Bog blog: Summer orchids

Grass pink among cranberry blossoms in a southern Michigan bog.

Michigan is a great place to live if you’re an orchid enthusiast. With over 50 species of orchids, a diversity of habitats and a lot of public land to explore, you can keep pretty busy. A couple species that usher in the summer season happen to be among the most beautiful. Grass pinks (Calopogon tuberosus) and Rose pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) are both fairly widespread and start blooming around the end of June. Look for them in spaghnum bogs, sedge mats and shore bogs. Give a little blood to the mosquitoes and deer flies. They don’t care what type you are and help make the world go ’round. These two flowers are sometimes accompanied by Arethusa, Showy lady’s-slipper and Tall white bog orchid. 

Rose pogonia

Bogs are beautiful and interesting places to explore. They are made up of huge amounts of dead plant material known as peat. The water in this habitat is acidic and very low in nutrients. Many orchids thrive in these conditions by using mycorrhizal fungi to extract nutrients. Other plant species like pitcher plants and sundews obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by “preying” on insects which become trapped or stuck in their leaves.

Round-leaved sundew with a victim

Photographing these plants is a challenge and usually involves getting hot, sweaty, wet and dirty along with the already-mentioned insect bites. Knee or hip boots are a good idea and early mornings give the best results. Best to be there before the wind comes up and maybe have some dew on petals and leaves. Overcast days prolong working time when harsh shadows and highlights don’t complicate exposure and compositions. I prefer to use longer focal lengths for this sort of work, 100-300mm. This helps one keep distance from these plants and helps minimize damage to soil and seedlings. It also helps to simplify backgrounds in an often chaotic scene by providing a narrower field of view. Using live view, especially with an articulating LCD can help a photographer keep clean and avoid turning the area into a mud pit. All of these images were made with a Nikon D300 and Sigma 180mm f/3.5 lens. In some the Sigma 1.4X EX APO DG Teleconverter was added.

These places are usually loaded with cranberry and blueberry and worth a later visit for the freezer and desserts. Bogs are sensitive habitats and do not stand up to heavy foot traffic or frequent visits. I keep visits to my favorite places down to once every 3 years. If you want to learn more about orchids and bogs here are two excellent resources:

Orchids of the Western Great Lakes Region by Fred Case

Bogs of the Northeast by Charles W. Johnson

Cranberry flowers

Grass pinks photographed through a White pine seedling.

Rose pogonia, a particularly dark blossom.

Bogs and the plants and animals that live in them are some of our most precious natural resources. Get out there and enjoy them!


~ by David Stimac on July 5, 2013.

5 Responses to “Bog blog: Summer orchids”

  1. So beautiful. So real, it’s like I can reach out and touch the delicate softness of their petals.

  2. Beautiful orchid images!

  3. Simply Lovely!!! Boy do I have a story to tell you from Today and bog related. (I guess that Elmer and II need to visit bogs for old folks! “The ones with boardwalks!!!


  4. Thank you everyone! Well, Jim, let’s hear the story! 🙂

  5. David … as usual your photographs are gorgeous! The colours of the orchids are stunning. Thanks for sharing! I especially love the Cranberry flowers. I do not envy the bug bites or the hip wading but I am glad to hear of the care you take when taking your photographs. Thanks Dave!

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