Twayblade Orchid

Finding twayblade orchid in all the green can be challenging

Can you imagine finding this 5-inch tall plant in all the green growth of spring? I had trouble finding it, and I had its location marked. They aren’t one of those things you’d spot from a distance. This one is called twayblade orchid (Liparis lilifolia). Eight of its flowers were open, with a lot more still budded.

Orchids are monocots — plants with leaves with parallel veins, and flowers with 3 petals and 3 sepals. Orchid flowers have bilateral symmetry, which means the left and right side are mirror images of each other. They have one petal that differs from the other 2 in size, color or shape. The lowest petal is called the “lip.”

Close-up of flower to better show structure.

In the twayblade orchid the other 2 petals are the thin pink “filaments” hanging downward. Only one shows in this picture. The stalk of the flower is pink too. The 2 whitish “supports” for the lip and the one angled upward are the sepals that orginally enclosed the flower. The lip was 1/2 inch long.

Orchids usually don’t have a separate pistil and stamens. The column contains the reproductive parts: the anther, with its pollen, is the male part and the stigma, the female part.

Twayblades are a perennial that grow in woodlands and wet meadows. Liparis  means “fat or shiny,” referring to the succulent leaves. They grow from a corm, which forms off shoots that develop into new plants. If you look to both sides of the base of the plant in the top picture, you’ll see 2 young plants. Also in the picture is the seed stalk from last year’s plant. It has one capsule near the top.

Even common orchids are anything but common. One of the more conspicuous ones at my place is nodding ladies tresses (Spiranthes cernua). They bloom in the fall. Most years I find 5-10 at the most. One year way back when 123 bloomed! And there’s never been a year anywhere near that number since.

Eleven orchid species have been found on my place: 5 species of ladies tresses (one is state endangered),  fall and spring coralroots, green fringed orchid (which grows in the grass and is hard to spot), twayblade, cranefly and puttyroot orhids. The latter 2 have a single leaf that overwinters and wilts before the plant blooms. One of the ladies tresses that blooms earlier is a challenge to find. I know where to look, and still have problems finding its single spiral of 4-6 mm flowers.

I haven’t seen some of these species in years and aren’t sure if their populations still exist. They can go dormant for years. If conditions aren’t right, they won’t come up. I read somewhere a long time ago that showy orchis can go dormant for 40 years. That isn’t fair!

They’re always an exciting find.

P.S.  I rest my case. Twayblade orchids are difficult to spot.

I made a loop on my hike yesterday afternoon to check the blooming status of the orchid above. Then to my surprise, I found another 2 plants and one of them was blooming. Two flowers were open, and it had 8 buds. The plant was only 2 1/2 inches tall. I can’t believe I didn’t  step all over these when I was here the last time. They were only 2 feet from the orchid in the above pictures. Not to mention I spent most of my time photographing from the side where this little orchid was.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Therese on April 22, 2012 at 10:47 am

    You are a wonderful educator!!! Wonderful pictures! The details you note are awesome! Thank you.


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