Looking for Orchids

There was a time when boys gave their prom dates orchid corsages. The orchids in these were tropical, colorful, exotic.

Most tropical orchids grow high up on the trunks of trees. They are epiphytes, rooted into tree crotches in trapped dirt and using their own green leaves to make food.

Missouri’s orchids are ground dwellers. Some even live underground with only their flowers appearing in the light of day.

early coral root orchids

All an early coral root orchid sends up into the light is a flower stalk. The whole thing is maroon and hard to spot for color and being under eight inches tall.

Looking for these flowers is a good reason to go out hiking in the woods this spring. Do be aware that the ticks and mosquitoes are out in force.

Years ago I found a favorite walk up a hill, down into a ravine, back over the hills into another ravine. The habitats are varied and so are the plants. Deep in the first ravine are these strange plants looking like green vases made of leavesthat never seem to bloom.

Maidenhair ferns grow there too next to a fallen log. That log had been there for years before I found it and is still there fifteen years later. Little by little it is crumbling away.

Coral root orchid flower

Like other orchids sepals are above the flower and a lower lip hangs out and down in this early coral root orchid flower.

Beside this log an early coral root orchid was blooming. This is one of the orchids that grows underground. According to the Missouri Orchids guidebook, it is a sprophyte and forms a relationship with a fungus that eats decaying wood, in this case the fallen log.

I went back a number of years but never saw the coral root. It turns out this orchid blooms only some years, not others. It is back this year.

These flower stalks are hard to spot. They seem to like moister areas which makes sense since fungus likes moisture. They are six to eight inches tall and maroon in color. The stalks are slender with flowers branching off. The flowers are maroon with a white lower lip with maroon spots on it.

lady slipper flower

Lady slipper orchids are such a treat to find out in the Ozark woods. They are getting rare as people dig them up thinking they will grow in a garden. They don’t.

On my way up the hill from the coral root orchid I came across the showiest Missouri orchid, a lady’s slipper. There were two small plants with small yellow slippers. This is the first time I’ve found these orchids on a south facing slope. Usually they are on a north facing slope a dozen feet up from a ravine floor.

Seeing these slippers in bloom, I went back up into another ravine. Here too the lady’s slippers were blooming. There was even a double, two slippers on a single stem.

Having lady’s slippers in the garden would be lovely. But they would not survive. Yet many people succumb to the temptation to dig these plants up and move them. A few may survive. Most die leaving the woods barren of these lovely orchids.

lady slipper orchids

Two slippers on a stem make this lady slipper orchid a double. Some years these double orchids are common. Only one was in this patch.

So many slippers have been taken, two kinds have become extremely rare. It is such a treat to come across these lovely orchids back in a ravine. If you see some, leave them and savor the special opportunity you have to admire them.

There are other spring blooming orchids. One is the spring ladies tresses. I have seen one once. Normally I see the fall ones. I have a lead on some so I will be out looking for more Missouri orchids.