Story and Photographs by Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… this time of year it is in search of botanical treasures in the Orchidaceous Family. Orchids have been referred to as the nobility of the flower world. In the northeast, we, are especially fortunate to have numerous species of orchids, which bloom throughout the spring, summer, and a few in autumn. You may be surprised to learn that New York State actually has more indigenous (native) orchids than Hawaii. Hawaii has three native species of orchids and numerous orchids that have been introduced from other parts of the world. In New York State we have more than sixty species of native orchids. You may find orchids growing in the woods, bogs, moist meadows, fens, swamps, and even along the roadsides. Orchids can be observed and photographed while hiking, kayaking/canoeing, or perhaps while exploring your own lawn or gardens.

The Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule) is an early bloomer. This tall pink-flowered blossom may be found in mixed hardwoods and coniferous forests. It blooms mid-May through early July. The plant grows to a height of four to twelve inches and has large ribbed basal (near the ground) leaves. A sturdy stem rises from the ground to hold a pouch or slipper-shaped flower, which depending on the soil, may be colored a pale rosy pink or a deeper raspberry pink. I have found this orchid in a number of diverse habitats which include the Rome, New York Sand Plains, at Ferd’s Bog off Uncas Road, in Eagle Bay, New York, and also at Beaver Lake Nature Center in Baldwinsville, New York.

The largest of our native orchids and usually the most sought after for photo opportunities is the “Queen of the bog”, the Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae). This statuesque beauty may reach heights of three feet and usually makes her entrance on Father’s Day, in mid-June. In addition to being our largest orchid, she has a unique means of reproducing her species. The large pouch-like flower is actually an inflated lip called a labellum which serves to attract pollinators. This modified petal is totally crucial to the new orchids’ survival. Insects are attracted by the sweet smell of nectar which is actually a deception because the plant has no nectar. However once inside the labellum the insect is trapped and seeks an escape. Downward pointing hairs lead the insect to a small exit, but before the trapped pollinator earns its freedom it must pass by a comb-like structure of the stigma (a plant part that takes the pollen) removing all the pollen from the pollinator’s body and at the same time pollinates this flower. As the insect continues to escape it will also pass by the anther (part of the stamen that holds pollen) picking up new pollen, which can then cross-pollinate the next orchid it is lured to.

Our generous Remsen neighbors are the owner of an extremely large bog that has been known to have as many as five hundred Showy Lady slipper plants. Keep in mind this property is privately owned, even though it is called the “Remsen Bog”, please respect the plants and owners. Many of the plants are close to the roadside and can be photographed easily from the roadside. The bog is also the habitat of many other species of orchids throughout the summer, which include Grass Pinks (Calopogon tuberous), Rose Pogonias (Pogonia ophioglossoides), and Loesel’s Twayblade (Liparis loeselii).

In addition to finding and photographing orchids another plant that is a favorite to discover, as it pushes up from the ground, is one of the numerous ferns which can be found while enjoying a spring outdoor adventure.

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is an evergreen, which can even be seen in winter, its new fiddlehead (a coil-shaped fern leaf) begins to grow in early spring. Christmas ferns have a dark green leathery frond (fern leaf) and they were once harvested to make Christmas wreaths. The fronds are sometimes eaten by wildlife. Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum), another favorite, which is also known as rock cap fern, may be found growing on glacial erratics (boulders); especially in the Adirondack woods. Rock Polypody is also an evergreen fern. Large circular sori (spore case/seeds) can be found on the underside of the fronds. Polypody can survive extreme drought conditions. Its fronds roll up when it experiences the lack of moisture and unrolls once it becomes available. Its fronds are eaten by deer, ruffed grouse, and wild turkeys.

The three Osmunda ferns that can be found in our area include Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana), Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), and Royal Fern (Osmunda spectabilis). Interrupted fern gets its species name from John Clayton an English-born botanist who lived in Virginia and its common name from the “interrupted” gap in the middle of the blade where the fertile portions of the plant are located. The fern can be sixteen to forty inches tall. Cinnamon fern has both sterile fronds and fertile spore-bearing fronds which when mature are a lovely cinnamon color. The fertile fronds stand erect and are shorter they are surrounded by green sterile fronds. The sterile fronds will begin to die after the first frost, but the fertile fronds will remain throughout the winter. Cinnamons ferns form huge root masses and their name is derived from the cinnamon color of the fertile fronds. Native Americans used cinnamon ferns as a cold remedy and also a snake bite remedy. Royal fern also has both fertile and sterile fronds and prefers a wetter environment. Royal ferns may be found in bogs and wetlands or occasionally along the edges of ponds or streams.

None of the above-mentioned ferns are for human consummation. The name fiddlehead which is also known as a crozier lies dormant throughout the winter. They emerge quickly once the winter snows have left. The name fiddlehead comes from their shape which is thought to resemble the scroll on the end of a stringed instrument such as a fiddle or violin. If you are anxious to try a fiddlehead as a vegetable I would suggest that you buy some, in the spring, from a local grocery store. Looking forward to seeing you where I wander.

As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995 she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute, in Utica, New York she has been educating children and adults, for nineteen years.

In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP) and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016 she has been writing a bimonthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at