Stalking Wild Orchids

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I realize this isn't the right section of the forum for this post, but it didn't seem to fit too well anywhere else.

When I see others post their images of wild orchids here I get pretty excited about going out and finding some myself. This last week I had the rare opportunity to take some vacation time so we went camping in the Nicolet National Forest. Given some time (and ability) constraints we stuck to the campgrounds and designated trails, but I specifically chose the latter based on whether they included bogs and wetlands. I figured that would give me my best chance of seeing orchids. Except for a few very obvious genera whose leaves I know I'd recognize (Cypripedium parviflorum, Aplectrum, Goodyera) I was pretty much relying on something being in bloom for me to know what it was.

As it turned out the bog very close to one of our campsites may have orchids in it. I first got all excited about the profusion of pitcher plants in bloom (images later) and then I started noticing leaves in the sphagnum that just looked "orchidy" to me.


Returning the next day alone (my consort gets a little bored with my botanizing so went kayaking instead) I decided to sacrifice a pair of shoes and went off on one of the deer trails following the firmer mat between the shore and the eye. Soon I was finding larger versions of those "orchidy" leaves. Then I was finding ones that had bloomed with the flower stem remaining with a bract (?) at the tip. Finally I came across this plant with a nice fat capsule.



To me it looks like a Cypripedium. I compared the leaves to the drawings of all the other orchid genera found in Wisconsin in my wildflower field guide and didn't think they looked like any of the others. And, given that it's got a single pair of leaves maybe it could be C. acaule. Now that I know where they are, I could probably time a trip up there when they're supposed to be blooming but I can't take any vacation time between March and July.

Now for my questions. How do you who go out and seemingly find wild orchids left and right do it? Do you go to known spots? With knowledgeable guides? Do you research ahead of time? Do you just happen on them? Are you just out so much that it's inevitable? My time outdoors is so limited I'd like to maximize it and would love any tips or advice you'd care to share.

i'd agree that that's a Cyp. as for finding wild ones, i go to my friends' yard where i've seen them in the past. also, going to areas which have the types of vegetation which commonly grows in areas with the orchids i'm huntin' be it pine trees, boggy, etc....

oh yeh... and one (or at least, i) doesn't come across orchids left and right, unless you get lucky.
don't you have a good pair of boots?
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I just wanted to post here and let you know I'll do a little writeup of my tips this evening. I've got a yard to mow and an orchid vendor to visit!
Thanks, Zach. I was hoping you'd chime in on this.

And as for boots, no, I don't think I have a good pair. My sexy ones got moldy when I left them in the basement and the rubber ones seem to have disappeared.
For me, it's all about who you know. There are so many botanists walking around the wild parts this lovely planet every day and it's just a matter of time before populations of orchids are discovered. Get in touch with local amateur and professional botanists or biologists and you'll never be at a lack for finding orchids, or whatever group of plants suit your fancy. Until then, we can all continue to keep our eyes our for the "orchidy" leaves.
Here's how I go about finding FL native orchids...

Go to places that people would never want to go to in the right mind... this tends to be swamps, pine flat woods, or roadside ditches...

I tend to research what I am looking for, and notice habitat conditions... lets say, when I am looking for Cliestes divaricata in north FL, I know that Calopogon tuberosus and Spiranthes praecox will be in bloom at that time... finding Cal. tuberosus will usually result in finding Clies. divaricata because both species like a more acidic soil... Spiranthes praecox is usually everywhere in north FL, some that compete with me in height...

It is also helpful to talk to people who have done the years of searching for wild orchids, so they can save you time and effort by telling you what to look for, like nearby tree species, shaded or full sun, humus or sand, etc.... telling exact locations of colonies is never any fun, it's like asking at the store, "where's the Chlorox?", and the clerk says "aisle 6, at the very end towards the back of the store on your right, second shelf"... well really, they found it, you are just following their directions, and to me, that's not fun, the excitement upon finding a small half-eaten orchid by myself has more meaning then someone showing me where a huge orchid they just found is located...

Also, many people are suprised that there are orchids relatively close to them... each year around January, the yards have stands and colonies of the exotic species Zeuxine streumatica... many local orchid growers are unfamiliar with the species, and look over them as nothing... in Rabun County, GA, Goodyera pubescens is found in massive numbers around the thousands figure... people that are familiar with Applectrum, Isotria, and Cypripedium completely look over the "weeds"...

Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking with it... hope this helps! If anything, try getting any of Dr. Luer's books on native orchids (and mind as well get his volume of Icones Pleurothallidinarum I-XXVIII too! :poke: )

I'm pretty much going to echo what people have said already.

cdub has been my orchid hunting partner this summer. He is definitely correct in saying that the knowledge of others is an enormous help. They are especially helpful when it comes to extremely rare plants. When there is only one known population of a species in your state, you pretty much have to find someone to tell you a location. Sure, it may be cheating, but I just want to see orchids in the wild. If you belong to a local orchid society, start talking to people. If you don't come off as a shady character (I am so funny!), then most won't have a problem with telling you a few locations. Also try native plant societies and park officials. I've used both sources with success.

If you want to do it the old-fashioned way, I recomend picking up some books on the subject. For me, that book has been 'The Native Orchids of the Southern Appalachians' by Stanley Bentley. It has a county-by-county analysis, excellent photography, and is a very accurate taxonomic treatment of the native species. It even includes some quite rare natural hybrids. Hopefully there is something similar for your neck of the woods. Additionally, as Pat said, I'd recomend Luer's two native orchid books. Very thorough in virtually every aspect. Unfortunately, be prepared to sell a kidney for a copy. If you get lucky, you'll be able to pick up both for under $200.

Now that you're familiar with habitats and blooming seasons, it's time to go out in the field. That's really the key. Like anything else, first hand experience is the biggest factor. As mentioned before, check out 'strange' places. If you just keep going into deciduous hardwood forests, you're going to be disappointed. Check out bogs, fens, prairies, pine barrens. Check out ANYTHING that is interesting, and don't just do it once during the season. Anywhere that is continually moist should be visited. Also, it's important that you not get a single 'image' in your head while you're searching... You may miss out on other natives. Earlier in the spring I was searching for a now-extirpated(so it seems) colony of Cypripedium acaule f. album. While bending over and inspecting plants I realized I was standing right in the midsts of a nice population of the diminutive Listeria australis. Just always keep your eyes open for anything. Sure, it helps to look for 'orchidy' leaves, but remember that some orchids don't even have them!

Finally, as Pat said, orchids really are everywhere. For me, it's hard to go for a walk in the woods and not see Tipularia discolor and Goodyera pubescens. They really are everywhere here. I'm sure there are species just as common where you are.

In summary:
1. know people
2. get a good reference text
3. get out there often and in varied ecosystems!
4. most orchids aren't THAT elusive
Thanks for all the great input, everyone. I guess I should say I'm not flying completely blind when I go out. The University's herbarium has both a great website of the state's native orchids and a searchable database of herbarium records. Orchid records are purposely vague, but many of them have helpful habitat info, plus bloom times can be deduced from them. I just wish I could get out more often. :cool:
Well, heck. Turns out all I had to do was try. A little hike on Saturday yielded Spiranthes cernua and Goodyera pubescens in bloom. Granted they're not especially rare, but they're orchids and they're cool and now I know where they are. :)

Another hike the next day a couple hours away yielded only fantastic views and some enormous swallowtail butterflies but no orchids. No worries, though. It was just great to be out. :D