Nature Bulletin No. 527-A Aprilo 27, 1974
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Do orchids grow wild in Cook County? Yes! To those of us who have
seen only those elegant white. mauve and shell-pink creations that come
out of hothouses and are sold in florists' shops, this is amazing. Yet it is
true. Thirty kinds are native to the Chicago area.
Orchids are the aristocrats of the world of flowers and make up one of
our largest plant families with nearly 20,000 known kinds. They include
some of the most beautiful and highly prized flowers known to man.
The seed pods of two tropical climbing species yield the vanilla of
commerce. Most kinds are found in the tropics where many grow like
air plants on the trunks of trees. However, all of our native species grow
directly from the ground, preferring acid soils rich in peat, such as cool
sphagnum bogs, along with pitcher plant, sundew, swamp blueberry and
cranberry. They are difficult to grow, partly because the seeds are as
fine as dust -- the smallest in the plant kingdom.
Perhaps no other plant family has suffered so much destruction by the
upheavals involved in the expansion of our metropolitan area. Although
several were abundant at one time, now, not a single species is
common. For example, there used to be thousands of Showy Lady's
Slippers growing in the dune region of northern Indiana where the great
steel mills are now located. The greatest variety is still to be found in
the wilder parts of the remaining dunes. Fortunately, about 40 years
ago, Cook County set aside some good orchid habitats as forest
preserves -- early enough to protect a number of kinds.
The favorites of plant lovers are probably the Lady's Slippers, of which
there are several -- Yellow, White, the Showy -- which is magenta in
color -- and the Stemless of acid bogs, better known as the Moccasin
Our most colorful orchid is the Orange Fringed, which stuns you with
its brilliance when you happen to come across it for the first time.
Rivaling it in beauty is the rare Purple Fringed Orchid. These two and
several other close relatives take their name from the fringe on the
bottom petal. The Coral Root Orchids are unique because none of the
plant parts are green. Lacking chlorophyll, they cannot manufacture
their own food and so mast get nourishment from dead plant material.
The Grass Pink Orchid of moist grassy meadows can be seen at Illinois
Beach State Park north of Waukegan. Occasionally found with it is the
Snake-Mouth Orchid which has a delightful fragrance resembling the
odor of fresh raspberries. June is the best month to see most native
orchids in bloom but our commonest kind, Ladies' Tresses, blooms in
All orchids have leaves with parallel veins like those of lilies and irises.
Their flowers have three sepals and three petals; but one petal, the
lowest, is out of all proportion to the others and is called the "lip. " This
is the most obvious of all orchid peculiarities. This lip is actually the
upper petal which has been twisted halfway "round." It serves as a
landing strip, restaurant and signboard for bees. The orchid possesses
an elaborate and foolproof system which insures that its sticky pollen is
carried from one flower to another by insects.
Orchids are quite frequent in the bogs of the north woods of Michigan,
Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The lady's slipper is protected by Illinois state law.
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012