This concise book is authored by eight modest - in fact, almost invisible - but highly knowledgeable orchid lovers who let Manitoba's native orchids in all their beauty sell themselves. All these orchids are terrestrial, which will come as no surprise when one considers that except perhaps for coastal British Columbia, these herbaceous plants must withdraw their energy to their roots in order to live again next spring.
There are 36 different species of orchids, plus two varieties in two of the species, for a total of 38 orchids in Manitoba alone. This is a remarkable number. When we consider native plants, do we enthusiasts ever see or think about orchids? They are uncommon to rare in most cases. And we humans are at fault for this condition not only in Manitoba, but throughout the world. There is a chilling photo in the book: the caption reads "A hole where a moccasin-flower once grew". Digging any wild plant without permission is not to be done, ever. Even if you have permission, digging an orchid must be considered carefully. They can be killed so easily. And for some, like the moccasin-flower (Cypripedium acaule) digging is tantamount to a death sentence. The book is very informative on this score.
Orchids of Manitoba has an excellent introduction, usually followed by two pages on each orchid species. The left-hand page is devoted to photographs of the orchids - leaves, stem, flower, sometimes seed capsules. The right-hand page is a description under Origin of the Name (a nice touch), Abundance, Habitat, Flowering Time, Description, Aids to Identification, and Comments. There is a range map as well. The photos are excellent, and will help the field naturalist to identify a plant as an orchid. If it is in flower, many of the species can then be picked out. Keep in mind that some orchids are quite small (10 centimetres or four inches high). In such cases, flowers can be tiny, so even experts can be uncertain as to species.
The book comes with an index, glossary, bibliography, and a chart for flowering times for the orchids, as found in this wonderful province of Canada. I read it cover to cover and recommend it to all orchid lovers.
Visit the web site at http://www.nativeorchid.org to obtain a copy.
Review by Tom Atkinson, a former NANPS president, and a self-proclaimed lover of native plants, cats, raccoons, and orchids. He lives, botanizes, and gardens in central Toronto.
© 2005 North American Native Plant Society and Tom Atkinson. First appeared in the Fall 2005 Issue 6:4 of The Blazing Star.