In the past week I’ve added two more orchid species to my hypothetical orchid life list. The first one, Dragon’s Mouth or Arethusa bulbosa, grows on the sphagnum mats surrounding one of the lakes on the property. Unless I wanted to bushwhack through the soggy thicket of the bog, to see it we had to go out in a boat. I’m not the world’s most enthusiastic canoe-er, normally, but Orchids of Wisconsin says this is “perhaps the most beautiful flower in the North American flora.” Give me my life jacket and my paddle and let’s go!
Of course, I quickly discovered that it’s very hard to take good macro photographs from a bobbing canoe. After a lot of attempts, here are the best photos I was able to get.
The second orchid, Grass-pink or Calopogon tuberosus, was on another lake, but this time I was able to see it without the canoe – I just had to balance carefully and walk out on some fallen logs. This was actually at the same spot where I took the photo in this post from last fall, where the older logs in the water have turned into miniature islands over the years, with whole communities of bog plants growing on them.
In addition to their beauty, orchids are known for the trickery they employ to attract pollinators. Dragon’s Mouth orchids look pretty and smell nice, but it’s all a front – they have almost no nectar to offer. Apparently for their pollination they depend entirely on newly-emerged, inexperienced queen bumblebees. Once the bees figure out the trick, they stop visiting the flowers. As for the Grass-pink, its shape is an adaptation to place a bee in exactly the right place for pollination. The bee lands on that yellow brushy part on top, which looks like it’s covered in pollen but actually isn’t. Then the top part bends under the bee’s weight and the bee ends up squarely on the stigma, the female reproductive part of the flower. (At least, that’s how I understand it from the explanation I read.)
Who knew North Woods bogs were so full of sex, lies, and drama?