Hiking trips in Missouri lead outdoor enthusiasts to a wealth of discovery. Spring peepers and songbirds voice in a new year of adventure, box turtles take life easy as they bask in the warmth of the summer sun and wildflowers paint our woodlands, meadows and stream sides with their vibrant color. Among that myriad of wildflowers are a group of breathtaking plants some may consider out of place when it comes to the hills, hollows and rocky outcrops of the Show-Me State. Their family name sounds as tropical as mango or papaya, yet Missouri harbors more than 30 species of orchids.
Missouri’s orchids belong to a large flowering family, Orchidaceae, comprised of approximately 15,000 species worldwide. Their striking flower characteristics, growth style and habitat requirements make them a unique group of plants. Spiraling and twisting as they emerge from the ground, many orchids perform a somersault during development, with their flowers eventually hanging nearly upside down to create a look all their own.
Depending upon the species, observing orchids in Missouri is often by chance, as many do not make flowering appearances each year. Populations thought to have vanished may reappear several years later, while other groups bloom consecutively for years. Without their showy blossoms and with only a few leaves above ground, most of our larger orchids go unnoticed. Due to either their earthy tones or their association with larger plants, small-flowered species, such as the cranefly orchid, Tipularia discolor, green adder’s mouth, Malaxis unifolia, and Adam-and-Eve orchid, Aplectrum hyemale, are hard to spot even when sporting their full floral arrangements.
Many of Missouri’s orchids bear feminine names, notably the ladies’ slippers and ladies’ tresses. Had Cinderella been handed a floral slipper to try on instead of a glass one, she may have been exalted to a higher level than princess, for the slipper orchid genus, Cypripedium, refers to the lovely footwear of the Greek Goddess Aphrodite.
Nestled within the rich humus soils of Missouri’s woodlands, valleys and fens are three species of lady’s slipper orchids that showcase their dainty, ballerina-style blossoms from April into early June. With their striking colors, each species is easily distinguished from the others. The stem of the showy lady’s slipper, Cypripedium reginae, may grow more than 3 feet tall and have between six to 10 large oval leaves. The large, inflated flowers are white to slightly off-white with a purple or purplish-pink blush. Yellow lady’s slipper,