Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spectacular Spring Orchids

As promised, I'm here to deliver on some of the botanical treats I went searching for this past weekend during my foray into the famed and ever-mentioned Adams and Scioto counties in southern Ohio.  I've decided to dedicate this post purely to my cherished and timeless orchids I spend so much time admiring and photographing.  I've seen all the featured species on this post plenty of times but there's just something about them that draws me back in with each reawakened spring.  The anticipation and rush never wanes as I glance upon them for the first time, like old friends I only get to spend time with a handful of times a year.

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens)

If I've seen the large yellow lady's slippers (Cypripedium pubescens) once, I've seen them dozens and dozens of times but that has done nothing to dull the excitement of discovery.  Their golden glow set against the shadowed greenery of its newly lush forest habitat is a sight for sore eyes after a long winter.

Trio of large yellow lady's slippers
An uncommon double-bloomed plant on the R

While not state-listed and occasionally locally common in select areas of the state, large yellow lady's slippers' numbers have dwindled in recent decades as poachers and logging activities negatively affect this slow-growing and fickle plant.  It can take upwards of a decade for these and many other orchids to reach flowering maturity and some are highly sensitive to even moderate levels of disturbance.

Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis)

Showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis) was the very first wild orchid I ever saw in flower and from that moment on it cemented itself as one of my favorites for carrying that distinction.  I tend to see this species reach its best numbers in mature mixed mesophytic woods on mesic N-NE-E facing slopes where yellow buckeye, beech, sugar maple, and tuliptree are common associates.  While I love to enjoy these orchids with my eyes only, the same cannot be said for white-tailed deer.  Showy orchis is like candy to them and observing large, impressive specimens is always a special find due to high levels of predation.

Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule

Pink lady's slippers (Cypripedium acaule) are the black sheep of Ohio's indigenous lady's slipper orchids in both habit and habitat.  All other Ohio Cypripediums have leaves occurring on their flowering stems, however pinks have a leafless scape that arises from an equally unique pair of basal leaves.  In terms of habitat preference, pinks utilize dry upland oak/pine/hemlock forests with an acidic substrate while our other species all have an affinity and/or requirement for more moist, basic-calcareous soils.

Pair of pink lady's slippers in a Virginia pine stand
Rare white-flowered form of C. acaule

The venation pattern on the front of the "slipper" or "moccasin" acts as a visual nectar guide for passing bumblebees to notice and buzz over to for an inspection.  A sweet smell hints at the promise of a reward inside but the bumblebee only finds an empty, air-filled pouch it must now back out of and hopefully pick up some granular pollen in the process.  With any luck the bumblebee will visit another flower in a vain attempt at a meal and cross-pollination/fertilization will occur.  As with many other orchids and species of wildflowers, pink lady's slippers are known to occur in rare white-colored forms as pictured above.

Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana)

Perhaps the least visually appealing of the early orchids, the spring coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) is nonetheless charming in its own right.  If you take the time to carefully inspect each individual flower's lip you'll find a snow-white surface splotched with magenta polka dots in quite the artistic display.  This species is saprophytic and relies entirely on its relationship with mycorrhiza fungi in the soil for sustenance and cannot photosynthesize due to its complete lack of chloroplasts (hence why there's no green to it at all).

Small White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum

If there's any species of spring blooming orchid I look forward to the most and refuse to miss out on, it's the state-endangered and very rare small white lady's slippers (Cypripedium candidum).  These tiny wonders are only known to occur in a handful of high-quality prairie remnants in the extreme north and south parts of our state.  These particular plants are from a secluded dolomite limestone barrens in the depths of Adams county.

Small white lady's slippers with your narrators hand for scale

The word 'small' is in their common name for a reason as this lady's slippers' slipper is only about the size of the end of your thumb.  Their waxy white labellums are ringed with magenta dots and accompanied by yellowish-green dorsal and lateral sepals.  A soft but sweet fragrance is emitted from the bloom as well and gives the nose as much a reason to love them as the eyes.

Small White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum

Their miniscule stature takes by breath away every time I see them even though I know what to expect.  Each is so delicately designed and a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.  I could see these beauties for the next 50 years consecutively and I'd love them that much more on visit number 51.

Large Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata)
Large Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata)

Large whorled pogonias (Isotria verticillata) almost seem to be a floral ode to a mythical beast long lost to the past.  It appears like a dragon, ready to breathe fire and devour any prey foolish enough to come too close.  This orchid prefers more or less the same habitat conditions as the aforementioned pink lady's slippers and often times will even occur together in their acidic upland oak/pine woods.  It's common to see a population of dozens of sterile plants with (if you're lucky) one or a few blooming individuals mixed in.

Kentucky Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium kentuckiense) beginning to bud up

To end my day of plentiful orchids in peak bloom, I decided to cross the mighty Ohio River and check on a site for the rare Kentucky lady's slippers (Cypripedium kentuckiense) I've photographed and shared on this blog before. The typical eight plants were present and just beginning to bud up with one starting to get some color and open slightly.  Another week or so and they should be in peak shape and worth another visit.


  1. I have never seen the small white lady's slipper or the pogonia. Beautiful! Got several new orchids on my list from a trip to Alabama this spring, though. I have seen a white pink lady's slipper though, in the UP of Mich. Since the NCT/Buckeye Trail goes through Adams and Scioto Counties, I'm doubly interested in your finds.

  2. Wonderful account of your orchid adventures this year. I've seen Cyp. candidum only once before, and I was quite impressed. Still haven't been fortunate enough to photograph Cyp. kentuckiense in the last decade. And your description of Istotria verticillata is perfect -- dragons! We are fortunate to have a site with hundreds of blooming plants! Thanks again for your easily readable and informative blog. -- Jim Fowler, Greenville, South Carolina.

  3. Beautiful photos! Unfortunately in my area white-tailed deer and a few collectors have wiped out many of our orchids.