Category Archives: Wild Flowers

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.

Far from the Maddening Crowd


These are not great photos because they were taken directly into the sun but I have tried to capture the crowds that came to look at wildflowers at Lost Dutchman State Park Arizona. I estimated there were about 250 flower lovers.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to see such crowds coming to look at wildflowers.

The people were of all ages. Old Codgers like me to young bright and eager kids. It was spectacular. Wonders never cease.



If you click on the photo and make it bigger I think you will see what the park is usually like. Finally I was far from the Maddening crowd after I lost them. I took a wrong turn.   How can you lose 250 people?


A Flower Child arrives in Heaven




When I was a young lad going to University, it was the time of hippies and flower children. I always considered myself as on the fringes of this group. The term we liked to refer to ourselves was “freaks.”  But I always liked the expression “flower children.”  It called to mind these crazy kids at the Kent State  University Vietnam War Protest, and other places, who stood in front of the national guard members that were pointing their rifles at them and they smiled at the guards and placed flowers in the barrels of the gun.  How crazy is that?   Much to my surprise I actually became a flower child of sorts many years later when as an adult of sorts I became interested in wildflowers. I remember my mother was amazed. How could this happen?  Well, my answer to her was, “How could it not happen?” What is there not to like about wildflowers?

It was a very windy day, so I gave up on trying to freeze images of flowering blowing in the breeze.

One afternoon this winter in Arizona Christiane and I went for a jaunt on Red Mountain Road and Saguaro Lake and then headed south to complete a loop to Busch Highway and then Usery Pass Road.  We saw many wildflowers along the way. But we were really shocked at Usery Pass Road  where there was a long line of cars parked beside the road. What was happening we wondered? It was the wildflower children going crazy photographing flowers. My sport has been turned over to the rabble! And there was good reason for that. The flowers were outstanding.


There was a traffic jam of sorts in the countryside where we saw these wild flowers. Everyone, it seemed wanted to see these gems. Who can blame them?


Super Bloom



Everyone in Arizona this year, as in many other places in the southern USA, complained a lot about the bad weather. I admit it—I was one of them.  Everyone complained. Some told me it was the worst winter in 40 years.  It was awful. But it was also great!


From the perspective of a wildflower guy—like me—it was fantastic. Conditions were great.  I learned from Ranger B an interpreter at the Maricopa Parks where we often attended his talks, that the ideal conditions for wildflower growth were a wet autumn followed by consistent occasional rain from January to March. This is exactly what happened this past year. He said it happened about once every 11 years. Well it happened this year. Life is good.


I had been hoping to experience one of those years ever since I heard about it.  Ranger B says it was fantastic to see. He was right.


The result of these ideal conditions is called by local “a Super Bloom.”  And that was what we experienced this year. Now I say it was the best weather ever in Arizona.  Though, I admit, I also complained about it. Some of us are never happy and are never satisfied.



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.