Did you know we have native orchids? Ladyslippers (Cypripedium), lady’s tresses (Spiranthes), and fringed orchids (Platanthera) are some of the very special ones but not very common. Two of our native orchids, however, are common enough to be found in ordinary backyards like yours and mine that used to be part of a native forest (especially if we remove smothering groundcovers like English ivy).
Cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) is an evergreen, single-leaf orchid that is found throughout the state in woodland areas. Each plant produces a single leaf about 3-4 inches long with a matte green upper side and a glossy purple lower side. The leaf fades in the summer and is replaced anew in the fall; mature plants have a flowering stem in late summer with tiny greenish/purplish flowers in a long cluster. Dust-like seeds form in dry capsules on a stalk that may persist over the winter. Look for the green leaves now. A similar, but less common, plant is puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale) which forms a single, lightly-striped leaf over the winter and flowers in late spring.
Our other common woodland orchid is downy rattlesnake orchid (Goodyera pubescens). This orchid is primarily found in the northern part of Georgia. The well-patterned leaves are arranged in a rosette which can get a little obscured by fallen winter leaves. The green and white leaves have a bright white midvein with many tiny white veins around it, in an arrangement not unlike stained glass. During the summer, a tall softly-hairy stem will hold a cluster of small white flowers while the leaves are still visible. The flowers turn to dry capsules and the seeds are quite small.
Look for these evergreen orchids during the winter. They might be in your yard or discover them on walks in parks and forests. We even find them on rescues. Each one is a reminder that where they live was once a vast area of rich forest. With the right encouragement and care, they can thrive right alongside us.