Plant of the Week
Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides (L.) Ker.)
By Thomas Philipps
The Rose Pogonia is the only member of this species in Texas. Pogonia is from the Greek word pogon meaning “haired” or bearded” and Ophioglossoides, the species name, derives from several Greek words that refer to a resemblance to a snake’s tongue. This is illustrated in some of the other common names for this orchid which include snake mouth orchid or adder’s tongue leaved pogonia.
The rose pogonia has from one to three rose pink to white flowers. Each bloom emerges just above a separate leaf like bract near the top of the stem. The flowers, which are about 1 inch wide, are composed of three elliptic sepals and two oblong petals. The spoon shaped lip of the flower is veined with crimson purple and is bearded with numerous yellow leafy projections. The flower emerges just above a leaf like bract. It is pollinated by bees.
Pogonia ophioglossoides occurs in sphagnum bogs, meadows, pine savannas, flatwoods, and wet prairies from Newfoundland to southern Ontario and Minnesota, then south to southeast Texas and east to southern Florida. This species is recorded from 11 counties in east Texas primarily in the Post Oak region of east-central Texas and the Longleaf Pine Belt of southeast Texas, to include the Pineywoods region of deep East Texas where it is restricted to hillside seepage-bogs, seepage slopes, and baygalls. It occurs where there is nearly constant seepage of a mucky peaty substrate. It is most frequently associated with the following plants in East Texas: pitcher plant (Sarracenia alata), evergreen bayberry (Myrica heterophylla), reticulate nut rush (Scleria reticulata), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), Texas tickseed (Coreopsis linifolia), pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare), and several beakrushes (Rhynchospora macra, Rhynchospora oligantha). Despite the fact that Pogonia ophioglossoides is known from 11 counties in east Texas it is not found throughout these counties. Instead its habitat is restricted to seepage-bogs and requires periodic fire to maintain suitable habitat.
In his poem “Rose Pogonias” about finding a meadow with a thousand rose pogonias, Robert Frost described the air as “stifling sweet/with the breath of many flowers…” Mary Francis Baker, in Florida Wild Flowers (1926), said the rose pogonia “tantalizes with a suggestion of many perfumes”. Other authors have likened its aroma to the sweet scent of raspberries (Gibson 1905). In contrast, Thoreau wrote of the orchid in the Summer of 1884: “The adder’s tongue arethusa smells exactly like a snake. How singular that in Nature, too, beauty and offensiveness should be thus combined. In flowers as well as persons we demand a beauty pure and fragrant which perfumes the air. The flower which is showy but has no odor, or an offensive one, expresses the character of too many mortals”.
Note: Portions of this text were taken from “Wild Orchids of Texas” Joe and Ann Liggio, University of Texas Press, 1999. Used by permission.