It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since I first viewed the display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) at Purdon Conservation Area, northwest of Perth. This weekend, the weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed a family excursion on Father’s Day to see the orchids, which are just reaching their peak period of bloom.
Thanks to the efforts of Joe Purdon, a pioneer in conservation stewardship, the colony of a few dozen orchids, which he discovered on his property in the 1930s, has grown to 16,000 blooms. It is probably the largest display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) in North America. A well-maintained boardwalk allows visitors to stroll through the wetland and enjoy the remarkable display.
Fens are very special places. A fen forms when layers of peat (dead plant matter, such as sphagnum moss) build up to form a mat around the edge of open water. The mat slowly grows as live moss at the surface dies and drifts to the bottom of the water. As the open water is gradually filled in, a peatland is formed. While slow-moving water is still flowing through the fen, it rinses out some of the acidity of the peat. Fens support sedges and grasses and low to medium-height shrub cover along with a sparse covering of trees. Fens may require 5,000 years to form. When movement of water is completely obstructed, the fen becomes more acidic and develops into a bog.
A specialized plant community thrives in a fen. The Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is carnivorous and uses insects for food. Rainwater collects in the hollow leaves of the plant, where an insect-digesting enzyme is mixed with the water. Insects are attracted into the leaves and are unable to escape because of smooth hairs at the opening. In this way, pitcher plants are able to survive in nutrient-poor environments where other plants could not. In early summer, wine and green-coloured flowers are produced on stems separate from the tubular leaves. The photograph above shows a birds-eye view looking down past the wine-coloured flower into the pitchers formed by the leaves.
Slender Cotton Grass (Enophorum viridi-carinatum) is actually a member of the sedge family. The long silky bristles of its fruit clusters give them the appearance of soft cotton. Cotton Grass is found in bogs and fens across boreal North America.
Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora) features yellow globe-shaped flowers. Also known as False Buckwheat, it is found in swamps and fens across temperate North America. Other interesting plants that we observed include the Northern Green Orchid and Twinflowers. Below, Seabrooke (The Marvelous in Nature) captures a view of a Showy Lady’s Slipper.
(Just a note: The highly invasive alien, Purple Loosestrife, isn’t related to native loosestrifes and belongs to a totally different plant family. It should more properly be called Purple Lythrum (Lythrum salicaria))