Showy Orchis

Galearis spectabilis. A denizen of deep woods and ravines, the Showy Orchis is the earliest orchid to appear in eastern North America. It flowers soon after the first bloomers, but in the competition for insect attention, may lose out to other, more plentiful flowers, especially Wild Geranium and the early Iris species that bloom in its neighborhood. The flowers are designed to attract early emerging female bumblebees, and is so finely designed that only the female, and not the later-emerging male, can provide pollination. It does its best to set a fine dinner table, with plenty of food and drink. A pair of pink-to-purple upper petals forms a hood over the reproductive flower parts to protect the rich supply of nectar from the rain. The white lower lip is large and wide, offering a comfortable landing pad for the bee.  While the bumblebee is drinking nectar, the flower is slapping pollen onto its hairs, in the expectation that it will be carried to a nearby orchis. The plant was long known as Orchis spectabilis, suggesting it was one of the earliest and most basic orchids, but has lately been reclassified as Galearis spectabilis. Galearis is from the Latin for “helmet,” a fitting reference to the protective “hood,” while spectabilis means “spectacular” or “showy.” The plant has also been called Preacher in the Pulpit because the flower parts look like a minister delivering his sermon from an old-fashioned, baffled pulpit. 

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