Common Orchids in the Smokies


Showy Orchis

John Heidecker Photo

Orchids are a special species of wildflower that have a 'symbiotic' or cooperative relationship with the fungii in the forest around them. This relationship is very important for the survival of the orchid. The fungii give nutrients to the orchid's seeds, and the orchid's roots help to protect the fungii. There are 36 species of orchids in the Great Smoky Mountains. These are some of the more commonly seen orchids:

Showy Orchis- Gelaris spectablis

Showy orchis is a spring wildflower. They have two long and egg-shaped basal leaves with the flowering stalk itself having no leaves. Each flower has a pink or lilac hood with a white lip.


Pink Lady's-Slipper

Photo courtesy of Leslie M. Weetman, PhD

Pink Lady's-Slipper- Cyripedium pubescens

Pink lad's-slipper is a spring wildflower. The blossom has a pink inflated pouch ("slipper") and two large basal leaves that are strongly ribbed and somewhat hairy. This is the only lady's-slipper without leaves on the flowering stalk.


Yellow Lady's-Slipper

John Heidecker Photo

Yellow Lady's-Slipper- Cyripedium pubescens

Yellow lady's-slipper is a spring wildflower. The blossom has a bright yellow inflated pouch ("slipper") with purple veins and lateral petals that are greenish-yellow to purplish-brown that twist. There are 1 to 2 blossoms and 3 to 5 leaves on each stalk.


Adam and Eve Orchid

NPS Photo

Adam and Eve Orchid (Putty Root)- Aplectrum hyemale

Adam and Eve orchids are late spring wildflowers. Like the crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor) the solitary leaf emerges in autumn. The solitary leaf is narrowly oval, pleated, dark green with white veins. The leafless flowering stalk appears in the spring after the leaf disappears. There are then 6-20 greenish-purple flowers on this stalk. Since there are no leaves on the stalk during flowering time, it is often thought to be leafless.


Small Purple-Fringed Orchid

Photo courtesy of Leslie M. Weetman, PhD

Small Purple-Fringed Orchid- Planthanthera psycodes

Small purple-fringed orchid is a summer wildflower. It has a tall cluster of lilac to pink-purple blossoms. The lower lip of each blossom has three deeply-fringed lobes. Large purple-fringed orchids (Planthanthera grandiflora) have a wider and longer flower cluster.


Yellow-Fringed Orchid

Kent Cave Photo

Yellow-Fringed Orchid- Platanthera cliaris

Yellow-fringed orchids are a summer wildflower. The blossoms range in color from yellow to orange that grow into a cylindrical spike. On each blossom, the lower lip is fringed. It has large basal leaves with smaller upper leaves.


Crane-fly Orchid

NPS Photo

Crane-Fly Orchid- Tipularia discolor

Crane-fly orchid is a summer wildflower and is one of the most common orchids in the park. Like the Adam and Eve orchid (Aplectrum hyemale) a solitary two-colored leaf with green on top and purple below emerges in autumn. The leafless flowering stalk in seen in mid-summer has up to two dozen bronze blossoms.


Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

NPS Photo

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain- Goodyera pubescens

Downy rattlesnake plantain is a summer wildflower and one of the most common orchids in the park. It has egg-shaped, evergreen basal leaves found in the shape of a rosette. The leaves are bluish-green with white veins which give it the "snake skin" look. The blossom is dried fruit are round and clustered and resemble the rattle of a rattlesnake.


Nodding Lady's Tresses

NPS Photo

Nodding Lady's Tresses- Spiranthes ceruna

Nodding lady's tresses are late summer wildflowers. They have very small, white, horizontal blossoms and their largest leaves are at the base of the plant.


Recommended Reading

wildflowers handbook

Wildflowers of the Smokies

Photos of wildflowers grouped by color will aid in identifying species found in the park. Includes information on suggested walks, hikes, and drives in the park, as well as wildflower conservation.

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