Orchids and Orchid People in Manitoba, Canada

by Bob Ferry

As has already been noted in this and a previous issue, the trip to Winnipeg was hastily conceived and was one during which not much time-in-the-field was available. At the outset, let it be said that your editor and his wife were able to survey as much as was done was because of the beyond-the-call-of-duty efforts and hospitality extended us by three Canadians: Doris Ames, Richard Reeves, and Eugene Reimer! Our arrival in Winnipeg was in the early evening of 20 July, and the Jeep was back on the road-headed South-about mid-day Saturday, the 23rd; about sixty hours later,...but what a sixty hours or so it was!

Fig 1. Orchid explorers en route to bogs, fens, and tall-grass prairies. L-to-R: Doris Ames, Richard Reeves, Eugene Reimer, and Wilma Ferry.  Digital photo: 21July,2005 Winnipeg area.

Our accommodations were at a modest but very good motel on the southeast side of Winnipeg, and after unloading the Jeep, we met with Doris and Gene Wednesday evening. Thursday, we linked up with Richard Reeves and were off to the Brokenhead wetlands, at Scanterbury, Manitoba (Fig 1).

Picture a forest on the edge of a lake,...well, not exactly. The lake is within an area of fields and forests, but the lake (over the past few hundred years or so) is being covered over and filled in. The forest floor is boggy, which is to say that if one steps in an innocent-looking dark puddle, one might sink in up to one's knees or hips,...maybe more. For its part, the lake has been gradually filling in from its shores with Sphagnum moss, and as the Sphagnum has grown outward, atop the lake's surface, it also continues to grow atop itself.

Approaching such a lake (more properly called a fen!), one sees a broad "field" area with an open-water area farther out. This overgrowing of the lake has been going on so long that-in places-the Sphagnum layer may be nearly a meter thick and supports shrubs and trees. Standing on it, Richard Reeves demonstrated how it can be something of a cushion by standing on it and bouncing up and down a bit. Walking on this Sphagnum cushion may leave one's foot gear relatively dry in some places, but in others it's not uncommon to sink in up to one's ankles. However, caution is in order! In places, the Sphagnum layer can be quite thin, and an unwary or overly-hasty hiker may step smartly, only to drop down into the lake itself, which is still several meters deep in places,...and the lake has a mild current as it's stream-fed and is flowing on downstream! To the casual eye, a fen may not even look like there's a lake in the area. The general view may be one of an open field into which grasses and shrubs are invading a soft Sphagnum moss lawn, but don't be fooled (Fig 2)! Looks can be deceiving! One can imagine the consternation the over-eager orchidist might have at suddenly dropping into a cold lake and coming up below the Sphagnum layer! That trip could ruin an otherwise very pleasant day!

However, armed with Richard's intelligence about the construction of bogs and fens (and the guidance of both Doris and Eugene as well!), neither your editor nor his wife sank deeply into the bog area. Nor did either of the "South 48" couple take that unexpected swim in the fen!

As the trek proceeded through the bog, we were treated, at various times, to several orchids not in flower. These included Cypripedium reginae, C. parviflorum var. makasin, C. parviflorum var. pubescens, C. arietinum, and Corallorhiza trifida and Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis. These were either well beyond their flowering envelope or just past it, and each served as another reason to return to the area next year,...only to do so some weeks earlier than this present visit!

Obviously, orchid plants in flower are generally more intriguing than ones not-in-flower unless one is on a mission concerning a particular species. Fortunately, an equal number of flowering orchid species punctuated the non-flowering encounters during this visit. One of the first orchids to be seen was Goodyera tesselata (Fig 3 & 4). This forest giant is known to soar to heights of about 25 cm. (almost 10 inches), but the specimen seen was not quite that high. It was more like 20-21 cm!

A little farther into the bog we came across another orchid in flower. This one, Malaxis unifolia Michaux (the green adder's mouth) was even smaller! This one measured 17-18 cm. high (about 7 inches) from the ground to the top of its inflorescence, and its tiny three-toothed flowers measured only 3mm (maybe almost 4) in length (Fig 5, look sharp: it's not easy to see!).

For those who might be inclined to think orchid photography in the field involves little more than pointing a camera and shooting, the little Malaxis unifolia plant provides a new outlook. Consider that the photography is being done in an area where each footprint usually brings water up beyond the soles of one's shoes, and sometimes much higher. Under these conditions, lying flat on one's side or belly to properly sight the camera on the plant, will almost certainly soak at least one side of the intrepid photographer! Thus, in order to "get the picture," photographers are known to go to great lengths in order to avoid becoming at least partially soaked during the process. In this case, the Malaxis unifolia wasn't going to move, and Gene Reimer was determined to get the picture without being soaked (Fig 6).

Two more nonflowering orchid species were encountered in the bog area: Cypripedium arietinum (Fig 7) and Corallorhiza trifida (Fig 8) just past flowering, and bearing seed capsules.

Well into the boggy area, and approaching the fen, another value of our local guides became apparent. As one becomes intrigued with encountering first one orchid plant and then others, it's easy to lose a sense of direction! True, there is a trail, but returning to it after three or four steps away, everything can look the same to the newcomer!

The group pressed on, pausing for an occasional observation or photograph. However, with so much to see and talk about, the comments and conversation, however, were without much of a pause! We soon came across one much more easily seen, Platanthera huronensis (Fig 9, known as P. hyperborea until relatively recently). This species can grow to 50 cm. high (19 to 20 inches), and-under the right conditions in most of Manitoba and northern Minnesota (maybe even Wisconsin) would be an attractive flower garden member provided its nutritional requirements were met (e.g. soil-fungi symbionts and the like). One cultural note to remember about P. huronensis is that it likes wet areas! It's found in pine forests as long as they're moist, but if one is hiking in a mushy sedge meadow or keeps an eye open for moist-to-wet ditch areas, it's even more plentiful in these places.

Reaching the fen, plants of Spiranthes romanzoffiana, in flower, dotted the area (Fig 10), and this little species was later found in another area as well. In addition to S. romanzoffiana, Manitoba is home to two other Spiranthes species: S. magnicamporum (not seen), and Spiranthes lacera var. lacera. Despite the work of some very competent taxonomists, the genus Spiranthes remains a group that can still offer a few surprises for the serious orchid student, and-yes-a few variations were noted in plants of both the species seen. However, in the brevity of time allotted on this trip, one could do little but survey and mull over the possibilities. Nevertheless, the more one thought about (and discussed) a few variations, the more the determination grew to return with (a) more equipment; (b) better field facilities; and (c) above all, more time to study in the field!

Along with the above considerations, another problem was encountered by both Gene Reimer and your editor, both of whom were shooting with the Nikon model 5700 digital camera. Without going into remedial particulars, the problem was that the camera wanted to focus on the background instead of on the flower being photographed. Hence the background would come out clearly, leaving the flower blurred. Not good! Gene has his own way of combating the problem, and your editor subsequently has ameliorated the problem by acquiring the Nikon D70s digital camera which has an optical (not digital) viewfinder. However, for the moment, a film photo of S. romanzoffiana was obtained (Fig 11).

In the figure just previously noted, (with the editor's hat just behind the inflorescence and the Equisetum plants in the foreground), the location was in a field with Platanthera huronensis also flowering. Also in the field, but not in flower, were plants of Liparis loeslii, Platanthera ophioglossoides, and Cypripedium reginae and C. parviflorum var. pubescens, all of which called for a return earlier next season!

A species not touched on previously, is Platanthera dilatata (Fig 12), also in the Brokenhead wetlands at Scanterbury. The size photo doesn't really do this showy specimen justice, but a mere day or so trip to the Winnipeg area doesn't really do these several orchid species justice either! In fact, although several figures have been displayed in this article, precious little has been conveyed of what might be obtained by the individual orchidist with a tirp to the Manitoba area. The few photographs of orchids surveyed (or "tweaked." as Dr. Russel might put it) serve to give a glimpse of the orchid flora, but say little of the grandeur of the Province itself, and this is especially true for ones who take the time to make the extended trip much farther north; to Thompson and possibly Churchill! There is truly some "rough" country to be seen, and sights other than narrowing one's scope to looking for merely one orchid after another! Within the time allotted on this trip, the focus was on visiting with friends and seeing what orchids could be surveyed, but always with an eye to returning and visiting, and orchid searching, and seeing much more of the Province itself!

A close-up photo of one more species may serve, better than words, to convey more of the beauty of the orchids (and other plants!) seen during this very brief visit. Platanthera lacera (Fig 13). In Manitoba, this species is known only from pine-bogs, in the southern and southeastern portion of the Province and-fortunately for us-flowers in June-July. The figure above shows the flowers at about life-size.

This article has presented the floral results of an all-too-shortened excursion into Manitoba. Serious plans are underway for a more extended visit during the summer season of 2006. It is also strongly suggested serious consideration be given by other MIOS members to making a trip to Manitoba next year, and allowing for more time for visiting with people and a more extended exploration of the Province.

Fig 2. The Fen area at the Brokenhead Wetlands, Scanterbury, Manitoba.  Digital photo #ER03713.

Fig 3. Goodyera tesselata Loddiges. Brokenhead Wetlands; Scanterbury, Manitoba.  Digital Photo #1494  21July,2005.

Fig 4. Goodyera tesselata Loddiges. Brokenhead Wetlands; Scanterbury, Manitoba.  35mm Color transparency #24  21July,2005.

Fig 5. Malaxis unifolia Michaux. Dig. photo #1502a  21July,2005.

Fig 6. Eugene Reimer photographing Malaxis unifolia in the Brokenhead Wetlands bog area. Ektachrome transparency, Roll#1 slide#7  21July,2005

Fig 7. Cypripedium arietinum.

Fig 8. Corallorhiza trifida. Photo DSCN 1517   21July,2005.

Fig 9. Platanthera huronensis (Nuttall) Lindley. Digital photo 1505a  21July,2005.

Fig 10. S romanzoffiana in fen. Film photo #9  21July,2005.

Fig 11. Spiranthes romanzoffiana. Film photo #23a  21July,2005.

Fig 12. Platanthera dilatata, wetlands bog area. Film photo #16a  21July,2005.

Fig 13. Platanthera lacera (Michaux) G. Don. (ragged fringe orchid). 35mm film photo #21a  21July,2005.

© R. J. Ferry.  Originally published in McAllen International Orchid Society (MIOS) Journal.