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Nature Notebook – Purple Fringed Orchid

The wetland wildflower show starts a bit later than that of the upland meadow. The cooler, wetter microclimate protects the plants against surprise late spring frosts. But…the show is beginning.

Purple fringed orchid is now appearing in our sedge meadow. The small flowers are not flashy so one has to look for them. Each flower looks a tiny, purple butterfly, which seems appropriate because their main pollinators are butterflies. The diurnal hawkmoths and other nocturnal moths (with their equally long proboscises, or tongues) also visit the orchids.

The plants are now rare in southernmost Michigan as our wetlands disappear. They cannot be found in commercial nurseries because they are nearly impossible to cultivate out of their “wild” setting.  Their seeds remain dormant until one day they aren’t. Botanists have been unable to figure out this timetable. In addition, their seeds do not carry stored food so they must quickly establish their partnership with soil bacteria (mycorrhizal symbiosis).

Come hunt for the orchid and perhaps you’ll also the endangered Mitchell’s satyr butterfly.