The Showy Orchis is a plant that blooms from April through May. It is a member of the Orchidaceae (orchid) family. The scientific name is Orchis spectabilis. It is traditional for botanical writers to call this plant and others from this family “orchis” instead of “orchid”
This beautiful plant is grown in the North American range throughout the forest regions of Quebec and New Brunswick to Michigan and Wisconsin all the way to southern Minnesota and Iowa. It is also found in Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri.
The Showy Orchis grows low to the ground being from six to twenty centimeters in height. This orchid has a short rhizome or underground stem that is short. The stem has one pair of ovate (oval) basal leaves. It also has one single stubby, stout flower stalk. This flower stalk can grow from one to ten flowers. These blooms have a deep pink upper hood that is in two parts. It is formed when the lateral petal and the sepals join together A white lower petal forms a spurred lip just beneath the hood. Leaf like bracts (a modified leaf) subtend the flowers. The bracts are a deep green and quite showy. This creates a startling color contrast. This is most likely why the plant is called a “showy” orchis. In the state of Michigan the population of the Showy Orchis is less colorful than those grown in other parts of the country . The orchis is particularly beautiful and vivid in color in the Blue Ridge and Cumberland Plateau areas. In Michigan the Showy Orchis have been on the decline and was recently upgraded to a State threatened status.
Rich deciduous (woods that lose their leaves with the changing seasons) are the primary location of the Showy Orchis. Some woodland colonies have been know to grow in a more open area in the state of Michigan. It has been found in hemlock forests in New England. The Showy Orchis usually grows in rich loam soils, near spring ponds in sandy clay or in richer, shadier micro habitats. In most cases the plant grows in isolation or in small colonies. It can grow in larger quantities in specific areas but this is rare.
It is critical that for this species to survive, something must be done to protect the orchids’ rich forest habitat. Canopy removal and changes in the moisture levels in some areas can greatly affect the Showy Orchis.