Orchid ~ More Than a Color

Rose Pogonia ~ Pogonia ophioglossoides

Life is filled with surprises, and learning that Texas is populated with wild orchids certainly surprised me. I’d always associated orchids with jungles, or at least with the tropics, but Texas is home to fifty-four species of terrestrial orchids: plants that grow in soil rather than on trees, rocks, or other plants.

A majority of Texas orchids — thirty-six species– grow in the bogs and forests of east Texas. In past years, I’ve found examples of five. This past Sunday, while visiting the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve, I added one more beauty to my list: the rose pogonia.  

Slender, usually with only one flower and a single leaf midway up its stem, rose pogonia often is found in pitcher plant bogs, and that’s where I found mine. Several of the orchids had grown up among the pitcher plants, but photographing them would have been impossible without damaging other plants or disturbing the mossy ground.

As luck would have it, one orchid was growing where it could be somewhat isolated from the cluttered background, although there was no way to move around seeking different perspectives or a sharper focus. No matter. One photo is better than none, and now I’ll know what I’m looking at if I come across them again.

Joe and Ann Liggio’s book Wild Orchids of Texas notes that rose pogonia sometimes is confused with the grass pink orchid, but they bloom at different times; rose pogonias fade away just as grass pinks begin to arrive. On Sunday, my discovery of one blooming grass pink suggests that I’d arrived at just the right time to witness the transition. Next year, I’ll search earlier in the year for the rose pogonia; now, I’m looking forward to a profusion of the beautiful grass pinks.

Grass Pink ~ Calopogon tuberosus

Robert Frost’s poem “Rose Pogonia” pays tribute to an orchid-filled meadow; the Watson Preserve endures as one answer to his prayer.

We raised a simple prayer
Before we left the spot,
That in the general mowing
That place might be forgot;
Or if not all is favoured
Obtain such grace of hours,
That none should mow the grass there
While so confused with flowers.


Comments always are welcome.

72 thoughts on “Orchid ~ More Than a Color

  1. Ah, the first fruits of your Watson-wending ways.

    If only mowers could be made to wait till after a strip of land is still “confused with flowers.”

    The Greek-derived epithet ophioglossoides means ‘looking like a snake’s tongue.” Did any part of the rose pogonia impress you that way?

    1. After I read that the rose pogonia also is called the ‘snake’s mouth orchid,’ I could see the reason for that common name, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. To be honest, the lip of the flower looks to me more like the lower jaw of an alligator. Of course, I’ve seen more opened mouths of alligators than snakes.

    1. Although both of these are shown on your list of Iowa orchids, the USDA and BONAP maps show them as ‘extirpated.’ I had to look that one up. As the New York Botanical Garden puts it, ‘extirpated’ means that a plant now is absent from an area it once occupied, but still is found in other areas. I’d be willing to bet on the presence of ladies’ tresses, though; I’ve seen those in Missouri and Kansas, which certainly suggests they could show up in Iowa.

    1. Did you know that Pennsylvania has around sixty species of native orchids? There’s a nice introduction to them here. I can’t help but think that you might see some in your travels. You certainly get into areas where they might be able to thrive undisturbed. They are great fun to discover. The first one I ever saw was in a wildlife management area in Arkansas — it took a while after that to find my first one in Texas.

  2. So beautiful, glad you came across them and shared with us. I knew about orchids, not sure I’ve ever seen one in person. I’m wondering if the LBJWC has any??

    1. That’s an interesting question. I went looking, and found this detailed and fascinating article about how to propagate both of these orchids. After reading through it, my first thought was that the LBJWC probably doesn’t have the facilities or the staff to do what would be necessary for orchids to thrive. The conditions required for some of them are so specific it might not be worth it. From what I’ve read, they can’t be transplanted, and shouldn’t be dug up, so starting from corms or whatever is the trick.

      I know there are ladies’ tresses orchids in your general area. Steve gets tips on them from time to time. You could ask him to pass word of sightings along to you if some appear close to your home.

      1. I had to look up ladies’ tresses (love the name!). That’s not a bad idea, though I might not go chasing them like he does.

        1. It occurs to me that a call to the wildflower center might be useful. I gave the site a cursory look today, but didn’t find a number that seemed useful — I kept surfacing times, directions, and so on.

    1. Jungles, humid weather, and — grocery stores! Right now the store I most often visit is filled with Phalaenopsis orchids. Commonly called the moth orchid, they’re native to China, India,and Southeast Asia, and they’re said to be the easiest to grow as a house plant.

    1. It really surprised me to find that Robert Frost poem. I knew rose pogonias could be found in the northeast, since a friend photographs them each year, but it sounds as though Frost was blessed with an abundance of them. I’ve been too late for them three years in a row; next year, I’ll try to begin looking even earlier.

  3. I disremember whether she was a sister or a cousin of Pogo Possom, but her name was Pogonia. Here all these years I thought it was a “feminine version” of Pogo. A very delightful surprise.

  4. I think finding wild orchids is so very special, Linda. I liked hearing about the Texas wild orchids, and am impressed that you have come upon five and now six. Your photo here is truly delightful.

    1. Finding the rose pogonia was especially nice. I’ve admired Steve Gingold’s photos of them for some years, and never could figure out why I could find the grass pink but not the rose pogonia. Now I’m convinced my past visits have been too late in the year; I’m hoping that a return trip to the area this weekend — albeit to different sites — might turn up a few more flowers.

      Have you come across any of California’s native orchids in your travels?

      1. Yes, I have Linda, and it was a complete thrill. It was near our property in the woods, so we went back year after year to the same spot, found it again one more time. Cheers, my friend.

  5. 54 species? Wow! This is a botanical phenomenon I’ve never thought about. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one wild orchid…. but now I am curious about my own state.

    1. Here’s a nice collection of images of some native California orchids. A few of the genera are familiar, although of course your species are different. They’re fascinating plants, and well deserving of protection — including protection from plant collectors who don’t realize they can’t be dug up and transplanted.

        1. You’re welcome! I just learned that California has 32 species of orchids, and one or more species can be found in every county of the state. Happy hunting!

    1. While it’s often noted that Texas has ten (or eleven, or twelve) ecoregions, what I’m coming to discover is that the big Thicket is equally complex. There are sandylands, and baygalls, and bogs, and cypress-tupelo swamps, as well as pine savannahs and uplands. I don’t think I’d recognize a baygall if it hit me in the face, but I’m learning–and enjoying plants like these orchids as I go!

    1. I was surprised to learn that orchids grow in every one of our states, although of course there are more in the southern states. I read that of the approximately two hundred and fifty native orchid species here, about half are native to Florida. Many Florida orchids are epiphytes, like those you’re familiar with from Brazil, but all of the Texas orchids are land-dwellers, and live with their roots in the soil.

  6. I was intrigued by your post to find out how many wild orchids we have in the UK – ‘around 52’, apparently. I do remember as a kid being very excited to find a northern marsh orchid growing in some long grass in our garden in Scotland. It did feel special – as your lovely finds are.

    1. One of the frustrating and wholly delightful things about orchids is their unpredictability. A friend was mowing her lawn one day, and came upon a large scattering of ladies’ tresses orchids in front of her. The good news is she recognized them and stopped mowing. Then, she gave me a call, and I spent a good hour photographing the things. Wouldn’t it be fun to find orchids popping up in your garden? I suppose it’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible.

  7. I remember being amazed that ground orchids grew along the roadside in Hawaii when my family went for a vacation there when I was 15. I have a fairly large clump of purple bletilla striata but I don’t know exactly which variety. I’ve never seen the rose pagonia or grass pink.

    1. Well, that was a surprise, too. I had no idea non-native orchids would thrive here, other than those purchased at grocery stores and kept indoors. This page for the Bletilla striata says they’ll naturalize in the right conditions. It sounds like yours have done that — what a treat. They’re as pretty as this pair.

  8. I also thought orchids were only those very special tropical flowers that we buy from florists. Apparently, they are all over. I can’t verify this, but a new orchid was supposedly found on this side of the San Jacinto. Sorry, no details, but orchids seem to be everywhere.

    1. I remember reading about a new ladies’ tresses orchid that was documented in your area some years ago, but couldn’t find anything about it. Joe Liggio, author of the book about Texas orchids, is leading a walk at the Watson Preserve on Saturday. I hope to get there, and if I get a chance, I’ll ask about any new discoveries.

    1. I know of several sites where I can find the grass pinks, but the rose pogonia was the one I was eager to find. What surprised me most was that it seems to be on the decline already. Clearly, another trip is in order — soon!

  9. Congratulations on finding your first Rose Pogonia and Grass Pink, two that I am quite fond of and familiar with. Here though I usually see the Grass Pink prior, by a little bit, to the Rose Pogonias. I find mine for the most part in a wet meadow here in Amherst but also at times I’ll visit a bog in Hawley, MA to our north west, near where Eliza lives, and find them along with pitcher plants and sundews and two or three other orchids. I looked at Calopogon and there is another species, Calopogon oklahomensis, found in Texas.
    An interesting feature of the Grass Pink is that the top of the flower is like a trap, triggered by an insect landing and looking for pollen, it snaps down on its back, temporarily trapping the insect and hopefully getting pollinated while the insect crawls out.

    1. I’ve been lucky enough to find the grass pinks in past years, but I never had seen the rose pogonia; what a treat that was! I’m sure I would have missed them, had it not been for another visitor who mentioned that they were around. Just as in your area, they were mixed in with sundews and pitcher plants: so mixed that photographing them was hard to impossible. I was lucky that one was sufficiently isolated that I could get to it. Despite the distance, we have another fine weekend ahead of us, and I’m going to make the trek again. There are some other sites where I’ve found large stands of pitcher plants and grass pinks, so it will be worth looking for the rose pogonias there.

      I had a hard time not telling you what I’d found! I knew you’d get here eventually, and I wanted it to be a surprise.

  10. The Rose Pogonia reminded me of something, Linda. After staring at if for a couple of minutes, I thought, “Aw, Goofy.”The grass pink wins the prize for sheer beauty. -Curt

    1. You mean Goofy, the cartoon character? Now that I’ve looked at it again from that perspective, I can see the ears! Another reader reminded me that ‘Pogonia’ was the name of Pogo’s sister in that cartoon strip.

      1. Yes Goofy. That one, created by Pinto Colvig who my mother grew up playing with and my Great aunt married his older brother.
        Good old Pogo, my hero from my early environmental days: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

        1. I have a collection of Pogo cartoons in book form, and still read them from time to time. Here’s one of my favorite quotations from Walt Kelly: “”I finally came to understand that if I were looking for comic material, I would never have to look long. The news of the day would be enough… After all, it is pretty hard to walk past an unguarded gold mine and remain empty-handed.”

  11. Wonderful photographs of such beautiful orchids!

    If you look at the list of orchids found here in Florida, one would think it should be easy to stumble upon acres of these jewels of nature. One would be mistaken.

    Thank you for sharing your findings!

    1. What we do have is acres — or at least very large stands — of pitcher plants. Now that I know what the Rose Pogonia looks like, I’m hoping to find more. It may be a little late, but I know I’ll be able to find more grass pinks. Somewhere out there is the white version of both; I intend to keep looking!

  12. I’m not familiar with this beautiful flower. Never heard of it. I do like the way Frost says that grass is *confused* with flowers. Such a charming turn of phrase.

    1. I looked at the maps, and even though the grass pink is in your state, it’s not at all common. The rose pogonia isn’t listed at all, so it makes sense that you wouldn’t’ have seen them.

      Frost’s words are a wonderful turn of phrase, and quite descriptive. These orchids don’t cover whole fields like our bluebonnets; they’re tucked in with other plants. Trying to find them can be like trying to find that fishing lure or battery charger that got tossed into the junk drawer and then apparently disappeared. “I know I put that in here” isn’t all that different from “I know there must be orchids in here.”

    1. Ann, what astonished me even more was learning that every one of our states has orchids. And how’s this for an amazement: Alaska has thirty species, which is ten times the number of native orchids found on the Hawaiian Islands, home to just three species. Clearly, orchids are far more varied and adaptable than I ever imagined.

        1. Some are delicate, and most have very specific needs for their growth. But I’ve come to think of them as tough little plants — and there are times when certain species will seem to be “everywhere.” Another issue is that many of our native orchids aren’t as flashy as those bred by orchid enthusiasts and featured in orchid shows. Those are beautiful, but many of them never would be found here in nature.

    1. We sure do. I’ve read that many of them aren’t well known because they’re so inconspicuous. In fact, one book mentioned that some can look like nondescript weeds. Not these! The rose pogonia apparently likes to hide, but it is colorful. The grass pinks are hard to miss, with that larger bloom and bright color.

  13. One hopes that meadows “so confused with flowers” would be exempt from mowing, especially if they contain rare orchids. I always assumed most wild orchids were protected, but just learned that this is not the case.

    1. When it comes to native orchids, ‘rare’ and ‘wild’ aren’t necessarily synonymous. Some of our native orchids are endangered, primarily because of loss of habitat, but others are flourishing, even though their unpredictability can make them seem rare. There was a certain hay meadow where I found ladies’ tresses orchids three years in a row: one year, I counted over a hundred before I stopped counting. Then, they were gone from that field, but they popped up in other places.

      It’s worth noting that both mowing and fire, properly utilized, actually can contribute to the health of orchid populations. It depends on the species, but the literature is filled with interesting articles. For example, a Nature Serve article on the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera praeclara) notes that “the persistence of western prairie fringed orchid is dependent on periodic disturbance by fire, mowing, or grazing.” Of course, there is the caveat that such activities have to be carefully planned and monitored.

      1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge, Linda. I don’t think I have knowingly seen more than 5 species of wild orchids in my life, so they seem rare to me, and I always assumed most of them were protected. But that’s obviously due to my ignorance.

        1. Something else occurred to me, Tanja. Many of our flowers — thanks to their size, or color, or tendency to form colonies — are easily noticeable. It’s as though they’re waving to us, saying, “Hey! Look at me!” Many of the orchids are different. Some are brightly colored, but many are small, and dull, and easily could be overlooked if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

          I still laugh when I remember an experience with a water spider orchid. They’re green, and blend into their environment. One day, someone pointed one out to me. Later, when I went back to spend more time photographing it, I couldn’t find it. It seems crazy that a plant I’d seen only hours earlier could seemingly disappear into thin air, but so it was. Now, I carry a bit of thin, colored ribbon with me to mark spots if I decide to explore and then come back.

          1. That’s another interesting observation. One can’t help but wonder why some species (of either flower or animal) try to vanish into the surroundings, while other are as flashy as can be. It makes sense that a predator might not see blended colors as well, but why throw caution to the wind and flash the entire spectrum of the rainbow when it will attract not only the attention of a potential mate?
            I like your idea of marking a spot to return to later for closer scrutiny.

            1. I had to laugh — I was over in east Texas today, and lo! yet another orchid species has popped up: the ladies’ tresses. I need to get some better photos, but they’re coming along. And another dozen grass pinks were blooming. It’s orchid time!

    1. I’ve picked up several books, and one of the best is Howard Peacock’s Nature Lover’s Guide to the Big Thicket. It’s not a huge book, but it contains descriptions of the various ecosystems (Baygall! Cypress Slough! Palmetto-Hardwood!) as well as the units of the national preserve. There are tips on identifying trees, a discussion of the ‘critters’ there, and in the back there’s something you’d love: a checklist of Big Thicket birds by habitat. There are checklists for trees, shrubs, vines, and forbs, too. It’s a great resource: detailed and accurate, but readable.

    1. We do have some beautiful ones, although even the smaller and less dramatic ones are fun to find. This is the season for our spring ‘ladies tresses.’ You have some of those in your state, too. There are some lovely photos here.

    1. I just realized that a friend and I stayed at the Stag Leap Cabins not very far north of the Angelina NF, on FM 2782. I’m not sure we even knew the forest was so close. We spent our time in Nacogdoches, at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center. That was back in the days when I was hot on the trail of the white Winkler’s gaillardia; I’d heard that the Lady Bird Johnson garden there had some, and that they were cultivating them. So it was! That’s where I learned about Sandylands, and some of the other great spots in the very general area. If I ever head back that way, I’ll get in touch for some hiking tips re: Angelina.

  14. I was similarly surprised when I first learned we have orchids in Virginia. I’d also only ever associated them with jungles and tropical areas. This ones a beauty, that’s for sure, and has a very classic orchid shape. Often I wish for overcast days when photographing flowers but in the case of the grass pink photo I think the strong sunlight actually helps us get a better feel for the shape of the flower because of how the shadow on that one portion shows up on the petal below it.

    1. Since I didn’t have any choice in the matter, I convinced myself to like that high contrast image, but after a time I came around to the point you’re making: that the shadow is a nice, if not always achievable, touch. I am hoping to find more under better conditions; they’re such a treat to see, and widespread enough that finding another shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve been pleased to find some ladies’ tresses orchids this year, too. They seem to me to be less predictable, although they are popping up here and there.

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