Orchid-hunting in the Burnt Lands
June 23rd, 2017
"The Three Sisters", yellow ladyslippers in bloom on the Burnt Lands alvar
In early June I made several trips out to the Burnt Lands near Almonte,
hunting for orchids. For being a provincial park, this area is surprisingly
unknown and unmarked, but it is an ecological gem. Last August I found it
teeming with Aphrodite Fritillaries and other interesting insects (1
). I promised
myself that for 2017, I'd go earlier in the year and seek out the elusive
Ram's Head Ladyslipper, one of the rarest orchids in North America.
Last summer my usual access to the park was via Ramsey Concession 12. The
maintained road ends and turns into a dirt road through the park. I found it
quite hikable with only the occasional shallow puddle. However, last summer
conditions were droughtlike, and conditions this year have been anything but,
not to mention it's June, not August. The dirt road was so flooded (by the
adjacent wetland) that even my tall rubber boots were not enough to get
through it. Fortunately, there's another access at March Road and Golden Line
that requires only a good set of water-resistant hiking boots.
The sign reads, "this roadway is not up to municipal standards." You don't
Unsurprisingly, the elusive Ram's Head Ladyslippers eluded me. But Yellow
Ladyslippers certainly didn't! I found whole colonies of this beauty, most
growing in the shadow of cedars and spruces, a few out in the open.
Sharing habitat with some of the Yellow Ladyslippers were patches of the most
intensely blue violets I had ever seen. I wasn't sure if they were just
unusually vivid common violets or something more exotic, but the fact that
they hung close with the ladyslippers seemed significant. On a trip with my
husband, he looked them up in our Peterson's and determined that they were
indeed something a little more exotic: Northern Bog Violet. Unfortunately, my
photos failed to do justice to that otherworldly blue, so I deleted them.
These little beauties brightened the forest floor beneath a stand of pine
trees. When I saw them I was sure I had found my second orchid of the day.
They were even there in one of the orchid color plates in Peterson's, but the
label said "not an orchid." D'oh! They're also known as Gaywings. The habitat
I found them in (coniferous, moist) was very classic.
A characteristic wildflower of prairie-like habitats, this grows in the more
open parts of the alvar. Though it looks like grass topped with tiny blue
blossoms, it's actually part of the iris family.
Always a pretty flower, but this was the most vivid columbine blossom I'd ever
These looked like Blue Flag irises, but very short and growing in a drier area
than I'd expect for Blue Flag, and the features aren't quite right (there
should be more yellow at the base of the petals, for instance.) Possibilities
I've considered are Crested Dwarf Iris, Vernal Iris, a variation on Blue Flag,
or even a garden escape (as it was growing near March Road.) But nothing seems
quite right. Please let me know if you have an idea!
I found a few of these strange but pretty flowers, usually creeping underneath
piles of deadwood or other dense brush and being tough to photograph. Trumpet
Honeysuckle, I think, but I have some misgivings with the ID. The colors don't
quite match, and Trumpet Honeysuckle is supposed to be a climbing vine, not
creeping. Again, let me know if you have any input.
These conelike white clusters seemed unfamiliar to me, so I took a few
pictures and looked them up when I got home. Seneca Snakeroot is a
rather uncommon wildflower but characteristic of the Burnt Lands. It prefers
calcareous (limestone-based) conditions such as those on an alvar. The name
Seneca Snakeroot honors the Seneca people who once used it to treat snake
bites. It is still in use medicinally today in herbal remedies and cough
medicines (it's an expectorant) and is even cultivated as a crop in some