When you think of an orchid, you probably imagine the Cattleya orchid that is given as a corsage on special occasions and grows in a thick, lush tropical rainforest. Or maybe you think of your local hardware store in spring, its displays full of plants blooming in all different shapes, colors, and patterns. With as many sizes and hues as there are species, orchids are commonly thought of as exotic beauties from faraway lands. But did you know that North America is home to around 200 different orchid species? Pennsylvania alone has 50 different species that grace our moist forest soils, our dry open woodlands, and even our wet, sphagnous bogs.
Pennsylvania orchids range from the rare and showy dragon’s mouth (Arethusa bulbosa), a frilly pink flower with a bolt of yellow and flames down its showy lip, to the quiet and unassuming small white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum) that, as its name suggests, looks like a delicate white slipper.
Even though there are plenty of orchid species native to Pennsylvania, you might not find them close to your home. Maybe you can’t travel to a pine barren to see the Bayard’s malaxis (Malaxis bayardii), one of the rarest orchids in eastern North America, in all of its minute splendor. Some species like the nodding pogonia (Triphora trianthophora) have almost disappeared from Pennsylvania thanks to habitat destruction. But the one place you can get up close and personal with some of Pennsylvania’s rarest orchids is here at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
For over 200 years, the Academy has been an important repository for rare orchids in Pennsylvania. Botanists have been adding to our vast orchid collection of about 18,000 specimens, helping other scientists determine which species are alive and well in our area and which ones need our help to survive.
Want to learn more about orchids from here in Pennsylvania and around the world? Come to the Academy on April 11–13 for the International Orchid Show & Sale, presented by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Orchid Society (sepos.org). Check out the rare orchids in our behind-the-scenes collection with Academy botanist Dr. Alfred E. Schuyler. He will be giving a presentation on six species on display in our herbarium.