Planting orchids

A few days ago, two orders of native orchids arrived. I had only a very general idea where all would be planted, but with plants in hand decisions were made quickly to get them in the ground that evening before dark. Upon review a day later, I believe all were located as ideally as possible, knowing that the fullness of the garden has long limited ideal placement of many additions.

Not long ago, I was unaware that there were orchids native to the area. Of course, references tell me there are several, but where are they? There are many native plants that I’ve never recognized in their habitat, but then I saw the single, striped leaf of the Putty Root orchid (Aplectrum hyemale, above) along a woodland trail just a few miles from home.

The leaves of Putty Root and Cranefly orchids are purple on the undersides. Putty Root is green striped with white on top, and Cranefly is a darker green without stripes. Occasionally, the top of Cranefly’s leaf is also purple (above).

Soon after, I identified the similar Crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor, above), and now I was intrigued, researching, then locating Showy (Galearis spectabilis, below) and Rattlesnake Plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens). A few yellow ladyslippers (Cypripedium, below) were found, then pinks, and of course I had to have some of each for the garden.

Showy orchid (Galearis spectabilis)

I have grown non-native, terrestrial orchids (Bletilla, below) successfully for years, and these multiply readily, so the initial expense purchasing ladyslippers and other natives was less concerning, knowing that the return on the investment grows by the year. I’ve since discovered that native orchids are not nearly as vigorous as bletillas, but this has barely diminished the value in having small groups of each in the garden.

Many of the natives can be a bit confounding, with dependencies upon mycorrhizal fungi found around roots of American beech and maples for ideal growth. Despite my best efforts locating Putty Root and Cranefly orchids in suitable ground, I have had limited success, but several of each return annually.

I’ve been luckier with other orchids, and happily ladyslippers grow most vigorously, justifying their high initial expense. The flowers are also much larger and showier, and I am likely to add a few more every year.

The Yellow Fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris, above) is native to parts of Virginia, though I have not seen one in its habitat. Several were grown successfully in damp ground and part sun in the garden, but I was quite disappointed to find severed flower stalks earlier this year. More were planted this week where rabbits might not be a problem, I hope, and now I look forward to seeing all in the spring.

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