Orchids in the Maryland Piedmont

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Aplectrum hyemale
Puttyroot or Adam-and-Eve is a hibernal perennial: a single leaf grows from a corm (an underground plant stem) in autumn, taking advantage of winter sunlight coming through the deciduous trees under which it grows, and then withers in spring. If conditions are right, it will then send up a flowering stem. In the Maryland piedmont that will be sometime in mid to late May. It’s native to eastern North America, and is on six northeastern states’ conservation lists (as endangered, threatened, etc.).
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Galearis spectabilis
Showy orchis has a similar range to puttyroot, and grows in similar habitats (rich, moist soils in deciduous woodlands). It’s not a hibernal, though: the two basal leaves of a mature plant appear in spring and persist until mid autumn (young plants have only one leaf). A single flowering raceme produces up to a dozen flowers; look for them in starting in mid April in the piedmont. The flowers are purple and white, but there is a form with all-white blossoms, as shown here. Showy orchis is on five states’ conservation lists.

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Cypripedium acaule
Pink lady’s slipper or moccasin flower grows in a wider range of habitats than the previous two orchids, including mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands, and has a more northern and eastern range that includes the Appalachians, New England, the upper midwest, and parts of Canada. It’s listed in four states. Like showy orchis, the plant consists of two basal leaves and a single flowering stem, but this stem produces only one flower. It’s a spectacular one, though. Look for it in early to mid May in the piedmont.

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Goodyera pubescens
Downy rattlesnake plantain is yet another native of eastern North American woodlands. This orchid likes drier, more acidic soils than the others. The plant has a basal rosette of white-striped evergreen leaves, and produces a single flowering spike in mid to late July. The spike can be more than a foot tall, with dozens of flowers crowded along the topmost portion.
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Tipularia discolor
Like puttyroot, cranefly orchid has a single hibernal leaf that withers before the single flowering raceme emerges. This usually happens in mid to late July, and the flowers open roughly two weeks later. There can be four dozen or more tiny flowers on the spike. This is also an eastern North America native, but it’s found more to the south and west than the others. It’s listed in five states. Cranefly orchid grows in moist soils in deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands. At first glance the flowers seem to be bilaterally symmetrical, but they are actually a little torqued.
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6 thoughts on “Orchids in the Maryland Piedmont

  1. Very nice. I only saw my first Puttyroot plant this weekend over in VA.

    I too love the Cranefly, so cool; and I love that I first found them all on my own. I’ve found the Small Green Wood Orchid (Platanthera clavellata) in the same patch of land as the Cranefly at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. Sugarloaf also has plenty of Pink Lady Slippers, and Large Whorled Pogonias (which never seem to flower).

    • Very neat! I do hope you get to see the puttyroot in bloom. I’ve never seen small green wood orchid or large whorled pagonia, though I’ve been watching for them at Sugarloaf. I can’t recall at the moment but the pink lady slippers pictured in this post were photographed either at Sugarloaf or in Washington, DC.

      • Large whorled pagonia aren’t hard to find, there are a couple patches of them right on the Blue trail near where it meets Mt. Ephraim Rd. I’ve seen both Cranefly & Small Green Wood off-trail around streams in that same area. (Just be careful for poison ivy, snakes, ticks, and lots of water-logged ground.) Cranefly were pretty plentiful; SGW not so much, I’ve never seen more than a few plants on a trip. There should be Rattlesnake Plantain in the same general area.

        Sugarloaf should also have a couple of fringed orchids and coralroots, but I’ve never seen either.

  2. I know the area – I explored it a lot last spring. That’s where I took photos of the large ferns (cinnamon, interrupted, and royal). I need to go again soon.

  3. I was up at Sugarloaf the past 2 weekends, and the Cranefly and Downy Rattlesnake are in bloom. At the very least, you can find them scattered along a fairly large section of the Yellow Trail. I also found a post-bloom Twayblade.

    I think I misidentified the Puttyroot I thought I had found, so I’m back to square 1 on that; but I did finally see the Large Whorled Pogonia in flower at Seneca Creek Park, along with Lily-leaved Twayblade, and Green Fringed.

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