Orchids of Grey and Bruce Counties

Orchids of Grey and Bruce Counties
This 105 page publication has a full page for each of the 48 species that have been reported from Bruce and Grey counties. These pages have anecdotal information as well as a systematic description of the plant and its habitat, accompanied by diagrams of the plant and the individual flower. Shown here is the page for the Calypso orchid. The format is the same for all species. In addition, the book has a centre section with a colour picture of each flower taken by the late Dr. Donald R. Gunn and reproduced by courtesy of the Royal Botanical Garden.

Bruce and Grey counties are a unique area, with the Niagara escarpment running throughout. Georgian Bay is on one side and the main body of Lake Huron on the other. The high calcium content of the escarpment rocks dominates the soils and wetlands. All of these factors combine to create a variety of habitats suited to the 48 species of orchid that have been recorded. This is over two thirds of the Ontario list and one more than the number found in the whole of northwestern Europe.

Visitors to this area most often first notice the Yellow and the Showy Lady’s Slippers growing along the roadside in late spring. Another Lady’s Slipper, that is much less common, can be found in shaded locations near Lake Huron on the west side of the Peninsula, usually in the last week in May. This is the Ram’s Head, so called because the shape of the flower is reminiscent of a charging ram.  Soon after the Lady’s Slippers a number of orchids start to appear in the fens along the Lake Huron shore. One of the most striking is the Bog Candles, a tall spike of small shining flowers rising from a watery bed. Even more amazing is the colour of the Grass Pink. If you look carefully, you will see that the lip of this orchid is at the top, unlike all the others. The reason is that this is the only species that does not twist during its development.  A little later comes the attractive Rose Pogonia. Fairly common in swampy areas or wet meadows, sometimes even in roadside ditches, is the Small Purple Fringed Orchis with its cluster of dime-sized bright pinkish-purple flowers. It can be found in flower from June to mid-August.  Mostly much later in the season, in a variety of habitats from fens to more wooded areas, the Spiranthes or Ladies Tresses appear. There are several species which all have a spike of small cream coloured flowers which characteristically twist round the stem – hence the common name.

Orchids are the most highly evolved group of flowering plants. Not only are they completely dependent on associated fungi, which was the reason horticulturalists took so long to work out how to grow them from seed; but they have also evolved in tandem with insects. They are dependent on them for fertilization. There are various strategies to achieve this but, in some, the flowers actually mimic insects and these are often not brightly coloured. The Broad Lipped Twayblade is a good example of this, as it resembles a whitish moth.
Orchids produce millions of tiny seeds. Air samples from the Arctic contain orchid seeds, but they will only grow in company with their symbiotic fungi and in exactly the right environmental conditions. For this reason, if you wish to grow native orchids you should obtain them from a native plant nursery. On no account should they ever be transplanted from the wild. Purchase ’ The Orchids of Bruce and Grey and then come and enjoy finding them in their native habitat. Remember to tread lightly and leave everything as you find it, especially if you are taking photographs.

Author: Owen Sound Field Naturalists

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