June 03, 2020
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Spring visitors discover ladyslippers in Walden Parke Preserve

Brian Swartz | BDN
Brian Swartz | BDN
Ladyslippers similar to these have been found in the Walden Parke Preserve off outer Essex Street in Bangor.

On May 27, 2011, my family decided to go to the Orono Bog Boardwalk and then take a bike ride in the Bangor City Forest.

The bog and the forest floor were carpeted with wildflowers as it is every spring. The ubiquitous bunchberry looks like a small herb, but, in fact, is a dogwood tree that is specially adapted to our northern forests: everything except the leaves and flowers is buried underground. The blueberry bushes were heavy with waxy, white blooms. Near the third interpretive station on the Orono Bog Boardwalk we saw marsh trefoil with its furry white flowers and several lady slipper orchids.

Orchids are always a rare treat.

Many other people had the same idea we did, but once out in the bog, a calming silence descended as the visitors spread out along the boardwalk. The cotton grass swayed gently in the breeze. We knelt and looked down at tiny spikes of orchids and tall reddish stalks topped by tight, marble-sized buds. These will open into leaf-like pitcher plant flowers. Here and there were bog laurels with showy pink blooms.

The family bike ride didn’t go as planned. Emma wasn’t feeling well, and wouldn’t ride beyond Bog Brook. My wife and Emma headed to the car while Henry and I rode along the loop trail. We were going to ride out the back of the City Forest, down the old railroad grade, and up through the Bangor Land Trust’s Walden Parke Preserve to meet my wife along Essex Street.

Even though the parking lot at the end of Tripp Drive had been full, with cars parked along the road and out to the circle, we only saw one person on the whole ride. We did see a fat porcupine waddling down the railroad grade. He scuttled into the woods at our approach, looking back over his shoulder to see if we were still following.

In the water-filled ditch next to the trail grew wild callas, their white blooms sticking up out of the water. Along the sides of the trail bloomed fringed polygalas, singly and in large masses. The purple flowers looked like small orchids, surrounded by several rounded leaves.

At the top of the first rise in the Walden Parke Preserve, I stopped to wait for Henry. I watched him laboring up the gravelly trail, and I noticed that the woods along the trail were full of lady slippers.

They grew alone or, surprisingly, in bunches of four or five, looking like a single plant; the blooms were yellowish, white, pink, or purplish red and every color in between. I had never seen so many orchids in one place. It was the same through the entire preserve. Thousands of orchids: The handful of lady slippers we had seen earlier along the bog boardwalk would’ve been lost in this explosion of orchids.

The next day I returned with my wife, and we rode other narrow trails through the preserve. The orchids were most common where the woods were high and dry, with rocky soil, but they were everywhere. With all my years of hiking and searching out lady slippers each spring, I felt confident declaring this the largest orchid patch in the state. This year the orchids are blooming earlier than last year because of how early the snow cover melted and the woods warmed up.

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