It's been a wild orchid spring, the very best kind. We have about 50 species of native orchids in New York, and one alien, the most common one in our hardwood forests. Even the Adirondacks have 40. New York orchids are not the spectacular, long-lasting ones you can now buy in a store. Ours are fragile and short-lived, but admirable in their ability to get around to places they like on their own, with no help from humans.
Their seeds are as tiny as pollen, but when they get airborne they can often find a suitable bit of bare dirt with the right fungus in it to enable the nutrient-lacking bits of life to get started. Oddly, many species of orchid can live only in permanently wet, cold and acid places--sphagnum moss-covered bogs. Some of these wetlands have been around for 10,000 years, adding to their everlasting peat deposits since the glacier melted, and also providing the habitat for dozens of other plants.
Our earliest and delicate pink to magenta "dragon's mouth" (Arethusa) grows under such stringent conditions that no non-native plant can grow with them-one of the valuable features of peat bogs.
This year the Arethusa were not as numerous as usual-only 115 or so (who's counting? I, every year since I discovered this population). But even a single one is exquisitely gorgeous if the early sun is shining through the petals and you are looking at it emerging out of the sphagnum moss from your seat on the bottom of a solo canoe. How do they survive the bitter cold of winter and the ever-rising beaver-dammed water? Yet every spring they are not visible one week, then suddenly scores of them are scattered all over the bog.
I also caught a few perfect yellow lady slippers this year, and the ubiquitous pink lady slippers. Then came the lovely pink and white showy orchids, which thrives in the backyard of our cabin and almost nowhere else in the Adirondacks.
Maybe the most spectacular spring orchid is the showy lady slipper, up to 32 inches tall, which grows only in calcareous wetlands such as white cedar swamps. Google "Saratoga woods and waterways" on June 15 to see great pictures of this rarity by Jackie Donnelly.
Rose pogonia, a small pink and white orchid also called "snake-mouth" for some silly reason, is lining the edges of the Hudson ice meadows below The Glen and almost every peat mat bordering our ponds.
On June 20 near Nine Corner Lake just north of Canada Lake, I was treated to five pad-leaved or round-leaved orchids, some almost two feet tall, with many off-white, very long-spurred blossoms on a stalk. Some years, as is common with orchids, none of these show their heads, but all the rain this year must have agreed with them.
A few other beautiful orchids are still hiding in the moss or other damp places. Most of the rest are not very noticeable, being greenish or small-flowered. But I admire them all for their ability to get to where they need to be, show up year after year, and even thrive in what often seem to us like very harsh conditions. But like Br'er Rabbit and his brier patch, home is where they are safe and happy!