Shenandoah National Park’s Spring Orchids
I had always had the image of orchids being rare flowers that grow in tropical climates and necessitate delicate care like the ones you find in a flower shop. When I started researching wildflowers that we came across while hiking in Shenandoah National Park, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are several kinds of orchids that grow out in the wild there. In fact, there are over 30 orchid species recorded within the boundaries of the park!
At the same time, I was not happy to find out that some people poach these lovely flowers – taking them away out of the park. Not only is that illegal, but it is pointless. These orchids reproduce poorly and it is very difficult to transplant them successfully (5% success rate). Most die. If you add to that the fact that it can take one of these beauties up to 5 years to bloom, you really can see the tragedy of such actions. It’s best to enjoy these orchids in their natural environment and let them be.
Showy Orchis, or Galearis spectabilis, is a member of the Orchid Family (Orchidaceae) and blooms April to June in rich damp woods and along swamp edges. A native plant, it grows throughout most of eastern and central North America. Although a rare species, it seems to be the most common spring orchid growing in Shenandoah National Park. At least, that has been my experience.
Capital Naturalist has a great YouTube video on the Showy Orchis. I learned that it has a symbiotic relationship with certain fungi and that deer like to eat them.
Pink Lady’s Slipper
Pink Lady’s Slipper, or Cypripedium acaule, is a member of the Orchid Family (Orchidaceae) and blooms April to July. It grows in dry to moist forests, especially pinewoods. You find them growing in pairs and usually the entire colony is (mysteriously) facing in one direction.
A native wildflower, you can find Pink Lady’s Slippers growing throughout most of eastern North America as well as most of Canada.
Here is what the whole plant looks like –
And some close-ups of the flower –
And finally, my favorite!
Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper
Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper, Yellow Lady’s Slipper, or Cypripedium calceolus, is a member of the Orchid Family (Orchidaceae) and blooms in early to mid-May in Shenandoah National Park. In other places it blooms April to August. A native wildflower, it grows throughout most of North America. It favors bogs, swamps, and rich woods. Native Americans used the roots of this flower to make a drink to treat worms.
I say it is rare in Shenandoah National Park because I have only seen them growing in one place in the North District of Shenandoah National Park. Apparently they are more common in the South District.
Again, Capital Naturalist had an informative video on this flower.
Close-ups of the orchid –
A side-view –
View from behind –
An orchid with a less bulbous, more flat slipper shape:
After they’ve finished blooming, this is what they look like (we went back 2 weeks later to photograph them again, but they were already withering) –
I hope you have the opportunity to see these lovely orchids growing in the forest during your hikes in Shenandoah National Park as well. It always brings me joy when I see them.