Could 2016 be the Year for Native U.S. Orchids?

Pink Lady's Slipper Orchid, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Chapman State Park, PA

Today was a cool day here, with Pittsburgh highs hovering around 51 degrees Fahrenheit. During the day, I poured through Israeli wildflower field guides, searching for which of their natives orchids will be in bloom next February to March ’16. A friend confirmed that searching and finding Protected Israeli orchids would be . . . you fill in the word. Butterflies and orchids, Oh, I can only dream.

These Pink Lady Slipper blooms graced a tiny clearing in the woods in Chapman State Park, tucked into the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Sweet they were, delicate, shy, awash in color, and just there, like the finest porcelain, for all to share.

I will shovel my way through the snows of 2016, anticipating the search for Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium Reginae) in northwestern New York state, Georgia orchids if a certain expert there can find the time, and, w/o a guide, but with much gusto, Israeli orchids, including Drone Bee-Orchid (Ophrys Holosericea), Carmel Bee-Orchid (Ophrys Umbilicata), Bee Orchid (Ophrys Apifera), Tawny Bee-Orchid (Ophrys Fleischmannii), Anatolian Orchid (Orchis Anatolica), Loose-Flowered Orchid (Orchis Laxiflora), Pink Butterfly Orchid (Orchis Papilionacea) and Toothed Orchid (Orchis Tridentate). Well, there’s actually one more on my bucket list, if you’re still there, Galilee Orchid.

All of these orchids are rare. All are knockout gorgeous. All exist only in sylvan habitat, always with equally beautiful butterflies nearby. Wish me luck, No?

Jeff . . . Orchid amateur.

We Find a Conversation Stopper in Northwestern Pennsylvania

White Admiral Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at State Gamelands #29, NY

The trail from Chapman State Park to State Game Lands #29 offered up few butterflies. That’s until I startled a . . . White Admiral (Limenitis Arthemis). I had not seen one for many years. ‘For many years’ because my field work rarely takes me north of Pittsburgh, and these beauts are most common to our north.

Took the requisite moment to stare, and then began a long, relentless effort to photograph them. White admiral descends onto trail (slightly moist after rain a few days before), I make a robotic approach (necessary for I shoot macro-, and need to ideally be within 2 feet of butterfly) and . . . it flees, fast, into trailside cover. This was repeated over and over, with the 5 or so that were present along about 90 feet of trail. I never gave up and they usually returned within a handful of minutes.

These Limenitis are closely related to Red-spotted Purples and also to Viceroys. They are exquisite, sporting blue, white, black and reddish-orange, all stark and tightly grouped.

Meeting White Admirals on this trail in northwestern Pennsylvania is electrifying, for the next ½ hour, that’s all you think of, not pressures, tensions, bills to pay, family issues, politics, ISIS – all washes out, as you appreciate the artistry of this butterfly.


Northeastern U.S. Orchids

Pink Lady's Slipper (hooded), photographed by Jeff Zablow in Chapman State Park,  PA

Yes, there are American orchids. Are they the same orchids that are now sold in all large supermarkets? No.

U.S. orchids tend to be very habitat sensitive. They generally will not survive in a pot on your kitchen windowsill. Like most of our magnificent blooms and wildlife, their habitat requirements are real and special.

This Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid blossom was seen in a wooded grove in Chapman State Park, within the giant Allegheny National Forest. Some 7.5 hours drive east from New York City (for our international friends). It prefers moist ground, in spots where there is a break in the canopy of densely wooded habitat.

I remember when I came upon my first one, at Bear Run Reserve, in the Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania. You may have been just a few hundred feet away from that spot, if you have ever visited Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright‘s architectural phenomenon. Bear Run is just across the road. I saw them, and fell forever in Love.


A Native Orchid Near You

Pink Lady's Slipper Orchid, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Chapman State Park, PA

When you approach this native orchid, in its late Spring secluded forest, dappled light dancing through the trees, all the clutter on your mind disappears. Pink Lady’s Slippers are starkly beautiful. Never found in large groups, they are rare, finicky and exist in very limited numbers. The color is a rich red. The bloom, when seen up close is other-worldy, reminding me of the human heart, or some Star Trekkian thing. You watch your step, you speak in hushed tones, because, well because you feel that you are in the presence of something very vital, very Big.

These were flourishing in Chapman State Park, set in the much larger Allegheny National Forest, in northwestern Pennsylvania. I drove the several hours to see native orchids (and butterflies). June 2015, and I remember the moment that these blooms were spotted. Another Oh My Goodness Moment! How many of those do You enjoy per week?  Month?

Oh, admission fee? Zero.