Showy, Gay, or Spring Orchis – Flowers

(Orchis spectabilis)

Orchid family

Flowers—Purplish pink, of deeper and lighter shade, the lower lip white, and thick of texture; from 3 to 6 on a spike; fragrant. Sepals pointed, united, arching above the converging petals, and resembling a hood; lip large, spreading, prolonged into a spur, which is largest at the tip and as long as the twisted footstem. Stem: 4 to 12 in. high, thick, fleshy, 5-sided. Leaves: 2, large, broadly ovate, glossy green, silvery on under side, rising from a few scales from root. Fruit: A sharply angled capsule, 1 in. long.

Preferred Habitat—Rich, moist woods, especially under hemlocks.

Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—From New Brunswick and Ontario southward to our Southern States, westward to Nebraska.

Of the six floral leaves which every orchid, terrestrial or aerial, possesses, one is always peculiar in form, pouch-shaped, or a cornucopia filled with nectar, or a flaunted, fringed banner, or a broad platform for the insect visitors to alight on. Some orchids look to imaginative eyes as if they were masquerading in the disguise of bees, moths, frogs, birds, butterflies. A number of these queer freaks are to be found in Europe. Spring traps, adhesive plasters, and hair-triggers attached to explosive shells of pollen are among the many devices by which orchids compel insects to cross-fertilize them, these flowers as a family showing the most marvellous mechanism adapted to their requirements from insects in the whole floral kingdom. No other blossoms can so well afford to wear magenta, the ugliest shade nature produces, the ” lovely rosy purple ” of Dutch bulb growers, a color that has an unpleasant effect on not a few American stomachs outside of Hoboken.

But an orchid, from the amazing cleverness of its operations, is attractive under any circumstances to whomever understands it. This earliest member of the family to appear charms the female bumblebee, to whose anatomy it is especially adapted. The males, whose faces are hairy where the females’ are bare, and therefore not calculated to retain the sticky pollen masses, are not yet flying when the showy orchis blooms. Bombus Americanorum, which can drain the longest spurs, B. separatus, B. terricola, and, rarely, butterflies as well, have been caught with its pollen masses attached. The bee alights on the projecting lip, pushes her head into the mouth of the corolla, and, as she sips the nectar from the horn of plenty, ruptures by the slight pressure a membrane of the pouch where two sticky buttons, to which two pollen masses are attached, lie imbedded. Instantly after contact these adhere to the round bare spots on her face, the viscid cement hardening before her head is fairly withdrawn. Now the diverging pollen masses, that look like antennae, fall from the perpendicular, by remarkable power of contraction, to a horizontal attitude, that they may be in the precise position to fertilize the stigma of the next flower visited-just as if they possessed a reasoning intelligence 1 Even after all the pollen has been deposited on the sticky stigmas of various blossoms, stump-like caudicles to which the two little sacs were attached have been found still plastered on a long-suffering bee. But so rich in nectar are the moisture-loving orchids that, to obtain a draught, the sticky plasters which she must carry do not seem too dear a price to pay. In this showy orchis the nectar often rises an eighth of an inch in the tube, and sufficient pressure to cause a rupture will eject it a foot.