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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth De Cicco

Orchids for Drawing III

Finding a perfect specimen is challenging. A month before I even had to start my final project, two of my full-sized orchids were in bud. In order to ensure that they would flower in time, I moved my purple spotted Phalaenopsis from a shady window to the hottest, sunniest spot I could find. Within a matter of days, the sun had burnt one of the upper leaves and my poor plant was damaged and stressed.

Potted Orchids were impossible to find after Mother's Day, so I was considering drawing a native orchid instead. Listera australis, the Southern Twayblade, is the earliest flowering orchid in my area. I studied populations of this orchid for a volunteer project, so I knew exactly what habitat to look for. Amongst hundreds of tiny specimens still in bud (3-4"), I found one large specimen (9-12" tall, likely with a deep, slender root beneath the sphagnum moss). I considered going back to draw it in-situ, but I knew I was going to another site that could potentially have the orchid. Listera australis is an S4 in NJ, although it is considered Threatened and Endangered in the surrounding states. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission tracks populations of this orchid and I believe the NJ Heritage Program archived historic populations. It would have made a really nice drawing, but it is very tiny considering the time-frame I had to complete my final. I have watercolors and sketches of this orchid already, so I decided to keep looking for other species.

Listera australis, April 17th 2021 in Burlington County NJ

My next option was Cypripedium acaule, the Pink Lady Slipper Orchid. The leaves emerged later than I expected this year, certainly not in time for my project, so I stopped looking for them. I grew up with this orchid in my backyard, so this may have been the first year in my life where I did not get to see it in flower.

Cypripedium acaule with moths, May 31st 2020 in Sussex County, NJ

With one month left to do my project, I discovered that Lowes had acquired all the miniature Phalaenopsis plants I had been looking everywhere for. It really takes the fun out of finding a specimen when you have to go to a big-box store. It's incomparable to bushwhacking through a swamp or a forest, taking a chance that something might be flowering under the dappled sunlight. Hopefully, future specimens will come from the depths of the swamp and be rendered natural lighting. My partner has been teasing me about all my hours with produce and domesticated flowers. Last year, we saw so many orchids in the wild without even trying.

I'm pleased with how this drawing turned out after weeks of layering 6H, 5H, and 4H. When I was close to finishing it, I started a second drawing of a dark pink miniature orchid. I could have finished both projects, but I had a three day vaccine-induced fever shortly after starting my line drawing. I submitted my Drawing III portfolio on May 21st.

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