I've been on the road a LOT the last couple of weeks--some for work, some for fun, some for family (which is a little of both). So I haven't been keeping as close an eye on the woods and the lovely pink lady-slipper orchids as I did last year.
Between a weekend trip to Boston and Rhode Island and a three-day tour of the farthest north and east (that is, downeast) corners of Maine, I snuck out for a walk and discovered the big, beautiful blossom above, but no neighbors.
Then this weekend, after a whirlwind day trip to Mount Desert Island, I returned to the woods and found a second, somewhat stunted lady. And in her maw, I saw the nose of what looked to me like a fly. But when I read about lady-slippers later, I found that the bumblebee is the only insect considered strong enough to work its way in through the labium of the slipper and shimmy up out through the top, pollinating the flower in the process. That bug looked pretty dead, but maybe it was resting up for the emergence. I didn't have my hand lens and didn't want to handle the flower for fear of damaging it.
Meanwhile, the big flower I'd seen last week had lost her slipper--it was laying on the ground nearby with what looked like a clean snip where it was cut away from the rest of the flower...
And a hole chewed in the back. Had a bee gotten too lazy to emerge in the conventional way and nibbled its way out instead? My book on the subject says that orchids are not dined upon by insects because of the chemicals they give off, which makes the hole in this particular flower mighty suspicious.
Also, where did all of the other lady-slippers I'd seen last year go? There had been eight, but I only saw the two (one place I haven't looked yet). And last years' seemed to last weeks and weeks. The book indicates that if the flowers set seed, they're less likely to flower again, or may come back stunted (like that second picture, I suppose) the following year. I didn't notice whether last years' plants had seed pods, but they are located near a patch of wild blueberries, which should increase the chances of a bumblebee finding them. I suppose I should be keeping more detailed records about their location, dates of appearance, and associated weather patterns, like a proper naturalist. Maybe next year.