Calopogon, or grass pink, is a northern orchid that lives in bogs. PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH GRIERSON

Nature: Either eiders or orchids, both are interesting sights



The flowers in July are overwhelming! Orchids are in bloom and well worth searching for. Since they grow in bogs, you may get your feet wet or need to be in a canoe or kayak. Friends have sent me nice photos of Calopogon, also called grass pink. You usually can find it in the bogs on this island in June, July and August. 

The blossoms of Calopogon look as if they have been put together upside down, when compared to other orchids. The yellowcrested lip is on top of the blossom like the tail of a house wren. Usually there is a loose cluster of two to ten flowers. A single slender leaf comes up from the base. You often can spot it from a canoe if you explore the edges of any small pond. 

Carpenter bees are common pollinators of the grass pink. They have just the right weight and length to initiate the interesting process of pollination. The pollinator must weigh enough so that when it lands on the upwardfacing lip, it causes the lip to fold down, and long enough to rest in the ‘column’s cradle. The upwardfacing lip is hinged with one section having hairlike filaments to attract insects. The cradle is on the other side of the hinge and below. 

When the insect lands, the two come together and enable a transfer. The bee ends up on its back in the cradle with its two wings striking out on either side. As the bee struggles to get out and goes from flower to flower, the plant is pollinated. When you casually look at a flower, you have no idea about the daily dramas taking place. The bulb-like corms of this plant are eaten by volesmice and chipmunks. 

When I was in Newfoundland on one of my trips, I was exploring around a lighthouse near Rocky Harbor when I found myself surrounded by twinflower in bloom. It carpeted the ground in the woods as I headed towards the cliff. It was like finding an old friend. This week I had an email from friends who were walking here on MDI, and they came up to the same sort of sight in our island woods. A patch of twinflower is very beautiful with its pink bellshaped flowers. The small round leaves are bright green and glossy. The flowers hang like little bells from the forked, slender, fragile stem end. 

Bees are attracted to the flower’s fragrance and color and are guided to the nectar by five dark lines. When blossoming is done, a small red fruit is formed from the twin flowers. 

The twinflower is named Linnaea borealis after Linnaeus, the great Swedish botanist, since it was said to be his favorite flower. My husband had a flea in New Guinea named after him when he was on the seventh Archbold Expedition to that country and found a new one. Twinflower is native to America, Europe and Asia. 

Baby eiders are fun to see now from the Seawall causeway. There may be 30 or more babies learning to feed and being tended by several females. Female eiders share the ‘babysitting’ chores. They take turns while the others feed. The males do not share this task, but quite often you see one or two males not far off from these feeding groups. This is a great place to see eiders and to take photos or just watch them with binoculars. Females are dark; males are mainly white and quite handsome. Young males have a mix of white and dark until they mature, but all eiders have that long sloping bill. Eiders are here yearround on the ocean. They love to eat sea urchins. Watching them swallow a prickly sea urchin is an interesting sight. You can almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief when it finally passes through the throat. Once inside the bird, its gizzard grinds it up and the body absorbs the nutrients.  

This is prime time to be outdoors and enjoy all the wonders of nature. Send any sightings or questions to me at [email protected] or call 244-3742. 

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

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