Orchid of the Week: Cephalanthera austiniae

Hey, it’s the first snowfall of 2011 here in Brooklyn!

More of the white stuff

I wondered if there were any orchids known as a “snow orchid”…so I googled it and stumbled upon a really fascinating orchid called Cephalanthera austiniae. You know why it’s referred to as the snow orchid? The entire plant is white! There’s just a tinge of yellow in the center of the blooms:

Cephalanthera austiniae
Photo credit: MiguelVieira, Flickr

Interestingly, the orchid is all white because it has no chlorophyll and relies on a symbiotic relationship with fungus for its nutrition. It doesn’t tend to have leaves because the plant has no need for collecting sunlight. This rare plant, also known as the phantom orchid, is native to the western U.S. and Canada and it grows in dark, moist forest floor environments. Orchids in the Cephalanthera genus usually grow in Europe and Asia, making the Cephalanthera austiniae the only one in the genus to grow in North America.

Cephalanthera austiniae bloom close-up
Photo credit: Ron Wolf, Flickr
Cephalanthera austiniae in the wild
Photo credit: Hesperia2007, Flickr
Cephalanthera austiniae blooms
Photo credit: Native Orchids, Flickr

Now that I know this amazing orchid exists in the U.S., I want to see if I can find it next time I’m out west!

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1 comment

  1. Thanks for the curiosity that led you to the snow orchid. In seeing it I had the fantasy of what it would be like to have snow orchids pop out of the ground and above the snow during a snowfall.

    Joyce Heiman

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