Friday, May 26, 2017

The Quest For Calypso: A Rare Sight

Ram's-Head Lady Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum), taken
in May 2015, near Bemidji.
Over the last several years, I have been on a quest to see some of the most exotic and rare of Minnesota's wild orchids. On May 20th, I finally spotted one of the rarest of them in full bloom in my favorite bog, the Pennington Bog Scientific and Natural Area

There have always been three orchids at the top of my bucket list:  the Ram's-Head Lady Slipper, the Dragon's Mouth Orchid, and the Calypso Orchid. When I started searching in earnest for these flowers some years ago, I thought it would take me much longer to find all of them. 
Dragon's Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa), taken
June 2016, in the Pennington Bog.

In my search for the Ram's-Head, I had some help, and you can read about that journey here. I still haven't seen it within the confines of the Pennington Bog, even though it is reported to grow there. 

In 2015, I spotted the Dragon's Mouth Orchid in the Pennington, and I saw even more examples of it there last summer. (I have also seen it in Wisconsin, thanks to tips from Josh Horky.) 

Now, in 2017, I have finally seen my "holy grail," the Calypso Orchid. I found about 25 plants, though I only saw about 15 blossoms. I knew it was listed in the original survey of the Pennington Bog, taken back in the 1970s (thanks to my friend Em W for helping me find the survey), but in the five years that I've been exploring this bog, I have never yet seen it until now. 
Pennington Bog, taken June 2016.

The Pennington Bog is 108 acres of heavily-wooded swampland. It looks like a forest right out of a fairytale, dark and dense, just a little spooky, and the Calypso Orchid is very tiny, growing no higher than 9 inches, with a flower no more than an inch long, so searching for such a small flower in such a relatively large area is very much like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. 
Pennington, last weekend, with Calypso Orchids

I've learned some things about orchid-hunting in the last few years. Sometimes, it's easiest to search for the plant or the foliage before you even start looking for the flowers. The Calypso Orchid is unusual, in that its single leaf stays green all winter, persisting under the snow. It dies off after the flower blooms and then sprouts again in the late summer. While the leaf is very small, only an inch or two long, it is very distinctive in appearance, featuring deep pleats along its length, as if it had been folded like a paper fan. I figured that if I started looking early enough in the season, right as the snow was melting, I might be able to spot some leaves, and then later, find the flower.
Calypso leaf, tiny and pleated, visible as the last of
the snow melts. Note the beginnings of a stem!

This strategy proved to be a good one. I started searching for the leaves on April 29. There was still some snow and ice in the bog, and I chose to search a section that I haven't focused on in the past. Because Calypso likes old cedar trees, I decided to focus on the areas around the bases of such trees. I spent five hours crisscrossing and meandering my way through the bog, always heading for cedars, and just as I was about to give up, I spotted two leaves, not far from each other. They were easy to spot against the snow, being even greener than the moss.
Calypso bud against a white handkerchief background,
which helps the iPhone camera lens focus on
something so tiny.

Excitedly, I noted the GPS coordinates (I use a GPS app on my phone), took some photos, and made plans to return in the coming weeks. The next time I visited the bog, I searched for the two plants for which I had coordinates. My $20 GPS app is accurate to about 50 feet, and sometimes it leads me in circles. While I didn't find the original two plants I spotted, I did find, and record coordinates for, some others, and they had buds. 

The Calypso buds are so small that my iPhone 6s camera lens had a lot of trouble focusing on them, especially against the complex background of the forest floor. I've learned to use a white or black handkerchief as a background when I'm photographing tiny flowers, so that helped me get a semi-decent shot or two of the buds. 
Calypso Orchid flower not quite fully open yet.

It's hard to convey just how tiny these orchids are, and how fragile and vulnerable. This bog is protected, and entry is allowed only with a permit, because of the rare and diverse plant life. One has to walk very carefully, checking each step to make sure one is not crushing a flower. 

I did see some Calypso Orchid plants that had been nibbled on, and two flower stems that were bent, perhaps by some hungry deer. I also found a couple flowers that were already past their prime. (Calypso is one of the earliest-blooming orchids in our region.) I took a photo of one of those fading flowers, and had to lift its hanging head to get a good view of it. You can see how tiny it is in relation to my fingers.
Fading Calypso, with flower no bigger than my fingernail.

My two-pronged strategy of searching early in the season and focusing on Cedar trees really paid off. --But there was also a lot of luck involved; after all, I randomly chose to focus on an unfamiliar quarter of the bog.  

In any case, I am very happy to have found the Calypso. I hope to be able to see it bloom for many springs yet to come. 
Pair of Calypso Orchids. 
Yet another pair of Calypsos.
Here, you can see the pleated leaves.
A third pair--here, you get both a top and back view. To the right, you can see the yellow
forked tongue hidden under the flower's lip.
You can really see the pleats in the leaf here. I had to use a diagonal orientation
to fit the entire plant in the frame.

Calypso is an amazingly beautiful and intricate orchid--the deep purple or maroon stripes inside the labellum and the yellow bristles on its tongue combine with its bright purple headdress to make for a dazzling sight. The orchid is pollinated by bumble bee queens, who are attracted to this flower when they emerge from hibernation in the ground. 

Enjoy the photos below--most folks never get to see this orchid!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Take-A-Look Tuesday: Spring Wildflower (& Fungi) Report

I haven't done a "Take-A-Look Tuesday" post in a long time, not since 2014, when I did a couple such posts. Nor have I posted any "Spring Wildflower Reports" lately. I managed two in 2015. I hope this post will get me back on track. I always have more ideas and material than time...

I've been hiking the trails of Jay Cooke State Park all spring, watching as the wildflowers sprout, grow, and then bloom. The last couple weekends have been gorgeous, in terms of what's visible. Let's get right to the photos!
Scarlet cup fungus, JCSP
One of the first things I look for is the Scarlet Cup Fungus. Obviously, this is not a wildflower, but it signals the very beginning of Spring for me. It starts growing under the snow, I think. I usually start seeing them in mid-March, but the first ones I saw this year appeared in early April. They're such a welcome burst of bright color in the bleak, dreary early-spring woods. 
A rare double? I haven't seen too many that are fused together like this one.
Along with the Scarlet Cups, I also usually find a fair number of Black Cup fungus, known as Devil's Urn, in the spring. Devil's urn is one of my favorite fungi. I usually find some pretty large ones at Jay Cooke.
Devil's Urn at the base of an old cedar,
Beltrami County.

More Devil's Urn on the floor of a Beltrami County bog.

Large Devil's Urn specimens at Jay Cooke.
Bloodroot sprout.
One of the earliest wildflowers to bloom is Bloodroot. I caught it this year just as it was sprouting up out of the ground. The sprouts look a bit like caterpillars to me. 
Bloodroot colony

The flowers are quite large, a cheerful sight in the spring. The flowers only last a few days, so I always feel lucky when I see them. 

The leaves of the Bloodroot are almost as pretty as the flowers, deeply veined with many lobes.

Close-up of Bloodroot blossom.
Bloodroot colony, with flowers opening up
Macro shot of a Bloodroot bud emerging
from its leafy cocoon.


Another very early flower that I try really hard to catch is Dutchman's Breeches, so named because the flowers look like pants hung on a clothesline. The leaves are quite distinctive, feathery in appearance, with a slightly bluish cast.
One of my best shots of Dutchman's Breeches this year.
Trout Lily with bud
Such lovely leaves
The Trout Lilies are also a great favorite. They get their name from the mottled pattern on their leaves, reminiscent of trout-skin. Jay Cooke is filled with these flowers. 
Trout Lilies amidst a sea of Spring Beauties at Jay Cooke.

Lots of yellow Trouts
Perfect pair

Yellow Trout Lily with bee

The Trout Lilies also come in white, but for some reason, I find the white ones harder to photograph. I haven't yet taken a really good photo of the white ones this year...

The Trout Lilies grow in the same area as the Spring Beauties, a small pink and white striped flower, also found in vast numbers at Jay Cooke. 

Spring Beauties: very small
It wouldn't be a Spring Wildflower Report without a shot or two of Wild Ginger and Trillium, so here are some photos of those old favorites.
Most of the Trilliums I've seen so far haven't opened fully yet.
Wild Ginger's amazing flower rests on the ground.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit, just starting to bloom, Munger Trail.

An older Jack

I was afraid I might miss Jack-in-the-Pulpit this year, but they're just coming up now in our area. They are so much fun to see. 
Looking for Jack inside the Pulpit
If you have time to get out to Jay Cooke in the near future, you should check out all the flowers along Summer Trail. It's a great place to see many of these flowers. During my last two trips there, I've run into other wildflower photographers, some of whom come from the Twin Cities area to see the beautiful array of wildflowers Jay Cooke has to offer.