Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rifle River Orchids

With so many places to go, places I've never been, it was not an easy choice to make to go back to a place we had just been last August. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the impetus was that we knew there was a breeding pair of loons on Devoe Lake--or at least we assumed they nested on that lake and not a nearby lake. So we went back there hoping to find a fuzzy little loon chick or two being fed minnows by their red-eyed parents. Well, I'll tell you now that we did not find any chicks. We did see two pairs of loons, but the park employee we talked to didn't know of any nests this year, and we didn't see any. Ah well, there's more than just loons in this world--there are, for instance, orchids.

The drive into the park is gorgeous, if bumpy. For those of you who don't know, we have a 20 year old Gulfstream we bought a few years ago mainly for art shows, and we feel and hear every rattle and bump in the thing. The Ranch campground is a large grassy area with some young thick trees and tall grasses between the sites. The sites are large, with plenty of room for our RV and our friend Karin's tent and screen room. It's nearly two miles into the park, and the road crosses many creeks. The first of these is Gamble Creek, whose water was running high thanks to some recent heavy rains.

After we got camp set up and situated, (we opened the awning on the RV for the first time, hoping against hope to find it intact, and it was), Lori and I headed back out to explore the roadside. Why? Because on the way in we saw these:

Showy lady's slipper orchids. Now, I am not an orchid nut. I've only ever seen one orchid that I know of, the pink lady's slipper. It's possible I've seen others and not known what I was looking at. Newcomb's says that this is a fast disappearing orchid that thrives in marshes an bogs. Interesting that we found it along the road and a big paved parking lot.

Newcomb's, by the way, is perhaps the best guide for identifying flowers. It's not a lazy person's guide--you can't just flip it open and look for the picture that matches the plant you've found. It asks you questions about the plant--flower type, plant type, leaf type. Depending on your answers, it will send you to a page that best represents your answers, were you'll find an excellent illustration and description of the plant you're looking for. Answer the questions wrong and you'll end up at the wrong plant, which can be frustrating. But what I like about it is that it forces you to really look at the plant and learn something about it that may help you remember it the next time you run across it.

Anyway, it is hard to not be impressed with these plants. In Stan Tekiela's book Wildflowers of Michigan, he notes that they are highly specialized plants, requiring very specific habitats. They are aided in growth by a fungus that lives on its roots. It is therefore nearly impossible to transplant successfully, though many have tried. And while they are long-lived plants, they also take up to 15 years to reach maturity and produce blooms.

This photo makes me think of two English ladies having tea.

Here are some other showy orchids, with last year's dried seed pods next to them. The seeds too require an invasion by a fungus in order to germinate. It's a wonder any of them ever grow!

The photo below was actually taken the following day after a morning of drizzle, which left everything dripping and glistening.

I spoke to several folks at my last two shows about orchids. I have a set of three wildflowers that I did when I first started working with ink pen and colored pencil, one of them being the pink lady's slipper I mentioned earlier. I clearly remember remarking to them that I had never seen a yellow lady's slipper, so imagine my excitement when we saw these, also growing right along the road side!

More delicate and refined, they have a subtlety that the other, gaudier lady's slippers lack. Like the showy, they also prefer wetter areas, and it was certainly wet along the road. I love the corkscrew petals that twine around the flower like curls on a Victorian lady. Or perhaps Pippy Longstocking's braids. Take your pick.

I was thrilled to see these flowers and am excited now to draw them both and have a set of lady's slippers.

Again, this was taken the next day, after it rained.

Before we headed home Lisa, Karin and I took a short hike along the Rifle River that passed through some swampy areas but was mainly high and dry. Here we discovered the remnants of a pink lady's slipper. Earlier bloomers than the other two, and preferring drier ground, they were nearly finished--this was the only one we found that still had a flower on it.

So who knew the Rifle River Rec Area would be so full of surprises! The rain moved in that evening so we didn't do any more exploring that day, but we made up for that the following day with a visit to the observation tower, a nature trail hike, and kayaking on Devoe Lake.

More to come!


  1. I've always wondered if the faeries wore those lady slippers...The showys are fit for a princess. These are spectacular, I love the stripey, twisty-ness of the leaves and petals and drippy-ness of the blooms. June is a great blooming month. Thank you for sharing.