Nature Notes

Bog Delights

These fringed orchids are today’s treasure! These orchid flowers are past prime – so visit the bog soon if you wish to see this year’s blooms!

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By Greg Lecker

For all the years that I’ve always enjoyed walking around Green Heron Pond and its bog boardwalk, I’ve somehow missed what I would describe as its peak blooming.  That time is now! I sensed I was in for a treat after finding three different flowers growing near the footbridge at the northeast corner of the pond – just below the old tea room of the visitor center. 

Moist Meadow Marvels

From left to right, there are an aster, white boneset, and black (or brown) eyed Susan. 

Early August seems a bit early or New England aster to be blooming; but the heat has quickened the life cycle of many plants. New England aster bears abundant clusters of very showy 2” rosy-lilac to violet-purple flowers with bright-yellow centers from late August (or early August this year) through October.  Its stout stems grow 2- to 4-feet tall with crowded 3 to 5” narrow leaves.  It grows best in average to moist soils in full sun.

White flowering boneset grows in wet ditches, wet meadows or prairies, and wetlands, requiring at least partial sunlight.    A distinguishing characteristic of Boneset is its leaf form: wrinkled and opposing and clasping the stem, such that the stem appears to grow through the leaves (described by the technical term perfoliate).    Boneset was thought to have powers to help bones heal faster – hence the name Boneset.  Boneset grows to be about 2’ to 4’ tall.

Brown eyed Susan is recognizable to most of us.  Its composite flower head bears 6-20 yellow petal-like ray flowers with a brown central conical disk.  The simple leaves are alternate and somewhat hairy, but not bristly. 

All three of these flowers grow well in moist (but not wet) soils like the wetland edge.  After sunlight, moisture is the limiting factor to plant growth.  In other areas, outside the microclimate of the pond and bog and beyond the reach of the maintenance sprinklers, the signs of drought are visible.

Parched Soil

Back at Green Heron Pond, the red of Cardinal flower flashes brightly against green foliage.

Cardinal Flower

Cardinal Flower is one of our most showy wildflowers.  Its deep blood red exotic looking tubular flowers bloom typically in August on two- to three-foot plants in moist meadows and along streams in southeastern Minnesota.  From a wide basal rosette of foliage grow two- to three-foot tall flower stems. It is a short-lived perennial but reseeds itself in sites to its liking.  Maybe that is why one must be vigilant to find it on nature hikes.  It won’t always be found in precisely the same spot in subsequent years!

In contrast to this diminutive fine red flower, there is Joe Pye weed blooming all around the boardwalk.

Joe Pye Weed

Though Joe Pye Weed stands tall, its flowers are tiny – though numerous.  Eight to twenty individual flowers – each less than 1/4” wide – are clustered to form a head.  In turn, numerous heads are grouped together to form a large flat-topped flower head.  The pinkish-purplish blooms attract butterflies in abundance. 

From tall to small! Smallest of all the flowers today are the fringed orchids that are growing on the east side of the boardwalk near the tamarack trees, overlook and benches.  I thank the birder who alerted me of these rare plants!

Purple Fringed Orchid
White Fringed Orchid

There are just a few of the single spiked orchid stems hidden among the dense foliage next to the boardwalk. Flowers are packed in a five to six-inch tall spike at the top of the stem; and flowers bloom from the bottom of the spike upwards. Each flower is lobed in multiples – upper lobe margins are entire (smooth edge). The fringe around the edges of the bottom and side flower lobes gives the orchid its name.  What I’m calling “purple” might just be a tinted white fringed orchid; I’m not certain. These fringed orchids are today’s treasure! These orchid flowers are past prime – so visit the bog soon if you wish to see this year’s blooms!

I’m so glad I visited – we’re enjoying a small break in the wind-borne smoke from Canada wildfires burning east of Lake Winnipeg. Today’s blue skies are a sight for sore eyes!

 Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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