Category Archives: Orchids of Manitoba

Why do we need a New Attitude to Nature?

This is a photograph of one of Manitoba’s lovely little orchids that are blooming right now. I am a wild flower guy. I hate what is happening to flowering plants, and other plants, around the world!

Some people don’t–no make that most people–don’t think we need a new attitude to nature. They are content with the current attitude to nature that is deeply embedded in western thought. Fundamentally, this is the attitude that we humans are not part of nature.  According to the conventional wisdom, we are separate from nature and in fact superior to it, so that we can do with nature as we please. Nature is just a resource. When Europeans arrived in New World, as they called, even though there was nothing new about, they brought this attitude with.  That is a pity because the indigenous people had an entirely different attitude which I will comment on soon.

This is the western attitude to nature in a nutshell which has been with us for millennia and is supported by Christian scripture, though fortunately, some modern Christians are trying with heroic efforts to turn that ship around. I wish them luck.

There is some very recent history to support my contention that current attitudes have got us in big trouble. Recent studies have shown that pollution caused by humans is killing 9 million people a year around the world.

The recent study is based on data from the Global Burden of Disease Project.  That study found that air pollution caused 75% of those deaths. That means that air pollution is responsible for 1 in 6 deaths around the world!


The study was published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health and it said that toxic air and contaminated water and soil “is an existential threat to human health and planetary health.” According to the Guardian Weekly review of that research, “The death total dwarfs that from road traffic deaths, HIV/Aids, malaria, and TB combined!”

Of course, pollution is produced by humans the greatest serial killer on the planet. Humans produce it because they don’t care about nature.

Another recent study has shown that 80,000 plant species world-wide are currently categorized as “heading for extinction because people do not need them!” Many of these are flowers which as a flower child I lament of course, with special feeling.

And for those who don’t care about wild flowers or even nature, but care about money, and that includes a lot of people, here are the economics: “The researchers calculated the economic impact of pollution deaths at $4.7 tn., about $9m a minute.”

That should get their attention.

And in a nutshell, that is one reason why we need a new attitude to nature. But there are many.

Dragon’s Mouth


There are some spectacular beauties in the bogs of Manitoba.  One of them is an orchid called Dragon’s Mouth.

After visiting the Brokenhead ecological reserve where I am not allowed to get off the trail, in order  to protect the flowers of course,  I went to another spot nearby where I had no such restrictions. Only fools go to such places. People like me. This allowed me to get very close to a spectacular Manitoba orchid—Dragon’s Mouth (Arethusa bulbosa). This year, the one’s in the reserve were not close enough to the boardwalk to photograph. Some years they have been much closer.


The Genus Arethusa to which this flower belongs is named after Arethusa of Greek mythology. Arethusa was a river nymph in the service of Artemis, goddess of the moon, and patroness of unmarried girls and  chastity. This gave her awesome responsibilities of course. One day when Arethusa was bathing in the river she was spotted by the river god Alpheus who naturally pursued her. This required her god Artemis to change into a spring to rescue her from her distress.

This is an interesting genus because there is only one species in the genus bulbosa is it. Sadly, like so many of our orchids these are declining in numbers because the wetlands in which they live are constantly being drained in the name of progress. Can you imagine a world without these gems? It would certainly be much poorer. Is that progress?

According to William Petrie’s Guide to Orchids of North America, “the flower gives the impression of being alive and listening  and reminds one of a small creature with erect ears and drooping tongue.”  I think this is a lovely description of this beautiful plant, except that it suggests the flower is not alive. It is certainly alive. Only a cretan would deny that.


Thinking of my mother on a jaunt to the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological Reserve

In June this summer, I went to the Brokenhead Wetland Ecological  trail (one of my favourite places) in search of Spotted Coral Root (Corallorhiza maculata) and met with great success. At a place where I had never seen these little gems before, right near the beginning of the trail I found a great plant. Not only that but the flowers were right beside the trail, before the boardwalk even began, so I did not have to succumb to temptation and go off the trail, which we are urged never to do. As my mother taught me, it is always best not to expose myself to temptation.  She knew me. Today there was no issue as  they were right where I needed them to photograph them.

Today there was no issue they were right where I needed them to photograph them. These are very unusual flowers since they belong to the Genus Corallorhiza or Coral-roots.  These flowers are mycoheterotrophs which means they are not able to produce chlorophyll and hence must obtain their nutrition from other plants by way of specific mycorrhizal fungi in the soil.  Orchids often have a mutualist relationship with fungi and this is one  orchid genus that has that. These orchids spend most of their time underground and appear above ground only briefly, since in the absence of chlorophyll they don’t require sunlight which they are not able to use to produce food . The only “leaves” they have are actually scales. That means they have no green on their bodies at all. So instead of producing sugar as food, as most plants do from sunlight, they have a special relationship with these fungi who supply food to them. Sort of like the relationship we have with our mothers.

These are very small orchids and I can only photograph the tiny but beautiful flowers with a macro (close-up) lens. Even then, it is impossible to get more than one flower in focus at one time.  Yet, I think it is worth the effort to catch these gems and this was probably the best opportunity to capture them on camera I have ever had. The word “maculata” is Latin for spotted. It is not immaculate in other words. Which is fine with me. I prefer spots and have no longing for the immaculate.

Since I am a wild flower guy and not just an orchid guy, I also paid attention to other beauties namely, Smooth Fleabane (Erigeron glabellus). Though common these flowers certainly merit some attention too.  

These flowers have a lovely flower head of ray flowers (the bigger outer flowers) that range in colour from near white, to blue, and purple. The much smaller inner disk flowers are yellow.  I find the combination of the two stunning.

The name Erigeron come from the Greek word “eri”  which means early  and “geron” which means ‘old man.’ These flowers appear fairly early in the year and then produce fluffy grey seed clusters, hence its name. I find it appropriate that I like this flower as I was prematurely grey and now am sadly bald. Life is hard.



With two lovely flowers like these and a few others I have not included in this post, I must say it was a great day.  My mother would have quoted her favourite Bible verse, “This is the day the lord has made.” And I would have agreed with her.


Sometimes reality does not provide the best view



I love to photograph this orchid and then play with the image to make it appear to be glowing in the dark of the bog. This image is actually a combination of two identical images. One of those images was brightened while the second one was then blurred. In Photoshop I then combined the two images to create this result. It is like magic when they are combined. If you click on the image and make it larger you can see the effect a little better. Sometimes the effect  is more pronounced than this image. Most important it is fun to make reality bend a little.

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.