I was astounded to find such a diversity of native orchids within Sherwood Forest. I have identified fourteen species so far and I am confident there are others waiting to be found.
There are a few rules to follow when hiking our trails to admire our flora. Stay on the trails so you don’t inadvertantly walk on emerging plants or damage their habitat. Each orchid species has specific requirements of their habitats that invlove soil pH, friability, moisture retention, amount and length of daylight and mycorrhizal relationships with neighboring plants. You cannot duplicate or even know what those requirements are. So please, do not even be tempted to remove orchid plants to transplant at home. They will die. Do not pick their flowers. Photograph them to share with friends and family!
Greg Allikas — former chair, American Orchid Society Editorial Board
This orchid, commonly called Putty Root or Adam and Eve, is found across the eastern U.S. and Canada from Louisiana to Quebec. It produces a single leaf in the fall, which stays green throughout the winter. The plant flowers in the spring as the leaf senesces. It produces 7-15 small flowers with a white-purple labellum. It is generally found in small, scattered populations, often near sugar maples and beeches.
Uncommon here and difficult to spot the flowers. Occasionally found on the Greenwood Trail. Like the Crane-fly orchid, the Puttyroot leaf persists through the winter and looks similar but has silver striping on the upper surface.
The common name “Putty Root” refers to the sticky substance produced by crushing underground corms.
The Pink Lady’s Slipper is the most common lady slipper in the Eastern US. It is well represented in Sherwood Forest and neighboring communities. It produces 2 basal leaves and a solitary flower with purplish brown to green petals and sepals. The labellum is a distinctively inflated pouch, magenta to white, often light pink with darker pink venation; a slit with inwardly rolled edges marks the front of the labellum. Frequently associates whith Eastern White Pine. Look for the Pink lady’s slipper in late April through May. If you are lucky you may find a plant with ‘alba’ flowers!
Cypripedium acaule is considered globally secure, and is common throughout much of its range. It does, however, exhibit persistently low reproductive rates, caused in part by erratic flowering and infrequent pollination.
Flowers can be light to dark yellow slipper flowers. Sepals and petals vary from light greenish-yellow with pronounced maroon streaks to dark maroon in color. This variety parviflorum is distinguished mainly from var. pubescens by its smaller flowers and slightly later blooming period. Also, the tall inflorescence often bears more than one flower. More common in our forest that the Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper.
The plant has 1 or 2 light to dark yellow slipper flowers. Sepals and petals vary from light greenish-yellow to dark maroon in color. The plant blooms for 2 – 2.5 weeks in mid to late Spring. This species is one of the most variable in coloration within the genus which always makes it a pleasure to enjoy the never ending color variations it comes up with!
Galearis spectabilis is found across central and eastern Canada and the United States, from Quebec to Oklahoma. When flowering in the spring and early summer, it produces up to 15 small, conspicuous flowers with a white labellum and pink or purple sepals and petals, which curve together to form a hood over the column. A noticeable spur extends out from behind the base of the labellum. Due to its distinctive flowers and 2 basal leaves, it is unlikely to be confused with any other orchid. It is fairly common in our area. Originally thought to be in the European genus Orchis.
Downy Rattlesnake Plantain is distributed across eastern and central Canada and the United States, from Quebec to Oklahoma. It is by far the most common orchid in our forests. Like other members of its genus, it produces multiple basal leaves which stay green throughout the winter; its leaves are distinctly veined with white and by a white stripe down the center. It has a densely packed inflorescence, producing up to 50 small, white flowers with a pouch-like labellum and a hood formed by connivent petals and dorsal sepal. Its tropical Asian “jewel orchid” relatives, from genera such as Anoectochilus and Macodes, are cultivated for their showy foliage.
The Small Whorled Pogonia is found primarily in eastern Canada and the United States, with a few populations in central U.S. states. It produces 4-6 greyish green leaves which form a whorled ring around the upper part of the stem. Its flowers are pale green, with the labellum often colored light yellow to pale green or white, usually streaked with green. It grows in forests and woodlands, generally preferring young, open-canopy forests.
Isotria medeoloides is globally considered imperiled, with most of the world’s population occurring in Maine and New Hampshire. It is considered rare, imperiled, or extirpated in every state in which it has been reported.
This species is found throughout the central and eastern United States, from Texas to Maine, and in Ontario. It has a purplish brown stem and 5 leaves which form a whorled ring around the upper part of the stem. The leaves are green on the upper surface, and occasionally greyish blue or green on the bottom surface. It produces 1-2 flowers with purple-brown sepals, yellowish green petals, and a yellow-green to white labellum, which is often striped with purple. It can be distinguished from I. medeoloides by its larger size and its purple, instead of green, sepals. It is known to form extensive clonal groups and can be found in mesic to dry forests and woodlands, and occasionally in bogs.
Although a more vigorous species than the Small whorled pogonia, Isotria verticillata is not common and known from only one location here.
Liparis liliifolia is distributed throughout much of eastern and central Canada and the U.S., from Oklahoma to Quebec. It has two, dark green, often glossy basal leaves. When it flowers in the spring and early summer, it produces up to 30 dark purple or rarely green flowers, which are distinctive for their wide, flat, and nearly translucent labellum. By contrast, the petals and sepals are long and thin, often drooping away from the flower. It can be found in mesic to moist woodlands, thickets, and forests, including deciduous forests, mixed pine forests, and occasionally floodplain forests.
This spring blooming orchid is known from only one location here. The genus Liparis is cosmopolitan, being found on nearly every continent.
Green Adder’s Mouth is widely distributed across central and eastern Canada and the U.S., from Texas to Newfoundland. It is a small orchid, no more than 50 cm tall, and produces one or rarely two glossy leaves mid-way up the stem, with a sheathing base that reaches down to the stem’s swollen base. It produces up to 160 small green flowers, with a three-lobed labellum and strongly recurved lateral petals. It flowers in spring and early summer in the northern part of its range, while in the south it blooms later into the fall.
Found in damp locations but inconspicuous and difficult to find. The most interesting feature is the birds eye view of the inflorescence. Unifolia means”one leaf.
Platanthera ciliaris is widely distributed throughout eastern and central Canada and the United States, from Florida to Ontario, and around the Gulf Coast to Texas. It is a large, showy plant bearing up to 115 bright orange or dark yellow flowers with a heavily fringed labellum. A long, cylindrical spur extends out behind the flower. It produces 2-4 large, spreading leaves lower down on its stem, gradually reducing to bracts in the upper portion of the stem. It can be found in moist meadows, marshes, bogs, and woodlands, as well as along roadsides.
It is fairly common in the Cedar Mountain area and in August can be found along See Off Rd. and on Reasonover Road under the power lines.
Platanthera clavellata is broadly distributed across central and eastern Canada and the U.S., from Texas to Newfoundland; in fact, it is one of the most widely distributed species in its genus. It produces 1 to 3 stem leaves, usually in the middle or lower half of the stem, and bears a somewhat dense inflorescence of up to 15 small, inconspicuous flowers. The flowers are yellowish green or white and are often incompletely resupinate (rotated 45 degrees instead of completely). The labellum is slightly three-lobed, and a thin spur extends from the back of the flower.
More common in the Pisgah Forest than here. Found in only a few small colonies here. As the common name suggests, it prefers a moist habitat. Sadly, the foliage of many Platanthera is attractive to deer.
Spiranthes cernua is widely distributed along the Coastal Plain and southern Appalacian Mountains. It produces 1-5 basal leaves held upright that may begin to wither shortly before the plant flowers but usually persist through anthesis. It bears a spike of white to ivory-colored nodding flowers that form a single row in a coiled spiral. This species is distinguished by its upward sweeping lateral sepals and a white to pale yellow labellum with conical, highly reduced tubercles. It grows in moist fields, meadows, bogs, marshes, and fens, as well as along roadsides and riverbanks.
Tipularia discolor is found throughout the eastern and central United States, from Florida to Massachusetts and west to Texas. It produces a single leaf in the fall which stays green throughout the winter with purple pigmentation on the underside. The leaf senesces in the spring before the plant flowers in the summer. Tipularia has spots on its leaves and nectar spurs on flowers which distinguishes this orchid from Aplectrum hyemale, which also has a wintergreen leaf. The somewhat asymmetrical flowers of this species are pollinated by noctuid moths.
Although common in the forest it is not always easy to spot the dull colored flowers. Sometimes easier to spot along roadsides from the low angle of a car seat. After the flowers die in late August, the plant gets ready to produce a single leaf which persists through the winter. Easy to recognize, the leaf is green on top and purple beneath.
All photographs © 2020 Greg Allikas and may not be used without prior authorization.