Northern (Green, Tall Bog) Orchid

2017 April 29

This plant was blooming on the margin of our roadside ditch on July 8, 2016. It had a cluster of long, narrow leaves with a spike of flowers about a foot and a half tall.


The flower spike consisted of green, oblong flowers fairly closely-packed together. I forgot to sniff them, so I don’t know if they had an odor.


The individual flowers were tube-shaped, with petals of various shapes around the flower opening. It looks like the flower might be specialized to be pollinated by some particular kind of insect, it looks like any nectaries might be too deep for, say, a bee’s tongue to reach.

Looking through the literature, this looks like one of two orchids in the genus Platanthera: either the Northern Green Orchid, Platanthera aquilonis, or the Tall Northern Bog Orchid, Platanthera huronensis. Normally, the recommended way to tell these apart is that the Tall Northern Bog Orchid is, well, taller, and is almost entirely found in boggy areas. And the Northern Green Orchid is a bit greener, and found in places other than bogs. But, in this case, I’m not sure I can summarily discount one or the other. Although, the size is probably a bit more consistent with P. aquilonis.

In either case, this is definitely an orchid, my first one on this site[1]. The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is approximately tied with the Asteraceae for being the largest family of plants, with about 28,000 accepted species. The reason it has taken me so long to have the first orchid on this site is that they tend to be more tropical plants, with only a few species extending up into the colder regions. And the ones that do grow this far north tend not to have the big, showy blossoms of some of their tropical relatives. But still, they are here, mainly in moist areas.

Part of the reason for the diversity of orchids is that their blossoms are very selective for specific species of pollinators. This helps make sure that an insect that visits an orchid will then visit another orchid of the same species, so the chances of cross-pollination between similar species are reduced. This far north, though, the diversity of insect pollinators is lower than in the tropics, and so a lot of orchids have difficulty attracting pollinators, and so they just self-pollinate most of the time.

[1] At least, this is the first one if you don’t count the appearance of leaves of houseplant orchids in my post about Fringed Orchid Aphids back in 2010, and an orchid stem with the Vinegar Flies later that same year.

2 Responses
  1. Carole permalink
    April 29, 2017

    Nice find

  2. May 6, 2017

    Just for the record, in Moonraker, Drax never says, “Orchids, Mr. Bond.” However, it’s a great line to use whenever you see orchids.

    At least I think it is. 😉

    On topic – I’m surprised you’ve got orchids that far north. I’d always associated them with tropical climes.

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