Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Orchids in Bloom

Lady slippers surrounding a rotting stump
The mere sight of a lady’s slipper takes your breath away, but when you become aware of their germination process, and what it takes to produce a plant, they become even more of a wonder. According to Jack Sanders in The Secrets of Wildflowers, the seed of a lady’s slipper is extremely small, and has no food to provide it with sustenance. However, there is a certain fungus, Rhizoctonia, which can digest the outer cells of a lady’s slipper’s seeds. If this fungus and a lady’s slipper seed come in contact with each other, and if the fungus digests the outer cells of the seed but not the inner cells, and if the inner cells absorb some of the fungus’s nutrients that it obtained from the soil then germination may take place. Given all these ifs, it’s a wonder that there are as many of these beauties in our woodlands as there are!

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a patch of these surrounding a rotting stump in the rural woods in Maine. In this area these orchids begin to flower in late may and only last for 3 weeks at the most before the moccasin shaped flower withers and falls off, or is eaten by a white tail deer; a delicacy for them I guess. Due to it's rarity it is protected in most areas, and rightly so as it is quite a treat to stumble upon such beauty on the forest floor.