I went to a horse pasture in Mendon, on the hunt for the rare Ute Ladies' Tresses orchid. The pasture is the only documented place it occurs in Cache County.
“You don’t think you’re looking at one, and then you are. They just appear in the grass and pretty soon you can see them everywhere,” said Star Coulbrooke, the former poet laureate for Logan City.
In 2016, she did the same thing I did – hiked around the pasture with scientists looking for the rare plant.
I found nine new blossoms. They look like tiny asparaguses with little white blooms popping out of the spears. My nine brought the count up to 95 for this year’s bloom – a far cry from the peak of 1,973 in 2017.
“We mark every single flowering specimen. It’s a citizen science project but right now the citizens who are helping us are all trained in science, and so that really seems to help,” said Mark Brunson, a scientist and professor at Utah State University who studies how humans and natural systems impact each other.
Although there are fewer orchids blossoming this year, Brunson thinks there are still around 2,000. He’s not sure why this happens, but some of the orchids didn’t bloom this year. Without blossoms, we can’t detect them. The orchids in Cache County live on a protected pasture owned by the Bear River Land Conservancy, so they are safe from being killed by drying out or by development.
To Brunson and to Coulbrooke, Ute Ladies' Tresses are a very special part of Cache County’s unique botanical legacy.
“Most people in the valley just go about their daily lives and they don’t realize how much is out there, so being poet laureate I’ve been able to speak to people about those things and bring them in closer to their hearts,” Coulbrooke said.
Coulbrooke wrote a poem about these rare orchids called Ute Ladies'-Tresses In Wetland Pasture. It is an acrostic poem, with the first letter of each line of the poem spelling the title. It can be listened to below or read in her new book City of Poetry.