Friday, July 4, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Of all the countless things your narrator looks forward to throughout any growing season, there's one moment in particular that stands out among the rest.  For a brief week or two in the latter half of June, a handful of special wet meadows in our state come alive with my favorite and most anticipated of wildflowers in the federally threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).

Handful of prairie fringed orchids in perfect flower in their open wet meadow habitat

I've taken the time to publish a post commemorating their culmination of beauty each of the last few years and see no reason to give up on the tradition anytime soon.  You can view the previous posts and dig deeper into this great rarity's past by clicking the links HERE and HERE for more information.  There's just something about this magnificent species that I struggle to put into words but the least I can do is try, right?

Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid

Only being 15 minutes or so away from my childhood home in west-central Ohio, the site and plants featured in this post and the ones previous are a quick and easy visit and allow for plenty of opportunities to soak in their detail and extraordinary charm.  An evening visit is the best of all as the late-June sun sits low in the sky and its last vestiges of sunlight seem to make the orchids glow in the twilight.  The allure of their off-white, creamish flowers is accented by a soft but sugared aroma that is nocturnally emitted and used to attract the plant's nighttime hawk moth pollinators.

Portrait of the rare prairie fringed orchid

The eastern prairie fringed orchid was once much more common across its Great Lakes and Midwest distribution with accounts from the early pioneers and settlers speaking of wet prairie and meadows ensconced with dense blazes of tall spikes of white flowers come late June into July.  Since then, habitat loss and degradation from both agricultural pressure and the forces of natural succession has pushed this species to the brink of extinction with nearly all of its former grandeur long lost to the plow or tile.  Its affinity for deep, rich, and moist soil was undoubtedly its own undoing as farmers replaced these marvelous orchids with their corn, soybeans, and wheat.

Impressive specimen of prairie fringed orchid

If I was ever asked to pick and elaborate on my favorite moment and view of my home state it would be an incredibly difficult and painful process to narrow down but I would most likely ultimately settle on the prairie fringed orchid in perfect full bloom out across a wide expanse of grasses, sedges, and rushes.  I don't expect everyone to appreciate let alone understand my passion for this plant or why its beauty intoxicates me the way it does; heck, I don't even know why exactly it strikes such a chord with me but it does and I am eternally thankful for that.  With as busy and hectic as life often is, it's important that we all seek out small opportunities of peace and happiness where we can feel whole and as one with everything else.  They may be fleeting and few and far between but even the smallest of things can have the biggest of impacts in our lives and for your narrator, any time out in the field with these wonders is time well spent.

A friend of mine recently mentioned that the great orchid mind that was Fred Case used to say that the blooming of the prairie fringed orchid was a bittersweet moment each year where the culmination of another growing season has come and gone and ushered in the waning sunlight and slow but steady return of fall and winter.  Wise words worth taking to heart if you ask me.

1 comment:

  1. I have yet to see it in bloom, although I've seen in post-bloom in ND.