Thursday, May 15, 2008

Purple pitcher plant with rose pogonia orchid

Today I finally completed another in my native orchid series. The rose pogonia orchid, Pogonia ophioglossoides, is fond of tussocks of sphagnum moss, and is frequently seen in bogs and sometimes on the edges of quiet lakes. I have seen this plant in the wild over the past several years. The first rose pogonia I ever saw was sitting atop a mat of sphagnum no more than six inches across. All around it was open water. A couple of feet away was the edge of the sphagnum mat, with ferns, pitcher plants and other wetland-obligate species. There were only two orchids visible from the floating boardwalk that year. The park naturalist told us a story that had horrified me: while making her rounds, she discovered that someone had stepped onto the floating mat, pulled up the orchid, thought better of it, and then dropped it on the boardwalk, where it shriveled and died in the sun. I can see why these are endangered species!

She also told us that as the bog closes in, there is more sphagnum moss for the orchids to grow its seeds on, but other plants also invade the new floating mats, competing with the orchids. As taller and taller plants become established - ferns, highbush cranberries, poison sumacs and larches, the orchids decline because they become shaded out. Such is succession. In the meantime, I will enjoy the orchids.