This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Purplish pink, I in. long, 3 to 15 around a long, loose spike. Sepals and petals similar, oval, acute; the lip on upper side of flower is broad at the summit, tapering into a claw, flexible as if hinged, densely bearded on its face with white, yellow, and magenta hairs (Calopogon = beautiful beard). Column below lip (ovary not twisted in this exceptional case); sticky stigma at summit of column, and just below it a 2-celled anther, each cell containing 2 pollen masses, the grain lightly connected by threads. Scape: 1 to 1 1/2 ft. high, slender, naked. Leaf: Solitary, long, grass-like, from a round bulb arising from bulb of previous year.
Preferred Habitat - Swamps, cranberry bogs, and low meadows.
Flowering Season - June - July.
Distribution - Newfoundland to Florida, and westward to the Mississippi.
Fortunately this lovely orchid, one of the most interesting of its highly organized family, is far from rare, and where we find the rose pogonia and other bog-loving relatives growing, the calopogon usually outnumbers them all. Limodorum translated reads meadow-gift; but we find the flower less frequently in grassy places than those who have waded into its favorite haunts could wish.
Owing to the crested lip being oddly situated on the upper part of the flower, which appears to be growing upside down in consequence, one might suppose a visiting insect would not choose to alight on it. The pretty club-shaped, vari-colored hairs, which he may mistake for stamens, and which keep his feet from slipping, irresistibly invite him there, however, when, presto! down drops the fringed lip with startling suddenness. Of course, the bee strikes his back against the column when he falls. Now, there are two slightly upturned little wings on either side of the column, which keep his body from slipping off at either side and necessitate its exit from the end where the stigma smears it with viscid matter. The pressure of the insect on this part starts the pollen masses from their pocket just below; and as the bee slides off the end of the column, the exposed, cobwebby threads to which the pollen grains are attached cling to his sticky body. The sticky substance instantly hardening, the pollen masses, which are drawn out from their pocket as he escapes, are cemented to his abdomen in the precise spot where they must strike against the stigma of the next calopogon he tumbles in; hence cross-fertilization results. What recompense does the bee get for such rough handling? None at all, so far as is known. The flower, which secretes no nectar, is doubtless one of those gay deceivers that Sprengel named "Scheinsaftblumen," only it leads its visitors to look for pollen instead of nectar, on the supposition that the club-shaped hairs on the crests are stamens. The wonder is that the intelligent little bees (a species of Andrenidce), which chiefly are its victims, have not yet learned to boycott it.
"Calopogon," says Professor Robertson, who knows more about the fertilization of American wild flowers by insects than most writers, "is one of a few flowers which move the insect toward the stigma. . . . There is no expenditure in keeping up a supply of nectar, and the flower, although requiring a smooth insect of a certain size and weight, suffers nothing from the visits of those it cannot utilize. Then, there is no delay caused by the insect waiting to suck; but as soon as it alights it is thrown down against the stigma. This occurs so quickly that, while standing net in hand, I have seen insects effect pollination and escape before I could catch them. So many orchids fasten their pollinia upon the faces and tongues of insects that it is interesting to find one which applies them regularly to the first abdominal segment. . . . Mr. Darwin has observed that absence of hair on the tongues of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and on the faces of Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, etc.) has led to the more usual adaptations, and sparseness of hair has its influence in this case. Species of Augochlora are the only insects on which I found pollinia. These bees are very smooth, depending for ornament on the metallic sheen of their bodies. An Halictus repeatedly pulled down the labella (lips) of flowers from which pollinia had not been removed; and the only reason I can assign for its failure to extract pollinia is that it is more hairy than the Augochlora."