Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spring Flowers: Showy Orchis

Galearis spectabilis (Showy Orchis) was one of the first orchids that I encountered in the woods and recognized as an orchid.  The name, "Galaeris" is derived from the Latin word for "helmet," referring to the light-purple or pink cap on the flowers, several of which bloom on a single spike between two large ovate leaves.  The genus Galearis has only two species, one occurring in eastern Asia and the subject of this post, G. spectabilis. It blooms for a brief period in spring and, although it is widely distributed throughout Eastern North America, it is relatively uncommon.  It is listed as endangered or threatened in Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

G. spectabilis can be found in rich woodlands, often near streams and at the base of slopes.  The plants emerge before the forest canopy to take advantage of the light reaching the ground.  The flowers are pollinated by bumblebees.  Like most native orchids, they cannot be easily transplanted because they depend on specific soil fungi.   

Pictures (click to enlarge):
G. spectabilis (Showy Orchis).  This is the first example I had ever seen.  I found it on the Overall Run Falls Trail in Shenandoah National Park in 2007.
G. spectabilis on the Old Rag Ridge Trail in April 2011.  This is a great example of what the whole plant looks like.  The leaves stay green throughout the growing season, even after the flowers fade.
 Another example on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road (April 2012).
This is an unusual white variant.  I've only seen this once, at G.W. Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Virginia (May 2008). 


  1. I am pretty positive that I have about a dozen or so of these orchids growing in the woods behind my house here in western Stafford County Va. The best picture that I have is just after one bloomed. I missed the flower by several days. They are beautiful flowers that I have only found here. My email address is if you would like to see a photo. I would like to positivly identify it.

  2. How lucky to have them where you live!