[caption id="attachment_48519" align="alignleft" width="400"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2019\/06\/IMG_0293.jpg" alt="" width="400" height="866" class="size-full wp-image-48519" \/> large purple fringed orchid. Photo courtesy of Rosanna Springston[\/caption]\r\n\r\nLaura Dean Bennett\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\r\nCranberry Glades has one of West Virginia\u2019s most unique ecosystems. It\u2019s long been known for its unusual flora \u2013 such as the 16 different species of orchids that grow there.\r\n\r\nCranberry Glades is really an ancient peat bog \u2013 the remains of the last glacier to recede from this area thousands of years ago.\r\n\r\nAll of this time, dead sphagnum and the detritus of thousands of years of the life and death of native plants have been collecting here.\r\n\r\nThis medium \u2013 called peat \u2013 holds water like a gigantic sponge.\r\n\r\nSo the ground is usually slightly-to-extremely swampy, and large areas are covered in dense skunk cabbage and meadow rue.\r\n\r\nMuch of Cranberry Glades\u2019 plant life is typical of what might be found hundreds or thousands of miles north of West Virginia and thousands or millions of years back in Earth\u2019s history.\r\n\r\nBog-rosemary, for instance, is one of the many plants that reaches the southernmost limit of their range at Cranberry Glades.\r\n\r\nIt can be found growing along the edges of the boardwalk.\r\n\r\nBesides ancient and northerly species of flora and delightfully dainty orchids, cranberries can be found there \u2013 hence the name of the place.\r\n\r\nEvery year, the Cranberry Nature Center hosts an informative and entertaining West Virginia Native Orchid Tour, which draws a small crowd that comes to get face-to-face with native orchids growing in Cranberry Glades.\r\n\r\nThis year, the tour will be held on Saturday, June 29, and will once again be hosted by naturalist and Monongahela National Forest employee Rosanna Springston.\r\n\r\nSpringston is well-versed in our native flora, especially our beautiful native orchids.\r\n\r\nShe is also a customer service representative at the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center and a talented outdoor photographer, as proven by the many gorgeous photographs of Cranberry Glades\u2019 orchids and other fauna.\r\n\r\n\u201cRosanna\u2019s strong interest in our flora has made her the resident expert at the nature center,\u201d Cranberry Mountain Nature Center Director Diana Stull said.\r\n\r\n\u201cShe drives for miles when someone tells her about an orchid she\u2019s never seen.\r\n\r\n\u201cRosanna can spot the flowers she\u2019s looking for from the time they emerge from the ground. And she can spot an orchid while riding in a car at 55 mph.\u201d\r\n\r\nSpringston takes her interest in plants a little more seriously than most.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s not uncommon to find me crawling around the boardwalk looking for plants,\u201d she admitted.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019m working on becoming a master naturalist. I\u2019ve had some botanical training through college and have always loved plants. But I\u2019ve been lucky to know some amazing plant people who were willing to share their knowledge with me.\r\n\r\n\u201cIf anyone is interested in native orchids, the orchid tour is a good place to start. It\u2019s nothing overly technical - you\u2019ll get a nice overview of West Virginia orchids.\r\n\r\n\u201cFor those who have been \u2018botanizing\u2019 for a while, I\u2019ll go over some of the hybrids and harder to find orchids.\r\n\r\n\u201cOut of the 30-plus species found in West Virginia, we\u2019ll see at least nine of them in the field that day. That\u2019s a pretty big chunk of our orchid species.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe tour begins with a photo power-point about our native orchids, that usually lasts about an hour.\r\n\r\n\u201cThen we take a five-to-ten minute break before starting the field portion. We\u2019ll look at a few orchids here at the center and then travel to the Cranberry Glades boardwalk and an area close to the boardwalk.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe tour will then take visitors down the half mile boardwalk built to bring visitors within sight of many species of flora.\r\n\r\nSurrounded by red spruce, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, black birch and speckled alder, the unique ecosystem of Cranberry Glades offers a virtual stroll back into the Ice Age.\r\n\r\nIf you want to really talk orchids \u2013 Springston can get into some detail.\r\n\r\n\u201cCranberry Glades is a beautiful example of a high elevation bog,\u201d she said.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere have been about 16 different species of orchid recorded here in Cranberry Glades. This is an acidic wetland consisting of sphagnum moss and other decomposing plant material which make it ideal for rose pogonias and grass pinks. These two orchids are considered true bog orchids - which can only be found in strongly acidic conditions like sphagnum bogs.\r\n\r\n\u201cOne of the rarer orchids growing here is the Northern Coralroot, as it grows exclusively in acidic situations of a sphagnum bog.\r\n\r\n\u201cAs of right now there are only two known sites in West Virginia where this orchid grows \u2013 the Cranberry Glades and the Gaudineer Knob area.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe Northern Coralroot is also one of our earliest flowering orchids, blooming as early as May.\r\n\r\n\u201cWest Virginia is home to around thirty-seven orchids, ranging in size from two and a half inches (Heart leaved twayblade) to two feet in height (Large purple fringed orchid).\r\n\r\n\u201cSome are brightly colored pinks that really put on a show and stick out, while some are small and hard to spot. Others will have blooms that last only a day like the three-birds orchid.\r\n\r\n\u201cSometimes\u00a0we\u00a0also\u00a0get oddities.\r\n\r\n\u201cFor instance, the large purple fringed orchid which is normally a bright pink\/purple has shown up as snow white before.\r\n\r\n\u201cOr we get crosses between two orchids in the case of the Shriver\u2019s frilly orchid and the Keenan\u2019s fringed, which are both a cross between the purple fringed and the ragged fringed orchids.\u201d\r\n\r\nBut if you know absolutely nothing about orchids, you will still enjoy the tour, because there\u2019s lots to see besides orchids.\r\n\r\nDeep green mounds of a beautiful, hay-scented fern inhabit the understory of the surrounding forest and visitors may catch sight of an orangy-red Canada lily, the fragrant mountain laurel or its pretty pink-blooming cousin, the rosebay rhododendron.\r\n\r\nThe area is also home to running clubmoss, which likes drier and more acidic places and in more moist and shaded areas, fan clubmoss may be present.\r\n\r\n\u201cAs we go around the boardwalk I\u2019ll point out other plants, like the cranberries, carnivorous plants, and anything in flower that presents itself,\u201d Springston said.\r\n\r\n\u201cRight now, pitcher plant, cranberries, wild raisin, elderberry, partridge berry, false hellebore, grass pink, and rose pegonia are just some of what\u2019s blooming out there.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe also usually get to see a few bird species, sometimes some snakes, and when the weather\u2019s nice, we\u2019ll get some butterflies as well.\u201d\r\n\r\nEveryone\u00a0is\u00a0welcome\u00a0to\u00a0 join\u00a0the\u00a0tour.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe get all kinds of visitors for the tour - serious botanists, people just getting interested in plants and sometimes we\u2019ve had people who just happened upon our event that day,\u201d Springston said.\r\n\r\nPlan to join Springston for the West Virginia Native Orchid Tour at the Cranberry Nature Center on Saturday, June 29, and prepare to be enchanted by our exotic West Virginia orchids.\r\n\r\nIt\u00a0begins\u00a0at\u00a010\u00a0a.m.\u00a0with\u00a0 the\u00a0indoor\u00a0program.\r\n\r\nThere is no charge for the program or the tour and the nature center. \r\n\r\nThose taking the tour should prepare to be at Cranberry Glades for about three hours or so.\r\n\r\n\u201cBut that\u2019s completely dependent on how many questions I get and if it rains on us,\u201d Springston explained.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe field portion of the tour usually lasts at least two hours - if the weather is good.\u201d\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s suggested that you wear sensible shoes, and you may want to pack water, rain gear and a picnic lunch - and don\u2019t forget the camera!\r\n\r\nThe Cranberry Mountain Nature Center is located on Kennison Mountain, 23 miles east of Richwood and 14 miles west of Marlinton at the junction of WV Rts. 39\/55 and Rt. 150 (Highland Scenic Highway).\r\n\r\nThe Center is open from April 15 through mid-October, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday.\r\n\r\nFor more information about the West Virginia Native Orchid Tour, Cranberry Glades, the Falls of Hills Creek, the Cranberry Nature Center, the Highland Scenic Highway or the Monongahela National Forest, contact the Nature Center at 304-653-4826.