March roared in like a lion today–a sleet-covered, blustery lion. Despite the wintery mix that showers the tallgrass prairie, it’s the first official day of meteorological spring. It’s a day to think about the prairie bloom season ahead. A day to think about … orchids.
Wait a minute. Orchids? On the prairie?
When most of us picture orchids, we envision the hothouse blooms of the tropical greenhouse …
… their alien-esque furry buds seemingly right out of a sci-fi movie.
We picture crazy shapes …
… and wild diversity.
Chicago Botanic Garden always gives visitors a blast of hues each February when it hosts its orchid show. A walk through the 10,000 orchids on display feels like a spin through a kaleidoscope.
The colors! What a broad-ranging palette orchids have.
Their ruffles and frills take us straight down memory lane to our high school proms.
Our Illinois tallgrass prairie orchids might not dazzle us with neon brights. Yet, perhaps the subtle elegance of the prairie orchids have more staying power than their flashier tropical cousins.
What the ladies’ tresses orchid lacks in color, she makes up in architecture.
The sweet, light fragrance of the ladies’ tresses is almost imperceptible on a warm September’s day. It’s worth lingering close by to catch the scent.
We should give standing ovations for the white lady’s slipper orchid. It’s one of the spring prairie’s serendipities.
This past June, I stumbled over the eastern prairie fringed orchid. Literally. It was almost directly under my feet.
It was a moment to savor. And it happened only because I was out hiking at the right time, in the right place.
I still have quite a few prairie orchids on my must-see list. The purple-fringed orchid. The snake-mouth orchid. The grass pink. They’re out there — just waiting for me to find them. But to see them, I will need to make time to be there. To wander around, enjoying the prairie. Paying attention.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the tropical orchids. I have a shelf of them in my south-facing window; all castoffs or gifts from friends. When backpacking up north, seeing pink lady’s slippers and other showy orchids in bloom along the trails is another delight.
But none of the orchids I’ve seen in the greenhouses here or along the trails up north are quite as magical as the ones I unexpectedly find when out hiking the Illinois tallgrass prairie.
Who knows what surprising discoveries are waiting for us this season?
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): First six orchids, Chicago Botanic Orchid Show, Glencoe, IL; ladies’ tresses orchid (Spiranthes cernua), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; ladies’ tresses orchid (Spiranthes cernua), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum) , Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pink lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule) with blue bead lily (Clintonia borealis) and Canada dogwood (Cornus canadensis), Isle Royale National Park, Michigan.