Native Orchid Hike – Mount Tam

My husband is an orchid lover, and I get the benefit of his amazing green thumb and extensive knowledge by having so many beautiful and unusual orchids to admire and photograph.  He’s also an expert on native plants. The intersection of these two passions leads us to take a yearly hike around this time to Mount Tam, to find a few of the native orchids that bloom there in the springtime.  The first flower we found on our trek along the Matt Davis Trail was this  iris, though.  We’re not sure whether it’s a Douglas Iris or another species.

Iris

Iris

Our next sightings were almost simultaneous.  George saw a calypso orchid, also called “fairy slipper” not far along the trail.

Calypso orchid

Calypso orchid

I had walked a bit ahead, right by the calypso orchid — I missed it because the flowers are so small, their blooms being only about an inch.  If they weren’t so brightly colored, it would be easy to miss them completely.

Calypso orchid

Calypso orchid

Then I made my own discovery – right before he called out to me to come back to see it, I spotted a gorgeous coralroot orchid (Corallorhiza).

Coralroot orchid

Coralroot orchid

The one on the right is in full bloom, and larger than most of the ones we saw here last year.  The flowering portion was about 3 to 4 inches.  These coralroots don’t produce chlorophyll, and have a symbiotic relationship with fungi to survive.  Here’s a closer look at the bloom, with a little bug resting on it:

Coral root

Coral root

This is a spotted coralroot (Corallorhiza Maculata) – you can see the little spots on the flower.  Most of the coralroots we saw on our hike were like these.  Here’s a stand of them that hadn’t bloomed yet.  They were far off the path and I didn’t want to disturb the hillside, so I couldn’t get too close.

Coral root stand

Coral root stand

We climbed up one side-path and found a wonderful stand of calypso orchids.  We had seen many lone calypsos scattered along on both sides of the trail, but this grouping was unusual.  George said they probably bloomed in this same spot over many years.

Stand of calypso orchids

Stand of calypso orchids

George’s next coup was to find another species of coralroot!  This is a striped coralroot (Corallorhiza striata).  He took this photograph because I didn’t want to climb up the hill to get a close shot.

Striped coral root

Striped coral root

We also saw a wonderful tall stand of fritillaries, but they were on the down-hill side of the path and in a place even George wouldn’t climb to get a photograph.

Fritillary

Fritillary

Okay, I had to include a photograph — I took this one of a fritillary blooming near the same location two years ago.

It was a very successful trek. We laughed about the robust youngsters zooming past us on the trail, missing the amazing native orchids and other treasures just off the path.  We were also happy to meet some wonderful people who were extremely interested in our finds, and who shared with us their knowledge about bird calls and other plants.  We have some of the GPS coordinates for the orchids, email me if you want to know them.

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One comment on “Native Orchid Hike – Mount Tam

  1. Michael Drake says:

    Heidi,

    Nice post! We will be in the Bay Area in mid-April. I hope to see as many native orchid species as I can. I’d love direction to all the species you posted.

    In addition, all three CA Ladies-slippers are highly desired sightings for me (I live in PA). Any help you can give finding them and any other orchids would be much appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Michael Drake

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