And Another Orchid

Once again, my friend K (the orchid whisperer) sent me a photo of an orchid blooming. The story is not dissimilar to the last one, so I’ll spare you the narrative and get right to the facts.

<—do you see them? they aren’t easy to find!

Liparis liliifolia grows in a large variety of habitats, wet and dry, soils more or less acidic. But mostly it likes disturbed areas, for example where there’s more sunlight due to a tree falling; however, populations will decline after a few years as the forest canopy closes in again.

Like showy orchis and pink lady’s slipper, it sports two basal leaves. The single flowering stem can bear up to 30 flowers.

Currently the Maryland DNR ranks large twayblade S2S3 (S2=imperiled/state rare; S3=vulnerable/watchlist). It’s endangered in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island, and threatened in Massachusetts and Vermont.



Common names include large twayblade, purple twayblade, lily-leaved twayblade, brown widelip orchid, russet-witch, and mauve sleekwort.

I can’t get over that translucent lip.






distribution map from USDA PLANTS Database

A Few More Orchids

A week before the pilgrimage to find large whorled pogonia, I’d found a few nice stands of showy orchis. It’s fairly common in dry-to-moist woodlands of the Maryland Piedmont, but it’s on the RTE lists of Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island. I noticed while doing a quick web search that the name “orchis” (with the “s”) isn’t used often anymore; now it’s called “showy orchid”. This species used to be known as Orchis spectabilis, but recent taxonomic changes now have it as Galearis spectabilis. The common name “showy orchis” is just a translation of the old Latin name. You’ll find it under that name in older wildflower guides.

At any rate, this one grows just two thick, wide leaves at ground level, then sends up a single shoot bearing a dozen or more purple and white flowers. All-white forms are also known, but uncommon.

Also blooming about now is Cypripedium acaule. Like showy orchis, this plant produces two basal leaves, though they stand more upright; however, there’s only a single spectacular flower per plant. Pink lady’s slipper (aka moccasin flower) is fairly common (for an orchid) in moist woodlands throughout its range, but is listed in Georgia, New York, Illinois, and Tennessee. I’ve found it on acidic soils, near Vaccinium and other species in the Ericaceae.

A few days ago I ventured out again (more about that soon), and unexpectedly found a single specimen of yet another orchid, Aplectrum hyemale. Putty root, also known as Adam and Eve, is hibernal: each plant produces one leaf in the autumn that persists through the winter and into spring, then dies before the plant sends up a single shoot that bears about 15 flowers. According to the Go Orchids site, putty root seems to be found near sugar maple and beech trees. I’ve only seen it in deep shade, which makes it difficult to photograph.

Most (or perhaps all) terrestrial orchids in our area require complex associations with soil fungi in order to live, which is one reason why they aren’t widespread. As a result, orchids poached from wild areas usually die within a year of being transplanted.

further reading about orchids and mycorrhizal fungi:
Orchids and Their Mycorrhizal Fungi
Mycorrhizal fungi affect orchid distribution and population dynamics
Orchids Are as Finicky as the Fungi That Nourish Them


Friday morning, 8 May 2020: cool weather, overcast, rain threatening. In a little while I’m supposed to go on a hunt with some on-line friends who I’ve never met in person. Our objective: large whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata), one of the more bizarre-looking orchids found in Maryland. I’ve decided to forgo the trip (bad weather for shooting, headache, I’ve already walked the dogs four miles today, the coffee is hot and tastes good), and then I get a message from my friend K. The message is a picture of a pogonia, on the same trail we’re planning to hike.

Well. Fifteen minutes later, coffee is guzzled and gear is packed, and I am underway.

How crazy are we? I arrive at the appointed place, introduce myself to D, and make excuses to continue on solo while he waits for B, as it’s already raining lightly and I really want to get good pictures. Ten minutes of fast hiking and I arrive at the place where the plants are known to be, and… nothing. Oh wait, there’s one, just barely in bud. That’s it. I spend 20 minutes searching, poncho deployed against the rain spattering through the trees, and can’t find anything. I hear D and B coming up the trail. We all start looking. Nobody can find it, even though we know it’s there because we have a photo from just a few hours ago. D starts combing the area while B and I walk the rest of the trail, each carefully watching one side and switching sides on the way back.


We return to D. He hasn’t found it, either. It’s now been 55 minutes since I got to the spot. Three experienced botanerds can’t find this orchid. Damn this is a stupid hobby. My head hurts. At least the rain’s let up.

Reluctantly deciding that we just need to get on with our lives, we head back toward the cars. D and B pause to look at something, and I glance off to the other side, and: “uh, guys?”  Because there it is. Right there.

We probably looked like the three wise men* worshipping at the manger, the way we gathered ’round, slightly bent, at a respectful distance (from the orchid and from each other, social distancing), hardly breathing, taking in the singular beauty of the thing. Oh, who am I kidding, this is one ugly flower. But it’s an orchid, and orchids have their own magic.

I was able to spend about 20 minutes shooting before the rain started again. In those 20 minutes did I get the perfect picture? No. Twenty minutes is long enough for me to get warmed up and start noticing all the little things that need to be tweaked (like light bouncing off a leaf in the background, or the bug that I never saw landing on the flower just as I pressed the remote shutter release). But I got a few good shots, and finally met two people who I’ve been friends with online for years, and we all got to see an orchid.

I’ll call that a good day.

To be fair, a flower like this is hard to spot. Standing only about 8 to 10 inches tall, and colored green, yellow, and brown, it’s well-camouflaged among the leaf litter and other plants.

As you can see from the USDA map, large whorled pogonia’s native range is from eastern Texas northeast to Michigan, Ontario, and barely into Maine. The species is on seven states’ RTE lists, but thankfully is secure in Maryland. Look for it in moist to dry woodlands with sparse ground-level vegetation. I’ve observed it growing among Vaccinium species, which suggests it might like acidic soils. It’s just starting to bloom in the Maryland Piedmont.


*or Larry, Curly, and Moe, nyuck nyuck

Losing Myself

Tuesday, 8 May 2018
8:16 leave house a little later than intended
8:47 arrive at park, shoulder daypack, start hiking
9:04 find orchids, set up, start shooting; reposition tripod several times, swap lenses, try some hand-held shots – the usual. About 15 minutes later, check my phone.

It’s 9:45.  Hmm.  Just a few more shots before heading back.

10 minutes later, check the phone: it’s 10:15.

That’s pretty typical for me when I’m shooting anything, but it’s worse when the subject is orchids.

This is Cypripedium acaule, pink lady’s slipper, a terrestrial orchid native to eastern North America. It ranges from the Appalachian Mountains in the south into most parts of the mid-Atlantic, New England, the upper Midwest, and Canada. In Maryland it seems to be in all the physiographic provinces but we have the most records for it in the piedmont.

It’s endangered in Illinois, unusual in Georgia, commercially exploited/ endangered in Tennessee, and exploitably vulnerable in New York. The fact that it’s exploited is particularly troublesome because, as I’ve written many times and as poachers really ought to know by now, transplanting orchids from the wild is a good way to kill them. They might survive for a little while, but without the correct fungus in the soil, they won’t reproduce and will soon die. The USDA Forest Service has a nice little article with more details.

This is what they looked like eight days earlier. —>

Although not on Maryland’s RTE list, this orchid isn’t common. If you find some, take a moment to lose yourself in the beauty.

Seven Down, Forty-some To Go

Sunday evening I’m on the computer, browsing various internet forums*, and I see a post from someone who’s found some nice flowers in a nearby park. When I read the words “large whorled pogonia,” my heart skips a beat.


So first thing Monday morning, plans to go hunting for lady’s slipper orchids are scuttled, and off I go to add another wild orchid to my life list.


Isotria verticillata (formerly Pogonia verticillata and Arethusa verticillata) ranges from eastern Texas northeast well into New England. It’s endangered in Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire; threatened in Michigan and Vermont; exploitably vulnerable in New York; and possibly extirpated in Maine. But it’s secure in Maryland, where it can be found in the piedmont and some western parts of the coastal plain.


Like most orchids found in the continental US, large whorled pogonia is terrestrial. It likes moist to dry woodland soils, and is pollinated by bees. Also as is typical of our native orchids, because of specialized cultural requirements, it isn’t very common.

I was on the same trail just five days before shooting these pictures, and didn’t see the plants. As you can see from the previous picture, they don’t exactly stand out, but they aren’t hidden, either. On the other hand, here’s a picture of one recently emerged and not yet open. I think it’s likely that five days ago there weren’t any to see.*fun for grammar nerds