Types of Orchids: Pictures and Identification

picture of a Bearded-grass Pink Orchid Credit: Bob Peterson cc:Flickr, one of the types of orchids featured
Orchids (family Orchidaceaeare), the largest family of flowers in the world, commonly get associated with the tropics.

Actually, orchids are very adaptable. They grow almost anywhere, with many species found in temperate and colder climates.

Most types of orchids fit into the epiphytes category, meaning they are plants that grow on trees. Other species,including many North American species, grow on and around rocky outposts, forest floors, and like other flowers, from the earth’s soil.

Flora of North America lists 208 orchid species divides into 70 genera. Roughly fifty percent of native North American orchid species grow in Florida.

The top picture shows a Bearded Grasspink Orchid (Calopogon barbatus), one of five Grasspink species common in the Southeast.

picture of a Tuberous Grasspink Orchid, Calopogon tuberosus
The range of the Tuberous Grasspink Orchids, on the other hand, extends through most areas of Eastern North America.

Multiple reports suggest that gardener’s with a green thumb for growing plants that like acidic soils can propagate them in the back yard. The summer blooms produce multiple flowers on a thin stem.

So many types of orchids, so little space to present the. This article focuses on some major types of orchids from both the Western and Eastern areas of the United States.

Generally, they are the orchids that stand out with showy flowers and spotted during a walk in the woods or wetlands, the two predominant habitat for most types of orchids.

Fringed Orchids

picture of a Yellow Fringed Orchid. Credit: Greg Gilbert cc:Flickr
Platanthera, the genera with the largest amount of species, approximately four dozen, generally go by the common name fringed orchids and bog orchids.

Fringed orchids grow across the entire North American continent. Two species, the Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) and the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera praeclara) are listed on the endangered species, due primarily to the conversion of native prairies and grasslands to agriculture lands. Where they survive, they tend to stand out in a crowd, growing up to four feet in height, and covered by multiple white flowers.

A popular indoor and garden orchid, the Yellow-fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) thrive in both sun and partial shade areas. They prefer slightly acid soils (pH from 5 to 6).

Growing up to three feet in height, flower color ranges from bright yellow to deep orange.

picture of a white bog orchid, part of the types of orchids in the United States series
The white bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata) grows across the northern part of the United States. Along the West Coast, it grows, often abundantly in wet and sunny mountain meadows.

picture of a Small Green Wood Orchid, Platanthera clavellata
Small Green Wood Orchids can grow in most soils and altitudes as long as wetlands are present. That makes them very common species in the East.

Unlike the more colorful fringed orchids, the mostly small and green stem and green shaded flowers make it less noticed.

picture of a Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid, Platanthera psycodes
The lesser purple fringed orchid another Eastern orchid species that can be found from New England to the Southeast.

picture of a Platanthera peramoena, purple fringeless orchid
Purple Fringeless Orchids grow their showy flowers in sunny wetlands, bogs and swamps in most areas of the East, with exception of New England. Plans can grow a couple feet in height and the purple petals, up to an inch in length, really stand out.

Rein Orchids

picture of a Rein Orchid
Ten Piperia species inhabit western ecosystems. The Alaska Rein Orchid or Slender Spire Orchid,(Piperia unalascensis), the most common Piperia, also grows in small population in eastern Canada. A fairly inconspicuous plant, the short, thin stem provides the initial field identification clue, rather than the small green flowers.

Rattlesnake Plantain

picture of a Rattlesnake Plantain orchid flower
Rattlesnake Plantain refers to a genus (Goodyera) fairly common orchids that grow on forest floors across North America, including Canada and Alaska. Four different species have been identified.

While the small white flowers on the thin stem often do not stand out in a crowded forest floor, its green striped leaves make it easily identifiable when the plant is not in bloom. Most flowers bloom during the summer season.

picture of the leaves of a Downy Rattlesnake Plantain orchid
Here’s the leaves of a Downy Rattlesnake Plantain. It’s one of the easier to grow native orchids and suited to shady, wooded areas of a back yard with slightly acidic soil.

Hooded Tresses

picture of some Hooded Ladies Tresses
Spiranthes, a genus with approximately thirty species, get identified by the presents of small, spiraled flowers along the top of the stem. The Ladies’ Hooded Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) breaks that mold, with the most widespread distribution of all the Spiranthes species.

It can be found in meadows and bogs at both low and high altitudes in much of the Northern areas of the United States.

Coralroot Orchids

picture of a Pacific Coralroot orchid
Seven types of orchids with the common name Coralroot grow in North American forests, making them a popular discovery during a spring or summer hike.

Five of the species grow in the West, with the Pacific Coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana), pictured above, the only exclusively native western species. Like other coralroot orchids, it grows between one and two feet tall, and from a distance resembles little more than a thin plant stem covered with small blooms.

On close inspection the plant shows its pretty purplish blooms. The picture shows a flower close-up, enlarged by a factor of 2 or 3.

picture of a Spotted Coralroot Orchid flower
The remaining Coralroot species look like a variation of the second picture, the spotted coralroot, named for the spots on the petals.

picture of a Spotless Coralroot, one of five types of orchids in the coralroot genus
The Spotless Coralroot or Summer Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata), a very common Corallorhiza species, extends its range across North American woodlands. The name maculata derives from the Latin, meaning spotted, although, as picture two shows, there are some spotless varieties.

Lady’s Slipper Orchids

picture of a flower from the California Lady's Slipper orchid
There’s no mistaking the fifteen Lady’s Slipper Orchids for any other species. Their colorful petals grow large and they are book ended by the plant’s two large leaves. At least one species grows in every state with the possible exception of Florida.

The picture shows a California Lady’s Slipper. It’s range extends a bit north to Oregon.

picture of a flower of the Showy Lady's Slipper Orchid
Showy Lady’s Slipper have a range that extends across most of the East. Unfortunately they rank as the rarest of the species, due in part to habitat loss, lowland bogs and swamps.

Minnesota’s state flower.

picture of the White form of a Pink Lady's Slipper Orchid
Pink Lady’s Slippers are not particularly habitat picky. As long as there is acidic soil in and around a forest area, they will grow.

Some, like the one in the picture, have a white form. New Hampshire named the Pink Lady’s Slipper the official New Hampshire wildflower.

picture of a Yellow Lady's Slipper Orchid
Yellow Lady’s Slippers are probably the most common species. Their range extends across most of the Eastern United States from north to south.

More Types of Orchids

picture of a stream orchid, Epipactis gigantea
A western species, the Stream Orchid can grow up to five feet in height. The showy flowers grow along the thin stem, making it fairly easy to identify in the wild.

picture of a Western Fairy Slipper Orchid, Calypso bulbosa
The only species in the genus, the Fairy Slipper Orchid grows in old grow forest environments in the West and along the northern tier of states. It is less common in New England.

The plant grows low to the ground and the purple flowers stand out against a thin stem.

Growing Orchids as Houseplants

picture of a Cattleya Orchid flower
Growing orchids as house plants or garden plants adds to the orchid’s enthusiastic reception among gardeners world wide. For well over one hundred years, lengthy textbooks, along with smaller sized pamphlets offering orchid growing advice have attracted gardeners’ attentions.

While the lists of easy to grow and care for orchid house plants varies slightly, a handful of species from different genera tend to make most lists: Cattleya, Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum and Oncidiums as easy to grow orchids.

Growing species from any of these genera requires an understanding of the basic light, water, temperature and nutrition needs. Some genera such as Cattleya, pictured, require a good deal of sun or artificial lighting when grown indoors. Phalaenopsis, on the other hand, are medium light orchids that grow well without extensive sun exposure.