#:23' Botany Circula
r No. 23 Fla. Dept. Agi. er Se .
Divis pR lo Indus y
A NATIVE TERRESTRIAL ORCHID, PLATANTHERA ELEPHiftgjtlf ReMttF
THE WHITE FRINGED ORCHID -
K. R. Langdon1
When orchids are mentioned, most people think of the epiphytic type which grow nat-
urally in trees. Florida has some of these. Florida also has terrestrial orchids
which grow in the soil. Platanthera blephariglottis (Willd.) Lindl., the white
fringed orchid, is a spectacular example of a native terrestrial orchid. It grows
in wet soils of grass lands, margins of woods, and occasionally roadsides where
mowing is infrequent.
SYNONOMY: Platanthera blephariglottis is represented in Florida by variety con-
spicua (Nash) Luer (2,3). Some of the names used in various literature for this
plant are: Habenaria conspicua Nash, Blephariglottis conspicua (Nash) Small, and
Habenaria blephariglottis (Willd.) Hook. var. conspicua (Nash) Ames. Many authors
in the past have lumped Platanthera together with Habenaria under the genus Hab-
enaria, in which case Habenaria blephariglottis with or without the varietal desig-
nation would be the correct name. Current practice is generally to separate P.
blephariglottis and its close relatives (around 250 species) from Habenaria (around
750 species) and place them in the genus Platanthera.
Fig.1. Inflorescences of
var. conspicua found
growing along a roadside
in North Florida. (DPI
Botanist, Office of Systematic Botany, P.O. Box 1269, Gainesville, FL 32602
DESCRIPTION: Platanthera blephariglottis var. conspicua (Fig. 1): Plant peren-
nial, erect, leafy, 0.5-1m tall; roots numerous, fleshy; rhizomes short or none;
leaves 2-4, glossy green, lanceolate, keeled, 5-35 cm long, 1-5 cm wide, sheathing
the stem below, bracteate above; inflorescence a terminal raceme, densely to
loosely many-flowered with 30-50 flowers; floral bracts green, lanceolate 20x3
mm; flowers white, around 2 cm wide; sepals ovate, acute, dorsal concave, laterals
oblique, 8-11x5-9 mm; petals linear, apex fringed, 5-8x1.5-3 mm; lip ovate,
about 1 cm long, margin copiously fringed, fringe up to 1 cm long; spur basal,
slender, 3-4 cm long; column 3x3 mm, anther cells 2, opposite, pollinia 2,
stalked, yellow; ovary pedicellate, slender, greenish to pale orange, about 25 mm
long; capsule ascending, ellipsoid, 20x40 mm.
DISCUSSION: Two varieties of P. blephariglottis exist in the U.S. One, P.
blephariglottis var. blephariglottis, grows from the Great Lakes eastward in the
northeastern U.S. and southern Canada. The other, P. blephariglottis var.
conspicua grows farther south from New Jersey along the Atlantic Coast to Central
Florida and west along the Gulf Coast to Texas (3). Plants of the southern
population, var. conspicua are larger, more robust, and with larger spikes of
larger and more numerous flowers. This species has a wide range but seldom is
Herbarium specimens of P. blephariglottis var. conspicua are difficult to dis-
tinguish from those of P. ciliaris, since both lobe their color in drying and
since color is the most obvious difference. Fresh material is readily distin-
guished by flower color with P. blephariglottis having white flowers and P.
ciliaris having orange-yellow flowers. There are other technical characters of
flower structure which can be used to separate dry material, such as size and
shape of various flower parts (4,5).
Plants of P. blephariglottis as well as most other species of this genus are very
exacting in their habitat requirements. For that reason, it is impractical to
attempt to transplant or cultivate them. Everett (1) states "Only if the exacting
conditions of soil and other environmental factors under which they grow in the
wild are closely duplicated is there even the slightest chance of success...but
even that is far from certain." Persons should not attempt to transplant or grow
these plants, since to do so is to condemn the plants to death. The only way to
continue to enjoy these beautiful native orchids is to preserve the habitat in
which they grow.
1. Everett, T. H. 1981. The New York Botanical Garden illustrated encyclopedia
of horticulture. Vol. 5:1576-1577. Garland Publishing, New York. 10
2. Luer, C. A. 1972. The native orchids of Florida. New York Botanical
Garden, NY. 293 pp.
3. 1975. The native orchids of the United States and Canada. New York
Botanical Garden, NY. 361 pp.
4. Radford, A. E., H. E. Ahles, and C. R. Bell. 1968. Manual of the vascular
flora of the Carolinas. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
1183 pp. United
5. Godfrey, R. K. 1979. Aquatic and wetland plants of southeastern United
States. Vol. 1. Monocotyledons. University of Georgia Press, Athens.
Contribution No. 24, Office of Systematic Botany
This publication was issued at a cost of $525.90 or .15 per copy to provide
information on proper recognition of plant pests. P8