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 - Pure white, fragrant, borne on a spike from 3 to 6 in. long. Spur long, slender; oval sepals; smaller petals toothed; the oblong lip deeply fringed. Stem: Slender, 1 to 2 ft. high. Leaves: Lance-shaped, parallel-veined, clasping the stem; upper ones smallest.
White-Fringed Orchis (Habenaria blephariglottis)
Preferred Habitat - Peat-bogs and swamps.
Flowering Season - July - August.
Distribution - Northeastern United States and eastern Canada to Newfoundland.
One who selfishly imagines that all the floral beauty of the earth was created for man's sole delight will wonder why a flower so exquisitely beautiful as this dainty little orchid should be hidden in inaccessible peat-bogs, where overshoes and tempers get lost with deplorable frequency, and the water-snake and bittern mock at man's intrusion of their realm by the ease with which they move away from him. Not for man, but for the bee, the moth, and the butterfly, are orchids where they are and what they are. The white-fringed orchis grows in watery places that it may more easily manufacture nectar, and protect itself from crawling pilferers; its flowers are clustered on a spike, their lips are fringed, they have been given fragrance and a snowy-white color that they may effectually advertise their sweets on whose removal by an insect benefactor that will carry pollen from flower to flower as he feeds depends their chance of producing fertile seed. It is probable the flower is white that night-flying moths may see it shine in the gloaming. From the length and slenderness of its spur it is doubtless adapted to the sphinx moth.
At the entrance to the nectary, two sticky disks stand on guard, ready to fasten themselves to the eyes of the first moth that inserts his tongue; and he finds on withdrawing his head that two pollen-masses attached to these disks have been removed with them. This plastering over of insects' eyes by the orchids might be serious business, indeed, were not the lepidoptera gifted with numerous pairs. The fragrance of many orchids, however, would be a sufficient guide even to a blind insect. With the pollen-masses sticking to his forehead, the moth enters another flower and necessarily rubs off some grains from the pollen-masses, that have changed their attitude during his flight that they may be in the precise position to fertilize the viscid stigma. In almost the same way the similar yellow-fringed orchis (H. ciliaris) and the great green orchids compel insects to work for them.
A larger-flowered species, the Prairie White-fringed Orchis (H. lencophea), found in bloom in June and July, on moist, open ground from western New York to Minnesota and Arkansas, differs from the preceding chiefly in having larger and greenish-white flowers, the lip cleft into wedge-shaped segments deeply fringed. The hawk-moth removes on its tongue one, but not often both, of the pollinia attached to disks on either side of the entrance to the spur.