Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hunting Native Orchids and Wildflowers

Hunting Native Orchids & Wildflowers 

Dana Koogler

Tuesday June 9, 2015

    I like lots of things about outdoors. One of those things is native orchids.  I enjoy
locating them and viewing them. I appreciate their beauty. I like the fact that orchids are the most highly evolved of flower types.  I enjoy learning about the adaptations of them and how it relates
to the type of habitat they occupy.    Scientists think that part of the reason for the rapid evolution
of orchids as a species is possibly because of  genetic redundancy.  Orchids have more than one gene
to do a particular job in their growth and life cycle.  They can form mutations of their genes and the copy will still be able to do its job.  They can form multiple mutations of a gene and if one mutation is useful it gives the orchid a chance to evolve and adapt faster than other species could.

       Many native orchids are not particularly flashy or appealing visually to people.
Yellow lady slippers, pink lady slippers,rosebud orchids,  purple fringed orchids, yellow fringed orchids are the ones that are eye catching and we human wildflower strollers notice them.   They catch our eye with their bright colors. Other species of native orchid are just as interesting, but not as visually appealing. Puttyroot orchids, cranefly orchids, greenfly orchids, three birds orchid, adders mouth orchids, rattlesnake orchids,whorled pogonia, and ragged fringed orchids are some of our native species that are not as noticeable.  It makes them far harder to spot for a person hunting them.

    I became aware several years ago that Ragged Fringed orchids bloomed in a particular area of Cades Cove.  I went in search of them without success.   I spent hours wading through ferns trying to find them. I finally set the idea aside and focused on something else to help ease my frustration over it.    I kept the idea on the back burner. I figured I was doing something wrong. I had to determine what that was?

        I knew I was in the right area.  What if I was looking for them at the wrong time?
I set about researching the bloom time in greater detail. What if I was looking for them in the wrong
type environment? What if they didn't need fern laden forest floor to bloom?   I set about learning what type habitat they really needed to thrive.  

Above are two photos of the places I spent time hunting orchids unsuccessfully.

Above are several photos I took this past week when at last I was successful in locating them.

Platanthera lacera--Ragged Fringed Orchids.

      They were NOT out in the middle of those masses of ferns. They don't need that to live.
They like moist conditions. They need some sun and some shade. They can bloom out in a more meadow like conditions. They can bloom in woods with a partially open canopy.

              I don't give out locations of wildflowers or native orchids to all comers.
I will share the little I've learned that is helpful on the subject.

  •   If you are looking for a particular species of native orchid or any wildflower unsuccessfully reconsider the bloom time for when you're hunting them. Am I too early? Am I too late?
  •  Am I limiting my habitat search by wrong notions of the places this species grows? 
  • Do not give out wildflower or orchid locations to all who ask. You'd be surprised who might turn out to be a plant poacher. 
  • DO communicate with trusted fellow wildflower and native orchid hunters whom you have vetted and help one another.
  • Watch where you step and put your feet to avoid tramping orchids or wildflowers down. Wildflower photographers get over zealous and can get a bad reputation for being willing to do anything to get that shot.  
  • Try to avoid drawing attention of the masses to special locations when you have been successful in locating something unique or special.
  • Deer, hogs and other animals can trample or browse orchids and other wildflowers. Don't count on the fact they will always be in that location.  Sometimes they don't bloom every year. Sometimes they get eaten!
  • Obtain a copy of Stan Bentley's orchid book or other orchid guide to learn about them. The more you learn about them the greater your chances of spotting them.
  • Learn about companion or indicator plants and species that grow alongside native orchids or wildflowers. 
  • Orchids depend on mycorrhizal fungi in the soil to thrive and bloom. They don't transplant so don't dig.
  • A trail that is good for one type of orchid in a given season is often good for OTHER types of orchids in a different season. example: where you see Pink Lady Slippers in May you might want to rehike that trail to see Rose Pogonia in June or Cranefly orchids in August.
  • Join your native plant society to increase your knowledge, contacts and to improve your chances of going to someplace new to see new things!

View across Cades Cove from around the loop.


  1. Great find and good advice. Seek and ye shall find. That particular species I haven't yet seen. It's on my list.

    1. Thanks. I hope it can help some folks not get locked in a certain notion and waste time like I did. I find there is a pattern of that with me. I was in the right church, wrong pew regarding this orchid. I forgot to say in the blog entry.. I spent time checking out deer exclosure fences in the Abrams Creek flood plain. I was sure they were in those. The deer exclosures are gone now. shakes head sadly... I know another location for them, but they were not in bloom yet when I was there. I was too early and I am not driving all the way there again.


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