Spotting Hardy Orchids in Spotsylvania

Years ago I wrote an article for Chesapeake Home magazine on terrestrial orchids that are hardy in the Washington DC metro area. Hardy orchids can be treated like perennials in the garden. They live in the soil instead of hanging from trees and are surprisingly relatively easy to grow. However, hardy orchids are not well known. With the exception of the hardy Chinese orchids (Bletilla), I find it rare to see them in someone’s garden. So imagine my surprise when I spotted Spiranthes cernua var. odorata ‘Chadds Ford’ at Tracy and Bill Blevins home in Spotsylvania, VA. Owner of Plantsmap, Tracy and Bill recently hosted an open house where guests were invited to walk around their personal garden and enjoy refreshments.

Plantsmap is a website community that anyone from the home gardener to professionals managing public landscapes can use to document, organize, map, tag, and share their plants. For many, it is a way of journaling and tracking what they planted with photos and descriptions. Since Tracy and Bill use Plantsmap for their own personal garden, this link is their entry for this particular planting of Spiranthes in their garden.

Spiranthes cernua var. odorata is a fragrant form of lady’s tresses. This hardy orchid is found in the coastal region of southeastern states. The plant prefers moist soil with high organic matter and will slowly form a colony. White flowers appear in the fall and are supposed to smell like vanilla or jasmine.

This particular cultivar, ‘Chadds Ford’, has an interesting history. In the 1960s, Dick Ryan, an orchid enthusiast, discovered this plant in the wild near his hometown in Delaware, just as its habitat was about to be destroyed. The area was slated to be razed to construct homes. Dr. Merlin Brubacker, a plantsman, obtained a division years later and named it ‘Chadds Ford’ after his own hometown in Pennsylvania.

Other hardy orchids include lady’s slippers (Cypripedium), hardy Chinese orchids (Bletilla), grass pink plants (Calopogon), fringed orchids (Platanthera), egret flowers, (Habenaria), and Calanthe. For more information, read Tony Avent’s article on his Plant Delights website, Growing Hardy Orchids by John Tullock, and the Gardener’s Guide to Growing Hardy Perennial Orchids by William D. Mathis. Local native plant societies also may have information. Or search Plantsmap to see if anyone is growing hardy orchids.

8 responses to “Spotting Hardy Orchids in Spotsylvania

  1. An other hardy orchid, non-native (that is invasive in some places in the US) is Epipactis helleborine.

    Plant Delights mentions Goodyera pubescens, which has very attractive leaves. I think these are now cloned, as they were available at very cheap prices at the last Philly flower show. Be sure to water it with rain water (not hard water).

    Another vendor (and resource), especially for cypripediums is: gardensatposthill.net

    And for more advice I the DC area, join the National Capital Orchid Society: ncos.us

    • Thanks for adding another resource and you are correct, I should have added the National Capital Orchid Society as a resource in my article!

  2. Thank you for visiting and the great write-up on this orchid. This is a native hardy orchid to the eastern U.S. I have seen references to it being aggressive but it has not been behaved that way for me in my landscape and I have it since 2014. Come back to visit anytime!

  3. One of my most revered colleagues was an arborist from Altoona. From him, I learned a few of the specie that were popular or native to Pennsylvania and the region. I was fascinated by these terrestrial orchids, but have never seen them. We have nothing like them here, and no one bothers to grow them that I am aware of.

  4. Spotting an orchid in the wild is sure to bring some excitement!! How cool

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