Yes, Virginia, there is a native Texas Orchid
Think orchid, think exotic and tropical, but they aren't. They live in practically every part of the world, including north of the Arctic Circle.
Believe it or not, Texas has fiftyfour native orchid species that thrive in all regions of the state. Thirty-six are found in the moist woods of East Texas; the rest range across the state, as far west as the mountains. Our state is home to some of the rarest orchid species in the world.
Orchids in Texas have tiny, sometimes inconspicuous flowers, but that doesn't take away from their ethereal beauty. All orchids in Texas, and North America for that matter, grow in the soil. The tropical orchids we are used to seeing root in trees or shrubs or rocks, many times with their roots exposed to the air. Texas orchids are perennials and are adapted to extreme weather conditions. They have the ability to remain dormant if the weather conditions are not right.
There are twelve kinds of orchids that may be found in Milam County, particularly in the sandy regions in the eastern part of the county. Of those twelve four have been actually sighted.
The Water Spider Orchid, a one to three foot tall plant with spiky, green flowers, grows in water and can be hard to spot amongst tall grasses. It blooms from November to January. The Yellow Fringed Orchid, or Orange Plume Orchid, can get up to three feet high with a multitude of bright orange flowers. It is mainly an East Texas resident, but you may spot it in the far eastern reaches of Milam county where the soil is more acidic.
The Nodding Ladies Tresses are found across North America, and are very common in East Texas from October to November. You can find this flower in Milam as well, along roadsides, fields, and mowed lawns. Although in East Texas you will see the sixty or so white tubular flowers open, with a somewhat droopy appearance, in our county the flowers are closed.
The Navasota Ladies Tresses orchid is found mainly in the Post Oak regions of Texas, which comprise the eastern part of Milam County. It is a famous Texas orchid, as it is the only one listed as endangered. You can find it near black jack oak, yaupon, American beautyberry, and little bluestem. It has cream-colored flowers in a spiral pattern that grow along two inches of stalk.
One of our local Master Naturalists, Ann Collins, has found a fifth type of orchid growing near her home. She is working to get the flower documented as being sighted in our county. This is the Crested Coral Root orchid. It grows on tall, pink, leafless stems. The flower petals are yellowish with pink stripes, with a pink middle.
As with many plant species in Texas, orchid habitats are threatened by human development, however, there are groups working to protect them. One of the biggest threats to orchid survival is collectors, who dig them up and take them home. Orchids are persnickety plants. They do not like being disturbed, and do not transplant well.
If you are interested in our Texas orchids, the best thing to do is take pictures of them in their natural environment. Make sure not to touch the orchids when taking pictures of them, and do not remove any dead or fading blossoms as they may contain seeds.
For more information about our Texas orchids, try these books:
Wild Orchids of Texas by Joe Liggio and Ann Orto Liggio
Field Guide to the Wild Orchids of Texas by Paul Martin Brown, artwork by Stan Folsom
Gause-area resident Shawn Walton is a Texas Master Naturalist with the El Camino Real Chapter.