Losing Myself

Tuesday, 8 May 2018
8:16 leave house a little later than intended
8:47 arrive at park, shoulder daypack, start hiking
9:04 find orchids, set up, start shooting; reposition tripod several times, swap lenses, try some hand-held shots – the usual. About 15 minutes later, check my phone.

It’s 9:45.  Hmm.  Just a few more shots before heading back.

10 minutes later, check the phone: it’s 10:15.

That’s pretty typical for me when I’m shooting anything, but it’s worse when the subject is orchids.

This is Cypripedium acaule, pink lady’s slipper, a terrestrial orchid native to eastern North America. It ranges from the Appalachian Mountains in the south into most parts of the mid-Atlantic, New England, the upper Midwest, and Canada. In Maryland it seems to be in all the physiographic provinces but we have the most records for it in the piedmont.

It’s endangered in Illinois, unusual in Georgia, commercially exploited/ endangered in Tennessee, and exploitably vulnerable in New York. The fact that it’s exploited is particularly troublesome because, as I’ve written many times and as poachers really ought to know by now, transplanting orchids from the wild is a good way to kill them. They might survive for a little while, but without the correct fungus in the soil, they won’t reproduce and will soon die. The USDA Forest Service has a nice little article with more details.

This is what they looked like eight days earlier. —>

Although not on Maryland’s RTE list, this orchid isn’t common. If you find some, take a moment to lose yourself in the beauty.

Seven Down, Forty-some To Go

Sunday evening I’m on the computer, browsing various internet forums*, and I see a post from someone who’s found some nice flowers in a nearby park. When I read the words “large whorled pogonia,” my heart skips a beat.


So first thing Monday morning, plans to go hunting for lady’s slipper orchids are scuttled, and off I go to add another wild orchid to my life list.


Isotria verticillata (formerly Pogonia verticillata and Arethusa verticillata) ranges from eastern Texas northeast well into New England. It’s endangered in Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire; threatened in Michigan and Vermont; exploitably vulnerable in New York; and possibly extirpated in Maine. But it’s secure in Maryland, where it can be found in the piedmont and some western parts of the coastal plain.


Like most orchids found in the continental US, large whorled pogonia is terrestrial. It likes moist to dry woodland soils, and is pollinated by bees. Also as is typical of our native orchids, because of specialized cultural requirements, it isn’t very common.

I was on the same trail just five days before shooting these pictures, and didn’t see the plants. As you can see from the previous picture, they don’t exactly stand out, but they aren’t hidden, either. On the other hand, here’s a picture of one recently emerged and not yet open. I think it’s likely that five days ago there weren’t any to see.*fun for grammar nerds

Wildflowers Along Newfoundland’s Skerwink Trail

After two days of puffin hunting, I realized that it was fruitless to try to photograph them much before sundown, so early on day three I drove south to Skerwink Head, where a 5.3 kilometer loop trail takes you along coastal cliffs, through boreal forest and bog. Here I found flowering plant species that weren’t in the Bonavista area.

Of course balsam fir (Abies balsamea; Pinaceae) isn’t a flowering plant, but since it is the predominant species in this region, I wanted to show it. I have some sort of mental block when it comes to conifers and can never remember how to tell them apart. One clue, though, is that fir cones always stand up. Also, there’s this handy mnemonic: “Flat, friendly fir needles. Sharp, spiny spruce needles.”*

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia; Ericaceae) is a northern relative of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia); the former ranges from southern Virginia north into Newfoundland and Labrador, while the latter ranges from the Florida panhandle north through Maine. In Maryland sheep laurel is found mostly in the Coastal Plain.

Seven-angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum; Eriocaulaceae) is an aquatic plant that ranges from South Carolina north into Newfoundland and Labrador. In Maryland it’s listed S1/endangered and is a plant of the Coastal Plain.


Another aquatic plant, Dortmann’s cardinalflower (Lobelia dortmanna; Campanulaceae) is native to northern North America and Europe. In the US it can be found as far south as New Jersey. I don’t believe it’s found in Maryland, but there are conflicting accounts.

Twinflower (Linnaea borealis; Caprifoliaceae) is circumboreal, as the specific epithet suggests. In the US it’s found in New England, the upper Mid-West, and southwards in the Rocky Mountains. Some sources list in Maryland, but Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records; if it’s here, it would likely be in the far western part of the state, in the Allegheny Plateau.

Dwarf cornel (also Swedish bunchberry, Lapland cornel, and many others; Cornus suecica; Cornaceae) is a circumpolar species. In North America the furthest south it gets is Nova Scotia or Quebec. A closely related species, also called bunchberry (C. canadensis), ranges much further south; in Maryland that species is found only in Garret County and is listed S1/highly state rare. In areas where both species are found, they can be distinguished by leaf venation.

There’s something really special about glancing into the dim understory and spotting an orchid. Dactylorhiza viridis (frog orchid, also placed in the genus Coeloglossum, and formerly in Platanthera) is wide-ranging in the Northern hemisphere. I saw it in Iceland and once in Maryland, where it’s listed S1/endangered.

Moneses uniflora
(Ericaceae) has many common names, including one-flower wintergreen, one-flower shinleaf, and simple delight. It’s found in much of the northern part of the northern hemisphere, including New England, the upper Mid-West, and the Rocky Mountains. In Maryland look for the closely related striped wintergreen.

Garden lupine or bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus; Fabaceae) ranges from Minnesota east and north into Newfoundland (but not Labrador), and also in the western US and Canada. Various accounts claim it is native to this western region, but none say that it’s alien to the east, so I’m not sure what its “native’ status is in Newfoundland. BONAP and USDA PLANTS Database show it in Maryland, but Maryland Biodiversity Project has no records for it.

*Berkshire Environmental Action Team

I’ll Be There

Saturday morning: Steve and I are hiking on Sugarloaf Mountain, and I’ve just shown him some downy rattlesnake plantain, almost finished blooming. As we continue walking along, I tell him to watch for something that looks like thin twigs sticking up out of the ground, with little purple-brown flowers all over.

Not three seconds pass before he says “you mean like this?”

I try not to write about the same plants every year, but when it comes to cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor), I just can’t help myself. Nor can I put into words what makes this plant stand out for me.


Maybe it’s the crazy nectar tubes, sometimes almost twice as long as the pedicels.



Maybe it’s that pearlescent lower lip. Or the purple stripes on the green sepals and petals.

Maybe it’s the overall effect of those twisted, delicate flowers dancing above the ground.

Cranefly is hibernal: the plant’s single leaf emerges from the ground in autumn, grows through the winter and spring, and dies back in early summer. A leafless peduncle emerges a few weeks later (around early July in the Maryland Piedmont), and the flowers open roughly three weeks later.

Early morning is a good time to shoot them.

Two Leaves

Thursday, May 18: one more trip to Rachel Carson Conservation Park to find and photograph the elusive large twayblade. Thanks to detailed directions from a friend, I found a nice group of the plants, about half of which were in bloom.

Also know as purple twayblade, brown wide-lip orchid, and mauve sleekwort, Liparis liliifolia is one of our native orchids. The two large basal leaves stand a few inches tall, while the flowering stem (a raceme) stands up to about a foot tall and produces as many as thirty flowers.

The lowest flowers open first. A colony of large twayblade will bloom for about two to three weeks.


All orchid flowers have three sepals and three petals, although in some species these parts are so highly modified they may not be recognizable as such. In large twayblade, the lowest petal is modified into a wide labellum (lip); the two lateral petals are very narrow and droop down inconspicuously.

You can see the two lower sepals through the labellum, which is so thin it’s actually translucent.

Large twayblade can be found in the Mid-West, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and northernmost parts of the South. It’s threatened in Massachusetts and Vermont, and endangered in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island. In Maryland it’s listed as S2S3/state rare.

Look for it in rich, moist woodlands. It should still be blooming in the Maryland piedmont. The purple/brown colors of the petals and pedicels make for good camouflage against the leaf litter, but the distinctive pair of basal leaves stands out.


“Tway” is an obsolete word meaning “two”.

That’s Right, Orchids in Iceland

As far as I can tell, seven species of orchid grow in Iceland. I was lucky enough to spot three of them. Here are the other two.



Dactylorhiza viridis
Coeloglossum viride)
frog orchid
Icelandic: barnarót

What a delight to find this particular species, native not only to Iceland but also North America (as far south as North Carolina in the Appalachians and New Mexico in the Rocky Mountains) and northern Asia. In Iceland it’s fairly widespread, growing in heathlands and other rich soil areas at mid elevations. I’ve seen it once before, in Catoctin Mountain Park, a rare find since it’s listed S1/Endangered in Maryland, but it wasn’t blooming then.



Platanthera hyperborea
northern green orchid,
butterfly orchid, bog orchid
Icelandic: friggjargras


Northern green orchid’s native range includes northern North America (Greenland, Canada, Alaska), parts of Asia (Korea, Japan), and of course Iceland. It’s a fairly common plant there in fertile soils, especially heathlands.

Sorry I don’t have better pictures. Guess I’ll have to go back next year and do better.