Spring glories in wet places
Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
May, 28, 2009
Some of the brightest colors of spring, rivaling the brilliant yellow of narcissi but native to our seepage swamps and wetlands, belong to two glorious wildflowers. One is just passing now, and the other is quite rare but now in bloom.
Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) can so dazzle the eye on a drab April morning that cars slow down as they pass through the swamplands so their passengers can marvel at the color of these cheery wetland plants.
There is nothing else in bloom in these places to rival them at this time — not coltsfoot or dandelion or any other invasive plant — and for a few weeks in spring they are the stars of the swamp.
In late May and early June, one of our rarest wildflowers emerges in the swamps, usually as a solitary wonder among the thick ferns and sedges but sometimes in small clusters of golden yellow orchids. These are the yellow ladyslippers, both large and small (Cypripedium pubescens and Cypripedium parviflorum). There may even be a hybrid of the two, with characteristics of both species and medium-sized blooms.
Ladyslipper orchids are extravagant and seductive, especially to bees, which are lured into their enveloping flowers but frustrated by the paucity of nectar they find there. To propagate by seed, ladyslippers have to fool the same bee twice, and even then there can be many years when the flowers, their lipped pouches sometimes as large as a quail’s egg, produce no fruit. Seed germination also requires a mycorrhizal association with certain soil fungi that determine where they can grow in the wild.
They also reproduce vegetatively, however, and groups such as the New England Wildflower Society (NEWFS) have successfully propagated thousands of large yellow ladyslippers for sale and as plantings in that New England treasure, Garden in the Woods in North Framingham, Mass.
I have two of their plants growing in my wildflower garden and right now there are five stunningly beautiful orchids offset by curling brown sepals bobbing at the end of their stalks. Because ladyslipper orchids are highly vulnerable to collection, you should only consider buying them from extremely reputable nurseries like NEWFS (they can set you back between $45 and $90, depending on your source).
Cypripedium pubescens does well in my shade garden and likes our calcium-rich soils, but other wetland-loving ladyslippers require more saturated habitat than I can provide. I am happy to leave them where they are, haunting beauties of fen and forested wetland.
I don’t have the right place for marsh marigolds so they are a pleasure I take on their own terms.
My parents, with an emergent wetland that takes over their driveway (as a sheet of ice in winter) and produces the plumpest high bush blueberries in summer, have an excellent site for marsh marigolds. But I look out for them on the road to Litchfield or in the Schenob Brook wetlands of the Southern Berkshires.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.
© Copyright 2009 by TCExtra.com
Top of Page
Email this article
Printer friendly page