Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Charles Sawicki sent two orchid photos and commentary (indented):

Here are some pictures of my favorite north American orchid, the showy Lady Slipper (Cypripedium reginae). These were taken in Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in central Minnesota. They grow only in soggy, grassy or forested areas and are threatened or endangered throughout their range, which extends into Canada where temperatures can fall to -50° F. Quite rare in Minnesota, this is the best patch of plants I’ve found.

Closeup of flowers which are about 2 inches tall.

Sexual reproduction for these plants is problematic. Most flowers are never pollinated since they don’t produce nectar to attract insects and are not self-fertile. It seems that fertilization is by pollen-collecting insects like megachilid bees or the wind. When fertilized, a single flower can produce 100,000 seeds as fine a flour dust which can be wind dispersed. However, growth to mature plants is highly improbable. In the first year, they only grow to a fraction of a millimeter in size and can take more than a decade to flower. The rare successful plants normally have their seedlings suppressed. For example, as seen in the next picture, the clumps of plants are surrounded by thick, tall grass.

Many have been killed off by collectors digging their rhizomes for replanting. Transplanting is rarely successful, since they require very particular damp conditions and symbiotic fungi to survive and reproduce. Charles Darwin attempted, without success, to cultivate these orchids.

Clumps of orchid plants seen in soggy grass:

So how do these plants survive? The clumps seen above are a clue. Clumps are produced by one successful seed and slow vegetative reproduction of the rhizomes. Other factors support their survival. First is a very long life (some say 100 years or more) but no one knows for certain. They also produce a toxin which can be irritating to human skin. Possibly, this also discourages mammal and insect predators, since I’ve never seen signs of grazing on these orchid plants. This location has seven separate clumps of plants; possibly some disaster like a dry season fire suppressed the grass allowing some seeds to grow.

Here are two bird photos and some Honorary Cats® from Christopher Moss.

One more for your stash, Spinus pinus, the Pine Siskin. They flock with the redpolls, and this one is just developing his characteristic flash of yellow on the wings.

Spring must be arriving, as the purple finches have turned up. Carpodacus purpureus once was common across north America, but has been largely displaced by the House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) introduced from Mexico and the western USA. We are lucky to still have the one, true ‘rosefinch’ here.

A small vignette of sciurine drama at the feeder. Two Tamiasciurus hudsonicus [American red squirrels],one of whom is impatient for his turn:


  1. Posted April 20, 2019 at 7:44 am | Permalink


  2. Posted April 20, 2019 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    How lucky to see these orchids! I have looked all over for them in Wisconsin and never managed to find one. I think they would be my favorite native orchid if I could ever see one.

    “It seems that fertilization is by pollen-collecting insects like megachilid bees or the wind.”

    I don’t think wind would ever work to cross-pollinate these. Orchids don’t have dustlike pollen. The pollen is more or less viscous in Cypripedium, an unlikely candidate for wind transport.

  3. loren russell
    Posted April 20, 2019 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    For years, it was thought that cypripediums could not be grown from seed, and the general consensus was that they were entirely dependent on symbiotic fungi. However, requirements for germination and growth — the latter involving chilling to induce winter dormancy — were worked out twenty or more years ago. Presently there are a number of specialist nurseries growing Cyp. reginae and other native orchids from seed. Most of the reputable nurseries sell dormant rootstocks one or two years from blooming size, and it’s too late in the season to get those. Since these seed-growers are generally hand-pollinating their parent stock, getting a cloud of seed for each cross, this is not putting pressure on wild stock.

    I found that C. reginae and the geographically-isolated C. kentuckiense are relatively easy to grow in western Oregon, far from their natural range. You do have to understand their general soil/moisture requirements, but in garden conditions, they don’t need a specific fungal partner.. There is also a bewildering range of hybrids, usually of an American or European species with one of the Asian species that show hybrid vigor, clumping up within a few years.

    One advantage of sticking to the hybrids, such as. C ‘Ulla Silkens’ resembling C. reginae [one of the parents], are absolutely not wild-dug!

  4. chrism
    Posted April 20, 2019 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Birds are more my thing than plants, but I do remember my RHS certified mother growing Lady Slipper orchids. She had found them in the woods in central Nova Scotia, and when she moved after the death of my father she moved a clump (illegally, it seems) with a large amount of the surrounding soil (presumably containing the symbiotic fungi) and grew them successfully here in northern NS. I don’t know what became of them after she died, as most of the garden she delighted in filling with her favourite but hardy species has been returned to grass by new owners. I know she provided seeds to Vesey’s for bloodroot and some other oddities. All lost now.

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted April 20, 2019 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Very informative post + comments

  6. Steven Ring
    Posted April 20, 2019 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    We have a cabin in northern Minnesota with several clumps of these orchids. They are gorgeous. There is no question that White tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)will eat them. We have had to cover them with netting to prevent predation.

  7. Paul Matthews
    Posted April 20, 2019 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Lovely photos.

    I respectfully question the assertion that Purple Finches have been largely displaced by House Finches. The two species breed in quite different habitats. My understanding is that the species that House Finches have had a negative effect on is House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), who share the same urban and suburban habitat. I’m happy enough to be proven wrong.

    By the way, both finch species have now been moved out of the Carpodacus genus into Haemorhous, rather to my annoyance, as they are ” Carpodacus finches” to me.

  8. rickflick
    Posted April 20, 2019 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    The lady slipper was always something to look for when I lived in Michigan. I seem to remember they were present at peat bogs in the UP, along with pitcher plants, sundew, and trillium. All these plants thrive in high acid, peaty soils or in eutrophic water right on the floating mats of sphagnum moss.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 20, 2019 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      I dare you to speak your comment twice, fast while ‘tired & emotional’

      Poetic prose actually

      • rickflick
        Posted April 20, 2019 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        I’m to bushed and stressed. I’m off to take a nap. 😎

  9. Posted April 20, 2019 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    The rosefinch is very cute, I hope it will survive.

  10. Posted April 20, 2019 at 10:32 pm | Permalink


    The rose finches are trying to nest in my fake Xmas tree.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 20, 2019 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      Check closely. They might be fake rose finches. 😎

      • Posted April 21, 2019 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        I’m watching out for them to come back as they took off (too much foot traffic). Couldn’t get a good photo but from their birdsong, they could be purple finches.

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