Orchids Native to Missouri

When most people imagine where orchids grow, they see a misty, tropical rainforest. What they may not realize is that orchids are found on every continent, except Antarctica, and live in habitats including grasslands, bogs, deserts and many more.  Even in Missouri, with a careful eye and a bit of luck, anyone can find orchids in their natural habitats. Missouri is home to over 30 species of orchids. Highlighted here are just a few of the showiest and most common species. Many tropical orchids are epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants, but all of the native orchids in Missouri are terrestrial, meaning they grow in soil. There is still a lot we don’t know about orchids in Missouri, such as details about their lifecycles, pollinators, fungal associates, and how changes in land use and climate could impact these amazing plants. 

Liparis liliifolia; Photo by Caleb Dvorak

Liparis liliifolia, lily-leaved twayblade 

Bloom time: May-June 

Habitats: wooded slopes, streambanks, and ridgetops 

Range: scattered nearly statewide, most common in southeastern Missouri 

The shiny, rounded leaves that emerge from underground and bulb-like corms give this plant its specific epithet that means “lily-like leaves”. The small, brownish purple blooms can be easily overlooked, but reward closer examination. 

Platanthera lacera; Photo by Caleb Dvorak

Platanthera lacera, green fringed orchid 

Bloom time: May-August 

Habitats: prairies, woodland openings, and pasture edges 

Range: scattered in eastern and southern Missouri 

This orchid can be hard to spot because its finely dissected, green flowers do not stand out well from its surroundings. The flowers are fragrant and are pollinated primarily by moths including owlet moths and sphinx moths. 

Spiranthes cernua; Photo by Justina Kandra

Spiranthes cernua, common ladies’ tresses 

Bloom time: August-November 

Habitats: acidic glades, prairies, wet meadows, streambanks 

Range: scattered throughout the state, most common south of the Missouri River 

Named for their unique spiraling flower stalks, ladies’ tresses are some of the most common orchids found in Missouri. The common ladies’ tresses orchid has arched, white blooms on a spiraling stalk that usually appears after the leaves have gone dormant. 

Goodyera pubescens; Photo by Justine Kandra

Goodyera pubescens, downy rattlesnake plantain 

Bloom time: July-September  

Habitats: acidic soils on north-facing slopes or ravines  

Range: uncommon in the Ozarks 

This is one of the few orchids with foliage that is arguably showier than the flowers. The dark green leaves have contrasting white venation in a unique net-like pattern. Dense spikes of small, white blooms are held above the clumps of basal foliage. 

Aplectrum hyemale; Photo by Justine Kandra

Aplectrum hyemale, putty root 

Bloom time: May-June 

Habitats: moist woods 

Range: scattered throughout the state 

Another native orchid you are more likely to notice in leaf rather than in bloom, putty root has large, pleated leaves that appear in the fall and overwinter until dying back in early spring as the flowering stalk emerges. This orchid takes advantage of the fact that the deciduous trees around them are dormant to soak up the winter sun and gather energy in its underground corm. 

Corallorhiza wisteriana: Photo by Justine Kandra

Corallorhiza wisteriana, spring coralroot 

Bloom time: April-May 

Habitats: upland or bottomland forests and glade margins 

Range: scattered throughout the state 

This small orchid is relatively common, but easy to overlook while on a spring hike. Keep an eye out for its brownish-purple stems and look closely to see the flowers’ white lip spotted with purple. Like all coralroots, this species is saprophytic, meaning that it gets all or most of its food by parasitizing fungal networks or the roots of other plants. 

Calopogon tuberosus; Photo by Justine Kandra

Calopogon tuberosus, grass pink 

Bloom time: June-July 

Habitats: fens 

Range: uncommon in southeastern Missouri 

This orchid is a rare treat to find in Missouri and only occurs in Ozark fens. A fen is a wetland that stays moist through a nearly constant flow of groundwater. These fragile habitats are threatened by stream diversion, fire suppression, and invasive species. The showy, magenta-pink flowers of grass pink are pollinated by bees. 

Justine Kandra

Horticulturist – Kemper Center for Home Gardening

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