North Carolina Orchids: Pictures and Identification Help

picture of a some Lady's Tresses from the North Carolina Orchids series

Many orchid enthusiasts will tel you think North Carolina Orchids when you think orchids. From the coastal in the east to the mountains in the west, a hike at the beach or in the woods is a great way to come into contact with any one or more of the state’s approximately seventy native orchid species.

Two orchid genera, the Lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes) and Fringe Orchids (Platanthera) account for thirty of North Carolina’s seventy orchid species. Both groups have species specific to coastal areas, the piedmont and the mountain areas. A few species are also found state wide. Therefore, there’s always a nice handful of Fringe Orchids and Lady’s Tresses to be found anywhere in the state during an afternoon outing.

By far, the Lady’s Tresses rank as the hardiest of the North Carolina orchids with a few species found along the coastal area from February through December. The picture at the top of the page shows a coastal Lady’s Tresses species. The small white flowers encircling a thin stem of a plant makes for easy orchid identification at the genera level. A look at the plant leaves and the time of bloom are necessary for identification at the species level.

Because many species of North Carolina orchids share a similar habitat, certain areas of the state are known as orchid hot spots. the Green Swamp in the southeast part of the state is one such orchid hot spot.

It’s a habitat consisting of grasslands and pine forest, with an extra acid soil atop the normal coastal sandy soils. About two dozen native orchids call the area home, making it a great spot for orchid watching.

A recent article from The Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society called, Orchids of Atlantic Coast Barrier Islands from North Carolina to New York, also reported on a ten year study of orchids found growing in the Outer Banks and concluded:

The region between and including Nags Head Woods and Kitty Hawk Woods on Bodie Island, North Carolina, provides suitable habitat for a relatively large number of orchid species, including Cypripedium acaule, Goodyera pubescens, Habenaria repens, Listera australis, Platanthera cristata, Pogonia ophioglossoides, Spiranthes odorata, S. praecox, and Tipularia discolor.

Vacations on the Outer Banks just got a bit more exciting adding orchid hunts to the daily boating and swimming to do lists.

picture of a some Summer Coralroot Orchid from the North Carolina Orchids series
Orchid societies abound in the Piedmont area, home to North Carolina population centers such as Charlotte and the state Capitol, Raleigh. These groups promote the local orchid trade and provide tips for growing both indoor and outdoor species.

Monthly meetings keep members up to date on what’s blooming in the great outdoors. Forested areas surrounding North Carolina population centers are a great place to look for all three of the native Coralroot species. They bloom spring, summer and fall, and also have the common names spring coralroot, summer coralroot and fall coralroot.

The picture shows a Summer Coralroot, also known as a Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata). It is the most wide ranging of the native coralroot species. They grow singularly or in groups. As the picture shows, Spotted coralroot occurs occasionally as a single above ground flowering scape or as numerous scapes from a clone. Corallorhiza maculata

picture of a Showy Lady's Slipper Orchid, one of North Carolina Orchids series
The mountains of Western North Carolina are perhaps the best place to find the always popular Lady’s Slippers. Four different species live there: Pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule); The Small and Large Yellow Lady’s Sipper (Cypripedium parviflorum); and the Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae), presented in the picture.

The orchid’s wide leaves and larger than average petals contrasts nicely with the aforementioned Lady’s Tresses and Coralroots.

Higher altitude and a colder climate generally mean a more limited orchid growing season. Late spring and summer are the best times to search for the approximately two dozen native orchids in the area.

More Types of Orchids


picture of a group of Showy Orchids, Galearis spectabilis
One of the nicer looking forest orchids, the Showy Orchid or Purple-hooded Orchid has large green leaves and a nice bunch of flowers per plant. Together, the leaves and flowers can stand out during the late spring bloom.

picture of a Putty Root orchid, Aplectrum hyemale
The single leaf Putty-Root Orchid grows in shady forests throughout the east. Plants usually don’t grow very tall. The multiple blooms help catch the eye in the wild.

picture of a Waterspider Bog Orchid (Habenaria repens)
An unassuming orchid of the Southeast, the Waterspider Bog Orchid could easily be overlooked because the thin, green stems can bunch together and look like clumps of grass growing in the swamp. A close look with reveal some small green to white flowers.

picture of a Green Adder's Mouth orchid, Malaxis unifolia
Fourteen Adder’s Mouth species across entire United States. Green Adder’s Mouth grows less than a foot in height. The single leaf and small flowers means it can often go unnoticed.

picture of a Rose Pogonia orchid, Pogonia ophioglossoides
A single, thin leaf and a single rather purplish looking flower define the Rose Pegonia, also called the Snakemouth Orchid. It’s another of the wetlands orchids of the east.

Endangered Orchids of North Carolina


picture of a White Fringless Orchid, one of five endangered North Carolina Orchids
Five North Carolina orchids also get listed by the state as endangered. The picture shows a White Fringless Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis). Along with the Dragon’s Mouth (Arethusa bulbosa) and Small Whorled Pogonia (Isotria medeoloides), they grow in the mountain west of the state.

Giant Orchids (Pteroglossaspis ecristata) are indeed giants in the native orchid world. They grow between two and five feet in height, with correspondingly long leaves and brackets of flowers. Most of the average native orchids grow between one and two feet in height. They can be found in Hoke and Cumberland Counties in the southeast part of the state.

Manyflower Grasspink (Calopogon multiflorus) is listed as both endangered in North Carolina and on thee Federal Species of Concern list. They grow in the Longleaf Pine Forests of coastal Onslow County.

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