View All Aug 2, 2016

Found on the Greenway: Orchids

By: Elizabeth Rockholt, Catawba Master Naturalist

Often when we think of Orchids, the first picture that comes to mind is a lovely Orchid corsage that comes from a florist. The Orchid family (Orchidaceae) is the largest family of flowering plants with over 23,000 species.

Here on the Greenway a number of orchids bloom among us and often go unnoticed because of their small size and ability to blend in with the forest floor. Two examples of these elusive plants are the Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor) and the Downey Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens). People have asked if these are “rare” plants and the best reply is that they are not “rare” but “rarely seen”. I was excited to see both in bloom while hiking Sugar Loop.


The Cranefly Orchid derives its common name from resemblance of its flowers to the Crane Fly (Pedicia albeitta). Pictured above and immediately below. Interestingly, the dark green leaves with purple undersides of the Cranefly Orchid appear in the fall and then disappear in the summer when the flower stalk rises and the delicate flowers bloom. This occurrence is what makes the flower so difficult to spot. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the flowers that bloom along the 8” to 10” stalk are small and almost colorless. Flower hunters must look closely along the trails to see this hidden beauty.


Not quite so difficult to spot is the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens), pictured below. This small neat plant has interesting leaves that grow close to the ground in a circular or rosette pattern. Because the mottled markings on the leaves are thought to resemble the skin of the rattlesnake, Native Americans believed the plant could be used to treat snakebite. In the mid to late summer the plant sends up a tall spike with numerous tiny white flowers blooming in a cluster called a raceme. These plants can be found throughout the year along the Greenway trails.