Tricky

Native orchids can be tricky. I’ve failed and failed again with several. The reasons sometimes confound me. I’ve studied and attempted to duplicate their native habitat, that is, except for the mysteries of their desired soil content which are occasionally difficult to match.

While non-native Bletillas (above) require no more than the willingness to make the initial investment that quickly multiplies to become a splendid value, pink lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule, below) have proven to be the easiest of the natives. Again, the price is steep, but the reward is considerable when planted in bright shade. Next, I must plants several yellow flowered lady slippers to replace a few that were damaged in too much sun and too little moisture a year ago.

Both yellow and pink lady slippers are occasionally seen along mountain trails in the area, and with premium prices, it is disappointing that pilfering of natives is common. Despite the cost, I am quite pleased to increase my collection annually through specialty suppliers.

I am highly distressed that the stem of a treasured yellow fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris, below) was severed earlier this spring, likely by one of the dastardly rabbits that seem to be multiplying (like rabbits) in recent years. A year ago this was a highlight of the summer, but now it seems unlikely it will come back next year. I’ve hunted, without luck so far, for sources to plant others, and when I find them there’s no doubt I’ll plant more than a few of this long flowering orchid.

The least showy of the native orchids is the questionably named Showy orchid (Galearis spectabilis, below), that also seems a cinch to grow. This is another orchid found scattered along local mountain trails along with Putty Root (Aplectrum hyemale), Cranefly (Tipularia discolor) and Downy Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) orchids (all shown below). While the flowers of this group of native orchids are small, my wife and I are pleased to find them along the trail, but happier when they flower in the garden.

Showy orchid
The flowering stalk of Putty Root orchid. Putty Root and Cranefly orchids have been difficult to establish in the garden. Both are dependent on soil microorganisms that are sometimes confounding so that only a few survive more than a year in the garden.
The single leaf of Putty Root orchid fades in early spring before flowering.
The leaves of Cranefly orchids are typically green with purple on the lower side, but occasionally we see ones that are purple top and bottom,
The Downy Rattlesnake plantain is easy, but it does not fair well in competition so I must keep neighboring plants away.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Tina Utz says:

    Hey Dave…

    Can you tell me the best place to buy ‘Bletillas’ orchids online or locally? Meadows Farms??

    Do you do anything special for them— dig them up in winter, leave in ground with layers of mulch and/or leaves, etc etc? Or just leave them to their own devices?

    Thank you!!

    1. Dave says:

      I rarely see bletillas in any garden center. I’ve had excellent results purchasing online in the fall from a variety of sources, none that I recall at the moment. These are sold bareroot, but survival in part sun has been excellent. Just a few plants spread to be dozens within a few years. No care is necessary except to remove the old foliage before spring’s growth. They are very cold hardy, so no winter care is needed.

    2. Dave says:

      I should also say that once they have spread they are very to dig up to share.

  2. Tina Utz says:

    …and are they rabbit resistant ? (Sorry, forgot to ask)

    I suffer that particular scourge as well, and they are eating everything— even plants that have never been touched and are (supposedly) resistant.

    *insert expletives here*

    Thanks again!

  3. Dave says:

    We have rabbits, and I don’t do anything to protect them, so they might be resistant.

  4. Cecile myers says:

    I had a Hawaiian orchid that bloomed every year for 5 yrs but didn’t this year despite changing the pot with organic orchid putting soil. The orchid is brown and dry despite watering.😔 can I still rescue it?

    1. Dave says:

      Brown and dry is probably too far gone. While many cold hardy orchids are relatively easy, indoor orchids are more difficult long term.

  5. Lucy says:

    Re: bletillas and rabbits. I have not had any problems from either deer or rabbits in my big patch of bletillas. No insect pests either, or diseases.

    1. Dave says:

      I’ve had flower stalks of Downy Rattlesnake plantains severed, probably by rabbits, but no orchids have been eaten.

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