Friday, June 16, 2017

A Wet Walk to a Rare Wild Orchid

 No, it wasn't the nicest day for a hike: it was cold and it was WET!  It was raining steadily, in fact, when Lucy Marsac (tan rainsuit), Bonnie Vicki (green parka), and I set out through the Adirondack forest, and it only poured harder the further we went.  So what would induce three perfectly sane ladies-of-a-certain-age to challenge our already aching joints on a slippery, rugged trail in a drenching downpour?  Well, one of the rarest orchids in all New York State was probably blooming way back in those woods, and by gum, we were going to SEE it!

But it wasn't going to be a walk in the park.  Beavers had been mighty busy since the last time we passed this way, and the trail now lay well under water in spots.  Hmm, we wondered:  will that dam hold us if we try to teeter across it?

We were in luck!  It did!

And we also managed to keep from slipping on moss-covered stepping stones -- not so easy with clouds of mosquitoes swarming around our faces and biting our hands.

Ah, but all that effort and clammy discomfort was certainly worth it!  Here was the treasure we'd come to seek, and it was in perfect bloom:  the Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri), one of the rarest flowers in all of New York.  The last I heard, there were only 5 specimens of this orchid known to exist in the entire state, and 3 of them grew right here between our knees.  Just one was blooming this year, but its florets were wide open from bottom to top.  (We also found the leaves of a 4th Hooker's Orchid nearby.)

Bonnie moves in for a few more shots, and Bonnie deserves to take all she wants.  It was she, after all, along with our mutual pal Evelyn Greene, who first discovered these orchids along this trail some 22 years ago, although at the first encounter, the flowers were not in bloom.  Bonnie told me they couldn't identify it right away, but when Bonnie returned to find it in bloom and keyed the flowers out as being those of Platanthera hookeri, she and Evelyn could hardly believe it.  Here was one of the rarest flowers of New York, and they had just stumbled upon it.

Unfortunately, the spot where they found the Hooker's Orchids lay smack-dab in the middle of a  state snowmobile trail, a trail that was often illegally used by ground-ripping all-terrain vehicles as well as snowmobiles.  Thanks to Evelyn's pleas to the state conservation folks, the trail was eventually re-routed and the orchid's safety preserved.  Now, only a handful of people know how to find this original trail, and I happen to be lucky enough to be friends with some of them.  So I get to see these orchids, too.

The orchids are actually not that easy to see, being green in a world of green.  But as hard as they are for my eyes to pick out, my camera lens has an even harder time focusing on the flowers.  It always helps to put something dark behind them.  Thanks, Bonnie, for letting me use your rainpants as a backdrop.

My hand worked as a backdrop, too, for allowing my camera to show me the floret's interior, complete with its golden-colored pollen bundles (pollinia).  Those pollen bundles are strung on a thread strategically placed to catch on the legs of a pollinator, who will carry that pollen away to any neighboring Hooker's Orchid blooms.  Sadly, however, these Hooker's Orchids have no near neighbors to pollinate, so the tribe will be very, very slow to increase.  There's been no sign of any new plants nearby since these four were discovered more than 20 years ago.

Of course, we saw other flowers in bloom along the trail, including ample patches of the little dwarf dogwood called Bunchberry.  Bunchberry used to be called by the perfectly easy-to-remember scientific name, Cornus canadensis, but now some plant taxonomists have assigned it a new, unpronounceable one: Chamaepericlymenum canadense.  I was glad to see that our New York State Flora Association still lists Cornus as the accepted name.  At least for now.

We were very surprised to find Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) still in beautiful bloom.  And we saw quite a number of them.

We also found many clumps of the pretty green three-parted leaves of White Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana), but very few with open flowers or even buds.  But here was one, with just a few of the rose-striped white flowers struggling to open despite the chill and the rain.

Eventually, the rain stopped.  And it stopped just in time for us to visit this quintessential Adirondack pond. Here we sat, not only to enjoy the lovely view and our picnic lunches,  but also to delight in recalling our incredible good fortune at seeing that rare Hooker's Orchid.


Anonymous said...

You are brave souls.
What kind of car is in the picture, Subaru?

Sally said...

What determination you all have! I loved the hike and was excited to see your rare orchid which was also a surprise considering it's strange flowers. You make me want to get my old bones into the woods more often to see what's going on....

threecollie said...

You ladies are downright intrepid and I thank you for it. Don't you hate it when they change scientific names, no matter how logical? I still have to look up pseudacris crucifer every single time including this one. Just can't remember how to spell it. Hyla was easy.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

More determined than brave, Anonymous. Or maybe foolhardy, considering that if any one of us had injured herself, there was no cell service for summoning help nor motorized access, either. Regarding the car, I don't know the make, but it was the only one of our three cars that had a higher axle and 4-wheel drive for negotiating the rutted road we had to drive to the trailhead.

Glad you enjoyed our hike, Sally, and I do encourage you, and all folks, to get your "old bones" into the woods. Or younger ones, too. The woods is absolutely full of marvels, even if most of them are not so rare as a Hooker's Orchid.

Yes, I do hate it, threecollie. Even though I do appreciate the rationale. But don't they KNOW how long it took me to memorize the old names? And I still don't know most of them, Including Hyla crucifer. Had to look it up. Ooh, that darling little Spring Peeper! Maybe I never memorized that one, because Spring Peeper is such a perfect name for this dear little big-voiced frog that sings our spring to us.

Woody Meristem said...

At one time (and maybe still by some good fortune) there was a Hookers orchid growing within ten feet of a state forest road in northcentral Pennsylvania. But between mechanized road clearance and herbicides it would be amazing if the plant survives -- of course it may also have died of natural causes by now.

Although they're certainly necessary, I just loathe using scientific names. Most of the people I speak with, including scientific professionals, would have no idea what I was talking about if the scientific name was used.

The Furry Gnome said...

A challenging adventure! But well worth the results. Good for you three!