I stumbled upon a population of Three Birds Orchid last year while attending the CU Spinners & Weavers Gild Natural Dye Day at Forest Glen Forest Preserve, an hour from Champaign in Vermilion County, Illinois. In the meantime, I’ve had an entire year to educate myself on this little plant’s elaborate flowering regime. Jim Fowler, author of Wild Orchids of South Carolina, sent me the most detailed account describing how to make this happen. Basically, the evening temperatures at the end of July, early August must cool at least 10°F over a 2 or 3 day period. 48 hours later, the flowers will open for just one day. Jim sent me an entire series of images to familiarize myself with what they look like a day late, day early, or way in left field. He termed these “phases of disappointment”. Jim also mentioned an outlier year where they bloomed the next day after a 15 degree evening drop.

Armed with this information, I watched the forecasted weather predictions like a hawk. End of July was on the horizon and Central Illinois had a 12 degree evening temperature drop the night of Sunday, July 24th. I checked Tuesday the 26th to find large white buds and again Thursday the 28th to discover it was a bloom day. These were in flower 4 days after the temperature drop. Just as Jim had outlined. Having these tiny plants with large white flowers for the first time allowed me to witness just how large this particular population actually was. They were EVERYWHERE. Some were a mere rocks throw from the car! I could see them from the parking lot. I’m told it’s amazing what inconspicuous things I see…I find it amazing how much I don’t see.

I had horrible lighting that afternoon and ended up spending most the day waiting for clouds to block the sun. Coincidentally, I was in-between jobs during this time, or maybe I quit my job for this occasion…who knows! At any rate, I had ample time to enjoy the day with these little plants and capture their delicate elegance to the best of my abilities. Below are fruits of my labor.

Three Birds Orchid is notoriously rare in Illinois according to literature. I assumed a drive to this population at Forest Glen was where I had to go to see this little plant in flower. A month after seeing that population in flower, while in the Middlefork Valley photographing Beech Drops, sure as shit there’s a group of Three Birds Orchid out of flower, 30 minutes from my home at a location I’ve been to repeatedly…

Now if I could just find Ragged Fringed Orchid within the Middlefork Valley. With my track record, I’m sure I’ve walked past it 😉


One thought on “Three Birds Orchid

  • I just got around to reading this, (I don’t know how I missed it), and it is a wonderful account of the science behind this orchid’s strange flowering pattern. I’m glad you found a population close to home, because it really is a disappointment to drive a long distance to find that you are either a day too early or a day too late.

    Jim Fowler, Greenville, South Carolina

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