Sunday, July 31, 2011

Orchids That Might be in Your Yard

People are always surprised to find out that there are native orchids in Georgia.  What may be even more surprising is how many there are and how common they can be in areas that they naturally grow.

Mention the word “orchid” and people envision colorful, showy flowers that come from other countries and which are largely considered house plants, especially in Georgia. Native orchids are much more diminutive and are generally pale colors – mostly white. If you could look at them through a magnifying glass (or hand lens – an inexpensive magnification tool used in the field), you would find them to be every bit as beautiful and intricately fashioned as their exotic family members.

Goodyera pubescens, foliage

One orchid that is found in my area is Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens).  What an unusual name for such a special plant.  Found primarily in the northern part of the state, this evergreen perennial has striking foliage.  Someone once likened it to “stained glass panes”.  It forms small colonies in wooded areas, and I have found that it transplants fairly well.  It sends up a single white bloom stalk in the summer.  Mine are flowering now.  I have it naturally in my yard and I have brought some in from rescues.

Goodyera pubescens, bloom
Tipularia discolor, bloom

An even more common orchid – you may have it in your own yard if you have a woodland area in Georgia – is the Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor).  Found throughout the state except for the coastal areas, this modest plant has only a single leaf.  However it usually forms colonies so you are likely to find a group of them.  This leaf is evergreen through the winter but then withers and disappears in the warm months.  The bloom stalk appears mid-summer and quietly blooms without the leaf.  The first bloom stalks are appearing in my woods now.  The leaf will reappear in a few months: green on top, purple on the back and with a slight ribbed texture.

Aplectrum hyemale
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 574.

A similar looking plant is Puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale). The leaf is larger, more ribbed, and the blooms are larger.  This plant is also called “Adam and Eve” because the underground structure is composed of two pieces. Like Tipularia, it also blooms without the leaf being present.

Lady Slipper orchids are rather well known examples of native orchids plus they are generally colorful, large, and showy. Pink Lady Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) grow in woodland areas that are rich in pines that are old enough to create a thick layer of pine duff (decomposing fallen pine needles). These beautiful plants bloom in late spring, delighting all who come upon them in the forest. They are extremely difficult to transplant as their root systems are large and depend heavily on beneficial organisms in the soil. The yellow Lady Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) is also found in North Georgia and appears to have less rigid growing requirements.

Pink Lady Slippers (Cypripedium acaule)

The fringed orchids (Platanthera spp.) are a group of small but attractive orchids that are found throughout the state. The one I’ve seen the most is Platanthera ciliaris, the yellow fringed orchid (although I find it to be more “orange”).  It is a remarkably resilient plant, and I’ve seen it growing in a variety of conditions.

Lady’s tresses orchids (Spiranthes spp.) have a distinctive look to them – the flowers spiral up (or is that down?) the bloom stalk, ensuring that people notice them even when they are not very tall.  The color of the bloom is usually white or yellowish-white. Spiranthes cernua, known as “nodding lady's tresses”, is found throughout the state.

Some orchids grow in specialized environments. Corallorhiza, the coralroot orchids, is a genus whose species are mostly leafless; they rely on symbiotic fungi within their roots for nourishment. No need to try cultivating them – the environments are not likely to be reproduced.

On several rescues we have found green adder’s-mouth orchid (Malaxis unifolia); it is found generally throughout the state. It is a modest little plant with just one leaf. This website has great pictures.

These are just a few of the orchids that grow naturally in my area of north Georgia. Keep a look for these and others in your area, and, when you find them, feel free to tell your friends that you have orchids that grow nearby!

And for a really neat one that is not in my area: Greenfly Orchid, also known as Bartram's Tree Orchid, (Epidendrum magnoliae) is found in coastal and south Georgia. As the name implies, it grows on trees. You can see pictures of it at this Florida Native Orchids website.

The following is completely unrelated to this topic, but I saw this while out walking this morning. This butterfly was totally captivated by the blooms on this Mountain Mint (I do believe it is Hoary Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum incanum). I was able to take picture after picture.  For those that want to plant nectar rich flowers, Mountain mints are something to consider!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, you have a really nice variety of orchids in Georgia! I've seen the Goodyera and pink lady slippers both in upper Michigan but not locally.