Native Orchids of Yellowstone National Park 

 

When and where to find and photograph them             Photos and text by Colleen F. Moore  cfmoore72@gmail.com  

 

There are reported to be 15 species of orchids native to Yellowstone National Park. I have found at least 12 of them. Once you learn find these special plants I think you'll look at the world differently when you are out hiking. I hope this website helps you learn to appreciate them. Never try to transplant a native orchid. Many species require certain soil characteristics, so you'll just destroy the plant you are trying to love. Most species take nutrients from certain fungi and bacteria in the soil, and this makes it virtually impossible to grow them at home.

Link to orchids organized by:    Species      Locations and Habitats in Yellowstone    

  Approximate Blooming Dates    Links to more info  

Species List:    

     Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper, or Calypso orchid, two varieties) 

Corallorhiza  (Coralroots)     

  Corallorhiza maculata (Spotted coralroot)    
  Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot)    
    Corallorhiza striata (Striped coralroot)      
    Corallorhiza trifida (Early coralroot or Pale coralroot)
    Corallorhiza wisteriana (Wister's coralroot )


Goodyera

   Goodyera oblongifolia (Rattlesnake plantain orchid)

Listera

   Listera sp. (Twayblade, unidentified species as seed pod)

Piperia

   Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid, or Alaska orchid) 


Platanthera (Bog orchids)    

  Platanthera dilatata (Tall white bog orchid, White rein orchid)  
  Platanthera huronensis (Green bog orchid, see Platanthera page for comments on Platanthera aquilonis)  

Spiranthes

  Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Hooded ladies tresses)


Location list: These are the locations where I have personally found these orchids. These orchids undoubtedly grow in other areas of the park with suitable habitat. The list below included locations mainly close to roads or popular trails and boardwalks near developed areas of Yellowstone. The detailed species pages above describe the habitats a little more. I have listed the GPS locations (in UTM coordinates) because many locations are available in the Herbarium websites listed below. I hope that more publicity of the locations might yield better orchid conservation.     

Don't pick or dig! There is a double curse on those who dig or pick orchids -- the orchids are lost from the wild and they die after you transplant them because your soil won't have the right fungi and nutrients. If a child wants to pick, use it as a teachable moment -- we can't pick wildflowers because they need their flowers to make seeds. We only pick garden flowers at home.

Apollinaris Spring: Platanthera dilatata. (White bog orchids). Large colony here in this historically interesting area that was once a main source of fresh water for visitors coming from the North Entrance. Look in the wet area above and to the left of the rock wall where the spring seeps out. UTM 12 T 521088 4965518.

Artist's paintpots: Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid). Look uphill of the trail near the boardwalks in the shade. If you loop clockwise, these are just when you enter the woods after viewing the upper thermal area. 

Biscuit basin / Mystic Falls trail: Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera aquilonis (bog orchids). Near the falls and along the sides of the trail at almost every wet seep. Also coral root (Corallorhiza sp.) orchids. UTM: Platanthera dilatata 12T 0510615 4925726, Platanthera aquilonis  12T 0510844 4925767, Corallorhiza sp. (unidentified buds) 12T 0510811 4925747.

Bridge Bay / Natural Bridge trail: Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera aquilonis (white and green bog orchids). Look in the ditch on the uphill side of the trail. Also, near the culverts at the Grand Loop road below the campground Loops G and H.

Canyon:  Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot) found beside the trail from P-loop cabins to Grandview, near north rim parking lot, and behind some of the cabins, and also on the south rim trail from Artist's Point away from the parking lot. Goodyera oblongifolia (rattlesnake plantain): Large colony not far from Artist's point on trail along the south rim, same area as the Western coralroots. I have found only one individual of the Listera species (twayblade orchid) in Yellowstone ever, this was also on the trail from Artist's point. There are Platanthera dilatata (white bog orchids) between the new canyon lodge area and Grandview, along the walking trail.

Gibbon River: Platanthera sp. (bog orchids), Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses). Use any fishing pullout between Gibbon Falls and Madison Junction, look near the shore in the sun for Spiranthes, and look in the shade for Platanthera species.

Ice Lake trail: Bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata, and Platanthera huronensis), both white and green, in the wet areas between the trail and the lake. This is an easy trail to a beautiful lake.

Lake / Fishing bridge:  This is a great area for orchids. On the Storm Point Trail you can find Corallorhiza maculata (Spotted coralroot, in the woods after you leave the beach on the loop), Corallorhiza wisteriana (Wister's coralroot, close to the spotted coralroot), and Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot, in woods just east of  Indian Pond). In late July and August you can find Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses) on the shore of Indian Pond.  On the Elephantback trail, Platanthera dilatata (white bog orchid) grow near the stream right at the beginning of the trail, and also on the Natural Bridge Trail in the ditches and streamside. Calypso bulbosa (fairy slippers) can be found along the Elephantback trail before it starts to climb uphill.

Lamar River and north: Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera huronensis (Bog orchids). Along Warm Creek near the picnic area, follow trails toward creek, orchids are slightly back from shore in 'weedy' areas (yes, I mean non-native weeds).

LeHardy Rapids: Platanthera dilatata (Bog orchids). Look on the uphill side of boardwalk near a seep. Don't leave the boardwalk for 2 reasons -- this is a re-vegetation area, but there is also stinging nettle growing there.

Mammoth area: 3 species: Corallorhiza striata (Striped coral root), Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid), and Goodyera oblongifolia (Rattlesnake plantain orchid). In the woods on Beaver Ponds trail along Clematis Creek, and in the woods along Narrow Gauge trail before you reach the thermals, and to the south of the Upper Terrace Drive. You can walk to Upper Terrace Drive from Narrow Gauge Trail.  

Midway geyser basin / Fairy falls trail: Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera huronensis (Bog orchids). Look around the seeps and small stream crossings between the Old Freight Road and Fairy Falls. There are also some Corallorhiza (coralroot orchids), and inside one of the walkways there are Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses), but you need a strong zoom or binoculars to see them.

Monument geyser trail: A great short walk for orchids, with the option of ascending to the geyser basin. Located between Norris and Gibbon Falls, this trail has two species of bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata, Platanthera huronensis), Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid), Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Hooded ladies tresses), and Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroots). You can find an orchid blooming here every month of the summer. 

Nez Perce Ford Picnic Area: Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses), large colony by Yellowstone River in grass between picnic parking lot and river. This colony extends in both directions.

Nez Perce Creek and Fountain Flat: Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses) by the creek, either on the east side of Grand Loop road near a small pullout, or near the picnic area on the west side of the Grand Loop road.

Norris: Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses). I found at least two blossoms near the boardwalk just past Steamboat geyser (in the Back basin). Corallorhiza (coralroot orchids) on the trail from the campground to the geyser basin, and in the Norris picnic area.

Old Faithful area: This is a rewarding area for orchids. Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot), Platanthera dilatata (Bog orchid), Platanthera huronensis (Bog orchid), Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Ladies tresses). From the footbridge over the Firehole River closest to the Old Faithful Lodge, look down into the grasses near the shore to see the bog orchids and the ladies tresses. The western coralroots are in a large colony between the cabins and the Firehole River (follow the old sewer line from the cabins into the employee cabin area, then look in the woods near a large boulder). There are also large numbers of western coralroots in the picnic area at the back of the Old Faithful parking area.

Lone Star Geyser Trail: Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot), Platanthera dilatata (white bog orchid), Platanthera huronensis (green bog orchid), and Goodyera oblongifolia. This is an easy trail with little elevation change to the geyser. Look under lodgepole pine near the start of the trail for western coralroots, look in the wet areas for bog orchids, and look for Goodyera oblongifolia under fir trees and near pipsissewa.

Roosevelt Lodge /Lost Lake and Lost Falls trails:  Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper), Corallorhiza trifida (Early pale coralroot). Look for the Calypso bulbosa (fairy slippers) are in really huge colonies along the Lost Lake trail as it switchbacks up from Roosevelt. Pay attention to whether they have a mostly white lip or mostly pink lip -- these are two separate varieties. Look for the early coralroot under other vegetation on the Lost Creek Falls trail as well as near the fairy slippers on the Lost Lake trail in deep moss. There are also some scattered Calypso bulbosa on the Lost Creek Falls trail. 

Trout Lake trail (Lamar Valley between Pebble Creek Campground and Soda Butte): Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper). On the uphill side of the trail around the lake, in a very shady spot.

Virginia Cascades drive: Corallorhiza mertensiana (western coral root) very close to the parking area of the first pullout. Bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata, and Platanthera aquilonis), both white and green bog orchids, on the opposite side of the stream, upstream from the falls.

West Thumb: Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchids) in a small colony to the left of the Overlook trail before it crosses the road after you leave the West Thumb parking lot.

Approximate Blooming Dates: Blooming date depends on spring melt timing, altitude, and location, but here are some guidelines. Look at the dates on my photos also.

by species:
Calypso Bulbosa (Fairy slipper): mid-May to mid-June. Can find wilted specimens/seed podslater.
Corallorhiza trifida (Early pale coralroot): mid-May to mid-June. 
Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot): early June to early July.
Corallorhiza maculata (Spotted coralroot): mid-June to mid-July
Corallorhiza striata (Striped coralroot): mid-May to mid-June
Corallorhiza wisteriana (Wister's coralroot): late June to early July
Piperia unalascensis (Alaska rein orchid): mid-June to mid-July.
Platanthera dilatata (White bog orchid): mid-June to late July
Platanthera huronensis (Green bog orchid): mid-June to late July
Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Hooded ladies tresses): mid-July to early September
Goodyera oblongifolia (rattlesnake plantain orchid): mid-July to early September

by date:
--Mid-May to mid-June: Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper), Corallorhiza trifida (Early pale coralroot), Corallorhiza striata (Striped coralroot)
--mid-June to July: Platanthera dilatata (White bog orchid), Platanthera huronensis (Green bog orchid), Corallorhiza mertensiana (Western coralroot), Corallorhiza maculata (Spotted coralroot), Corallorhiza wisteriana (Wister's coralroot)
--August to September: seedpods of all earlier orchids, Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Hooded ladies tresses), Goodyera oblongifolia

Links to other good info on Rocky Mountain and western U.S. orchids: 

1. Montana field guide:  http://fieldguide.mt.gov/displaySpecies.aspx?family=Orchidaceae

2. Yellowstone's photo archive (no location information, no blooming times): http://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/plants/orchidfamily/Page.htm

3. Washington flora checklist: http://biology.burke.washington.edu/herbarium/waflora/checklist.php?Family=Orchidaceae  This is an excellent resource, and links to the Pacific Northwest Consortium of Herbaria (see 5 below).

4. Rocky Mountain herbarium (at University of Wyoming): http://www.rmh.uwyo.edu/data/browse_scientific.php Search for orchid family, then zoom in on the Yellowstone part of the map.

5. Pacific Northwest Consortium of Herbaria (includes Montana State University): http://www.pnwherbaria.org/data.php


Notes: 15 species of orchids are reported by Shaw & Shaw in "Plants of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks", 2008. 

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Native Orchids of Yellowstone by Colleen F Moore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.