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Orchids and Dragonflies Aug 14 09

They come from across the state and from out of state. They come from as far east as Ann Arbor and as far west as Chicago, and no doubt fartherónaturalists and outdoor photographers on pilgrimage. To this small tract of land in Portage, Michigan, they come to see the orchid.

Michigan is home to many wild orchids, but few are as strikingly beautiful as the orange fringed orchid, or as difficult to find. Bishopís Bog Preserve is one of the relative handful of places in our state that harbor the plant. Others locations, such as Pennfield Bog northeast of Battle Creek, lie scattered throughout southern lower Michigan, but Bishopís Bog is easily the most accessible. Connecting Westnedge Park to the north with Schrier Park to the south, a three-quarter-mile boardwalk threads along the eastern side of the 152-acre wetland. No need to wade waste-deep through the moat that characteristically surrounds Michigan bogs. No worries about falling through treacherous holes and weak spots in the mossy turf. Just a pleasant walk through a magical world of tamaracks, blueberry bushes, leatherleaf shrubs, and sedge meadows, with occasional benches where you can sit and enjoy the birds and other wildlife.

While many unusual plants and animals reside in Bishopís Bog, the crown jewel of the preserve is the orange fringed orchid, Platanthera ciliaris. Iíve already written about this flamboyant plant in a post last year. But I make a point of paying at least one visit to the bog each year in early August, when the orchid is at its peak bloom. With its raceme of tropical orange flowers that resembles a flock of brightly colored, miniature birds rising in flight, the orange fringed orchid is a treasure of the Michigan outdoors that I never tire of seeing. Growing casually by the trailside just a stoneís throw from suburban lawns, the orchid hardly seems like a rarity. Yet just a few acres in the bog support the plant. You can comb through similar locations, such as nearby West Lake Bog, and never find so much as a solitary blossom. Thatís why Bishopís Bog is a magnet for hardcore wildflower lovers, some of whom travel considerable distances to see the plant in its native setting. During my visit last week, a couple of orchidologists from Ann Arbor, bristling with camera equipment, had set up shop along the trail and were photographing the orchids with singular absorption.

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Written by Dave.