Out of Office:

By Jessica Clough on July 18, 2023 in Blog

Western prairie fringed orchid

Photo by Derek Miner, Land Stewardship Associate

It’s not uncommon for my out-of-office reply to read, “Off to see the saguaros.” Or maybe, “Hugging sequoias, be back Monday!” The nature vacation has endless appeal for me: days with nothing to do but hike a new trail, view charismatic plant life and camp in unideal temperatures.

A while back, I took a trip to see rare orchids. It was hot and humid, but I donned long sleeves, boots and pants for the mosquitoes. I was glad for the gear as I climbed around vines and stopped to watch birds. Eventually, I spotted the orchids. I gasped in awe.

Orchids are a prolific taxa (around 28,000 species!), so this story could be from a trip to nearly anywhere in the world. This time, though, the “trip” was just within Iowa. The orchid I saw was the endangered western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara) — a lifer for me. This particular population is carefully stewarded on public land.

We may not have record-size trees or towering cacti, but what we have here in our state is worth saving and exploring. All of the things I travel for — destination parks, trails, outdoor recreation — Iowa’s got it. This summer, may your nature vacation start just outside your front door.

While you may not be able to find this plant in the wild, you can enjoy it perpetually by downloading a coloring page featuring the orchid and one of its pollinators.