A Pair of Ladies

Early in May, after a morning spent photographing forest birds in the Mark Twain National Forest, I was thinking of calling it a day and heading home. Then it occurred to me—the Yellow Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum) should be in bloom. And I knew just where to find them, less than a five minute drive from where I was sitting.

I soon had the truck pulled over to the side of the road, scanning the woods for a flash of yellow. Knowing where to look helped tremendously and I quickly located two plants, less than a hundred feet from the road.

I moved the truck down the hill to a safe parking spot, grabbed my camera and hiked back up to the plants. I had only my birding lens with me—a Tamron 150-600mm with a minimum focusing distance of approximately 8 feet. Hardly an ideal setup for photographing wildflowers, but I was able to find an acceptable combination, backing off to about 15’ and shooting at roughly 350mm. It was so dark beneath the canopy that I was forced to shoot at 1/320 second, f6.3 (wide open with this lens)and ISO-1000. I can handhold the camera at these settings, especially when not at full zoom, but I was happy to have a conveniently placed tree to use as a brace.

Twelve years ago, I joined a group from the Missouri Native Plant Society looking for Lady’s Slippers and Twayblade Orchids in the same general area. That day we found a much larger group of Lady’s Slippers, almost 20 plants. Oddly enough, several plants were missing all or large parts of their blossoms. None of us had encountered such before, which was saying something since this group was led by Bill Summers, the author of Missouri Orchids. Not much can hide from a dozen nature geeks and soon someone had located this fellow inside one of the remaining blossoms.

I have not been able to positively identify this larvae, but I think it’s a cutworm from the Family Noctuidae, the Owlet moths. Even if I’m correct, this doesn’t narrow things down much. Noctuidae is the largest family of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) with at least 20,000 known species and estimates of up to 100,000 total species. Heck, this could be a new species. Makes me wish I’d kept him (I can not believe I didn’t.)

To suddenly come upon a colony of lady-slipper orchids in full bloom is a sight to be remembered always. They will hold you spellbound until you suddenly realize that they are real and that nature, once again, is the perfect artist.

Bill Summers, Missouri Orchids

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