that curmudgeonly Thoreau admitted, “It belongs to the meadow and ornaments it much.” I can’t disagree with that. According to Saunders, “the iris has a lofty and regal history.” American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow could appreciate these flowers for he wrote fondly of the blue flag iris:

Born in the purple, born to joy and pleasance

Thou dost not toil nor spin

But makest glad and radiant with thy presence

The meadow and the lin.


Queen of the Bog: Showy Lady’s-slipper



The showy lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium reginae) is the largest of our Lady’s-slipper. Some say also the most beautiful. This really is the queen of the bog as its scientific name suggests. When I saw it in the Woodridge bog, it was standing out in the bog with pink, yellow, and white finery. The pink can be anything from a deep rose to pale white with a few streaks of pink. She was indeed royally adorned and a humble pilgrim like me could do nothing but pay obeisance.


Sometimes the flower is completely white. This year in particular because it has been so hot and dry many of the plants have refused to produce colour. It must be their form of rebellion. Perhaps the flower is focusing on survival rather than attracting pollinators. Life  before beauty? This dry hot year my friends have seen more white flowers than ever before. I have not noticed any.


This is not a large bunch. Just the best I found this day. If you ever see these flowers in a large bunch you might end up falling to your knees. That is the right response. They are that magnificent. They are pollinated by bees who enter at the bottom of the beautiful pouch and then struggle absurdly out the top. It sometimes seems pitiful to see the bee struggling and sliding to get out. Of course, as they fight to get released from the flower they drop their pollen from the last flower visited, performing their important reproductive service to their queen. Yet as is so often the case with great beauty, one must be careful around it. Some people can develop a rash after the touching the hairs on its stems and leaves. As the Sergeant on Hill Street Blues used to warn his police officers every morning before they headed out on their beats, “Be careful out there.” Sometimes, as Yeats said, beauty is like a bended bow.


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.



A Gem in the Bog: Well worth the trips



A couple of days after seeing Calypso in bloom, I found a window of opportunity just before impending rain for 7 days to return. I jumped at the opportunity and headed out to the Hadashville bog in search of calypso in bloom. Today I wanted the real thing, flowers in bloom. This was my 4th attempt to find these flowers in bloom this spring and I was finally lucky.


Calypso (Calypso bulbosa) is usually one of the first of Manitoba’s orchid to bloom each year and is also one of its most beautiful. Calypso is a tiny little flower and hence difficult to find. While the flower is slipper shaped it is not a member of the lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium) family (genus). It is a member of the Calypso genus. It is named after the sea nymph Calypso of Homer’s Odyssey who kept Ulysses hidden on her island for 7 years.

The Greek word Kalypso means “hiding.”  Presumably that refers to its habit. It likes dark bogs such as I visited today.  Not much light enters here so I needed a tripod to photograph it. I always prefer a tripod anyways for flower pictures to ensure sharp focus. That is very difficult to achieve because the range of focus for such small flowers is very narrow.


You can see the narrow range of focus on this photo. The second flower to the right is deliberately out of focus even though it is only inches farther away than the one to the right

There are a couple of odd things about this orchid, besides its stunning beauty. It does not have close relatives. In other words, it is the only member of its genus. How can you have a family with only 1 member? I am not sure how that works.

One other odd thing about this gem of a flower is it has only 1 leaf which appears in autumn then lies dormant under the snow all winter but remains green! Then in spring shortly after the flower appears, the leaf withers until the next fall.

I will never forget the first time I saw this flower.  I was stunned by a flower so small with so much beauty. How is that possible? It really needs a an extreme close-up, preferably with a macro lens. Nothing else will do it justice.


It was a great venture. This bog is a little more than an hour from my home and I had to make 4 trips to see these flowers. There were only 10 of them at the site. Well worth the trips.


Hadashville Calypso bog


Recently, I went for a third time to the Hadashville bog in search of the illusive Calypso—Manitoba’s first orchid of the year.  I checked my  journal that I keep before I went and then I realized that calypso did appear after May 15 in some years. It all depends on the spring weather.  This year had been cool, that could mean, they were taking their time to appear. Until then  I feared I was too late and had missed them for the year.

After walking around for a while I notice two tiny plants without flowers that looked a lot like Calypso. Then I realized these were the buds!  I had never seen Calypso before in bud. This was exciting for two reason. First, now I had seen them in bud. Secondly, this meant if I can come back again I can photograph the mature flowers. This was win/win. Though it meant one more trip. I left well satisfied after taking a couple of documentary shots. From one of the buds I could see the orchid just emerging.

As I left I could not help but stop to photograph crocuses.  I saw my first crocuses this year on April 11 and now, more than a month later, on May 18, I saw them again on the south (shady) side of the road.

If the world does not give you orchids, may be it will give you crocuses. And that’s not half bad.

I like this one because it shows the crocus looming out of the dark.

Resurrection in a Graveyard

Chris and I went for a drive 2 days ago.  We are starting to recognize again, that it might be a long time before we can travel. Even the fact that each of us has vaccines won’t change that any time soon. So it was time to get out in nature.

My goal was to drive to Birds Hill Park and see three-flowered avens. From that perspective the jaunt was a dud. There were no avens to be found. At least there were none where I drove and walked.   We did see a Harrier Hawk above us, scouting its next meal.

After failing to find avens, I suggested plan B.  If the world gives you lemons, make the joy of prairie crocuses.  I would try to find Sunnyside Cemetery not far away.  I had not been there for more than 10 years and knew it was a good place for avens. To Chris’s astonishment and my mild surprise, I found it. My memory for once worked.

It was a beautiful day for a trip to a graveyard. We found nature there. We found some fat and happy crocuses. This was surprising since just the day before  this graveyard would have been covered in snow. The day we were there all the snow was gone. And there were these magnificent flowers.  Can any other place compare to these gorgeous spring flowers? I think not. It was extraordinary. One day later and spring came back to life. It was resurrection in the graveyard! It was the extraordinary beauty of a Manitoba spring. Flowers were springing out of the ground  like a miracle. It was resurrection day.

I spent about an hour photographing these magnificent flowers. It was the start of wildflowers in Manitoba. Life had returned to the prairies. Life was good again. It really was resurrection day.


Low Prairie Rose


Recently, on the one month anniversary since Chris’ hip surgery when she was doing very well the only pain she had was in her store bought knee. Not in her hip! So she encouraged me to take a day off from my manservant duties and I headed  the St. Labre Road as I call it. This is my spot for one of my favorite flowers–the Low Prairie Rose (Rosa arkansana porter).

 I wanted googled “Low prairie rose” and had a psychedelic experience. I found flowers by that name of the Internet. The first one I looked at was from my friend Doris Ames. The first time I ever heard about this flower was on a slide show somewhere (I have forgotten where) and Doris showed a photo by my good friend and best man at my wedding–Eugene Reimer. When I first saw that image I  was smitten with it and was consumed by jealousy that my friend had photographed it and I had never seen it. It actually took me a few years to find it.

In fact today, the second image  on my Internet search was by Eugene from the Native Orchid Conservation Inc. website. The third image was from my own Meanderer blog site. This felt absolutely weird. But actually it fits in with what I have been wondering about. Is there actually such a flower as Low Prairie Rose or is it just a version of the ordinary garden variety Wild Rose? After this search I was still not sure we are right, but I did find another short article on the Qu’appelle Flora website that talked about it. That is good enough for me. I have determined to my satisfaction that there is such a flower. Case closed.

Don’t tell my orchid friends but this may be my favorite flower. I love orchids, particularly wild orchids, but the Low Prairie Rose is a stunner.

I first found it in the area I was at today because Eugene had kindly told me where it could be found. Eventually thanks to his directions I found it. By now I realize it is actually quite common. Often I have found right beside the road as I did today.


Even though the flower is so exquisitely beautiful it is often found beside gravel roads covered in dust. What a shame it deserves so much better. I often like to photograph it after a rain, not just because it is so clean from the rain, but because the colors shine and sparkle. Since it does not rain often enough for this purpose, I always carry some rain in a bottle in my pocket just in case I need to give the flower a spritz. Today I needed the spritzer. I think it was worth it.

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.