Orchid-spotter Paula Phillips Marks searches for a rare pink bloom as spring comes to life in Sonoma County

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

Orchid Outing

What: The route will include approximately a 250-foot elevation gain over 3 miles of varied trails, beginning and ending at Richardson Trail Head Parking Lot. The pace will be moderately slow and easy. Appropriate for ages 15 and up. Wear hiking shoes and layers appropriate for weather. Bring water and lunch. Trekking poles recommended. Some trails are rocky and uneven. Heavy rain or wind cancels.

Where: Trione-Annadel State Park. Meet at the Richardson Trailhead Parking Lot at the end of Channel Drive.

When: Saturday, March 30 from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Cost: Park day-use fee ($7 per car, $6 for seniors 62+) or display CA State Parks Pass.

No advance reservations needed. Dogs not allowed. Restrooms and water at the parking area. Orchids may not be harvested or collected.

Few flowers can cause you to stop dead in your tracks as effectively as a wild orchid. Graceful, dignified, and delightful, these stars of the botanical world are as biologically peculiar as they are stunning to behold.

And behold them you will if you join expert orchid-spotter Paula Phillips Marks in search of the diminutive pink calypso orchid and other early spring treasures of Trione- Annadel State Park on Saturday, March 30. Billed as an easy-paced hike, Paula’s outing offers a mindful approach to exploring nature.

“I liken it to a sauntering, or a stroll” she says. “When we are totally involved in our surroundings, we let go of everything else. And that’s the best place we can be.” Slow careful searching, after all, is the only way to spot the elusive calypso orchid.

The calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa), also called the fairy slipper, is one of 18 species of native orchid found in the wild lands of Sonoma County. Other relatively common species in our area include the boldly red-striped coral root orchid (Corallorhiza striata) and its coastal cousin, the spotted coral root (Corallorhiza maculata), the summer-blooming and statuesque white rein orchids (Piperia spp.), and the robust, water-loving stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea).

That wild orchids are relatively rare in California belies the fact that they rule the plant kingdom globally. With more than 28,000 species worldwide, orchids are rivaled only by the composites (daisies, dandelions, asters and their kin) in their evolutionary success. While the majority of species are found in the tropics, over the past 80 million years or so, wild orchids colonized nearly every terrestrial habitat on the planet, from deserts to mountain tops, even growing completely underground or up in the canopy of trees. And that’s not even counting the well over 100,000 horticultural varieties that adorn everything from bridal bouquets to boardrooms.

To what do these fabulous flowers owe their remarkable success? According to one NPR commentator, orchids are “manipulative, self-centered, wily and sometimes downright sadistic.” Translated to scientific terms, what she means is that orchids have evolved complex and energetically-efficient methods to attract their insect and other animal pollinators.

Take our innocent-looking calypso orchid, for example, which is pollinated by bumblebees. When we think of the relationship of flowers and bees, our romantic notion is of a partnership — the bee gets food in exchange for its hard and important work hauling pollen from flower to flower. Not so for the calypso. She only looks like she has nectar inside. The unsuspecting bee enters the flower, roots around for a reward, and leaves frustrated and hungry, but nevertheless with a packet of pollen stuck to its body.

Botanists call this “deceptive pollination” and orchids as a group are experts in trickery. About one third of all orchid species offer no real reward to their pollinators. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense. Why waste energy making nectar if you can lure your pollinator in other ways? Furthermore, real nectar has a habit of attracting all kinds of freeloaders — visitors with no evolutionary drive to deliver pollen to another flower of that same species. By faking it, orchid flowers can be more selective and therefore more successful.

Some orchid flowers smell like rotting meat to entice carrion-eating insects. Others look or smell exactly like the female of its preferred pollinator species. Males of that species will try vigorously to “mate” with the flower, only to buzz off dazed and confused. This particular strategy prompted noted author Michael Pollan to dub orchids “the inflatable love dolls of the floral kingdom.”

We would be wrong, however, to assume that the pollinators are completely gullible. In the case of the calypso orchid, once its bumble bee visitors learn that this flower cannot be trusted, they avoid it.

Why does this system not end in total reproductive failure for the flower? The calypso orchid relies on the fact that each spring a new cohort of queen bumblebees emerges from the underground burrows in which they spent their first winter. These young queens are searching for food for the first time. They are, as pollinators, “naïve” to the wiles of the floral world.

It turns out that this first flush of bees visits just enough orchid blooms to perpetuate the species. So when you do finally find, photograph, and delight in that calypso orchid this spring, give a mindful nod to the naïve bees that made it possible. “We will take only pictures, and leave only footprints,“ said Marks, adding that picking orchids or other wildflowers from state parks is illegal.

Orchid Outing

What: The route will include approximately a 250-foot elevation gain over 3 miles of varied trails, beginning and ending at Richardson Trail Head Parking Lot. The pace will be moderately slow and easy. Appropriate for ages 15 and up. Wear hiking shoes and layers appropriate for weather. Bring water and lunch. Trekking poles recommended. Some trails are rocky and uneven. Heavy rain or wind cancels.

Where: Trione-Annadel State Park. Meet at the Richardson Trailhead Parking Lot at the end of Channel Drive.

When: Saturday, March 30 from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Cost: Park day-use fee ($7 per car, $6 for seniors 62+) or display CA State Parks Pass.

No advance reservations needed. Dogs not allowed. Restrooms and water at the parking area. Orchids may not be harvested or collected.

Show Comment

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine