British portrait photographer Sir Cecil Beaton gave this inspirational advice: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”

While I don’t think he had plants in mind, the grass pink orchid follows his edict. This eye-pleasing plant would never be described as a creature of the commonplace. In fact, the grass pink orchid is anything but ordinary.

According to The Flora of Martha’s Vineyard, published in 1999 by the Martha’s Vineyard Sandplain Restoration Project, grass pink, Calopogon tuberosus or Calopogon puchellus, is rare, reported on only five up-Island sites when that book was released. That fact was likely unknown to West Chop resident Seth Buddy, who stumbled upon and photographed this plant flowering in Chilmark last week while birding.

Its stunning unusual pink flowers caught his eye, and its unfamiliarity led him to send the photo for identification.

Grass pink is both daring and different. Though it is an orchid and related to the more familiar lady’s slipper, it has unique characteristics that differ from other orchids.  The name of the genus, Calopogon, translates to “beautiful beard,” referring to the yellow-tipped hairs on the flower’s upper petal, or lip.  

These hairs attract pollinators, usually bumble and other long-tongued bees. This, however, is a trick, since neither nectar or pollen are available from that lip, and the visiting bees are lured and fooled into fertilizing the crafty Calopogon.

The weight of the bee resting on the lip will cause it to collapse forward and downward onto the exposed reproductive column on the lower part of the flower, dusting the back of the bee with pollen, which is then transported to the next orchid. A repeat of the process in subsequent flowers enables cross-pollination to occur: a brilliant, if not devious deceit.

The function is fine, but the structure makes the orchid appear upside-down when, really, it is right-side-up for its peculiar pollination plan.

Grass pink orchids are also called pink bog orchid, bearded pink, and swamp pink, all names suggestive of their preferred moist environs. 

Henry David Thoreau called them pink purple and made his own observations about them and their nearest relatives: “The very handsome ‘pink purple’ flowers of the Calopogon pulchellus enrich the grass all around the edge of Hubbard’s blueberry swamp, and are now in their prime.”  He called Calopogon and the species closely related to it “flowers par excellence, all flower, all color with inconspicuous leaves, naked flowers and preserve.”  Thoreau had one disappointment: their beautiful pink shades had not yet earned them suitably poetic monikers. He termed them flowers “without a name. Pogonia! Calopogon! They would blush still deeper if they knew what names man had giving them.”

This beautiful bloom has no other cause to blush. Its proud posture enables it to hold its head up high — at least until its cunningly effective pollination strategy comes into play.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.