Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fall Orchids

One of my late September rituals is to make the rounds to admire the final orchids of the year.  Spiranathes ovalis is a late season orchid that is uncommon in Ohio, but which has been steadily increasing its numbers at Blue Jay Barrens.

I find Spiranthes ovalis typically growing at the base of steep wooded hillsides and the adjacent gently sloped area between the hill and the creek. 

The demure plants are difficult to find among the fallen leaves and competing vegetation in the shadows of the trees.  My initial discoveries are always made on the walking trails.  The trails typically get mowed twice each summer.  The second mowing is done in late August, prior to the elongation of the orchid flower stalk, so I don’t accidently decapitate one of these lovely flowers.  The orchid in the above photo is located in the lower right hand quadrant.

Blooms are withering on plants that opened their flowers early in September.  Many of the plants only produce a few flowers.

Others produce long spikes.  I’ve tracked many Spiranthes ovalis plants through the years and have found that they usually persist for four or five years before disappearing.  Even if a plant doesn’t flower in a given year, it will produce a cluster of basal leaves.  If a few years pass without leaves appearing, I assume the plant is dead.  Fortunately, new plants always seem to be emerging to take the place of those lost.

The second late season orchid, and my personal favorite, is Spiranthes magnicamporum.

This species is capable of producing some very robust flower spikes.  The flowers are not only large and attractive, they produce a strong scent.

There are a few individual Spiranthes magnicamporum plants scattered around Blue Jay Barrens, but only two areas where you can find a concentration of plants.  This past Sunday, I found a dozen plants blooming here.  Shallow, rocky soil with patchy vegetation typifies the conditions in which I am likely to find these plants.

The second site of Spiranthes magnicamporum plants is slightly steeper than the former, but no less barren.  This site had a large number of blooming plants last year.  I counted only seven this year.  It’s rather hard to predict just how well the orchids are going to do in any given year.

Not only were there fewer plants this year, those plants present developed flowers spikes much shorter than normal.  This species is also increasing in number.  That means it is more likely that I’ll find a few large, impressive plants each year.


  1. I never realized before that we have orchids in Ohio. Perhaps I've seen them and not recognized them as orchids.

    1. Hi, Lois. Most people associate orchids with tropical jungles, but there are about 50 species of orchid living in Ohio. No matter where you live in the State, you are not far from some of these interesting flowers.

  2. I really enjoy reading your posts, and they have inspired me to write my own blog. I just wish there were orchids on my property. In my area, I live at least an hour away from any area wild enough for native orchids:( Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, Jared. I'm sorry you don't have any orchids close by. My Flora of Illinois book lists about 50 orchid species living in your state, so when you do travel, there should be plenty to find.