Lakeside Nature Center
Backyard Wildlife Habitat
Native Missouri Orchids
When you think 'orchid', do you think tropical, hothouse, corsage flower? Would it surprise you to learn that wild orchids grow in Missouri? Indeed they do!
Missouri’s wild orchids, while not always resembling the common exotic ideal of an orchid, actually outnumber the native species of Hawaii. 35 different native species grow in Missouri while Hawaii has only 3. Some are tiny like the crane-fly orchid with its ½ inch blossom and some are extremely showy like the lady’s slipper (above). More photos are available in the photo gallery.
Most temperate climate orchids are terrestrial orchids; they grow out of the soil rather than on host plants like the tropicals. Here in Missouri, our orchids grow in undisturbed areas in rocky glades, ravines, and along creeks. Some even thrive on the vanishing tall grass prairies. The orchids like woodland shade and well-drained soil that stays moist all summer long. Many of the most beautiful native orchids are found along rivers and streams in the Ozarks. While orchids produce several million seeds per plant, very few seeds will actually germinate because ideal orchid habitat is rare. Once orchids are established, they are very long-lived.
While many of Missouri’s native orchids are delicate, three species are fairly hardy and maintain leaf growth all year long. Adam and Eve orchids and cranefly orchids have a large leaf that emerges in the fall, grows all winter long and withers in the spring. Rattlesnake plantain orchids are evergreen. These three varieties grow in woodlands; in winter they receive full sun through leafless branches and in summer they are sheltered in the shade.
These orchids may be persuaded to grow in your garden if you supply all their complex requirements, but orchid habitat is very complex. Never dig up flowers from the wild; it is illegal in Missouri to dig up or remove any roadside plant from the right-of-way of state or county highways or roadways. Be sure to purchase orchids from reputable growers who have propagated the plants from seed. Check with Grow Native (a joint program of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture) for sources.
Most of Missouri’s orchid species are on the rare and endangered checklist, mainly due to habitat destruction. If you are lucky enough to find orchids growing in the wild, admire them and leave them alone for others to enjoy as well.
More information about Missouri's orchids is available in a wonderful book published by the Missouri Department of Conservaton: Missouri Orchids by Bill Summers.
Article by LNC
Volunteer Debby Barker