Blue Ridge Parkway Surprise

"Forget the showy orchis."
Surely I hadn't heard Carol correctly. After all, photographing this year's showy orchis blooms was my reason for being here, and I hadn't yet found the low-growing plants.
As I had let Carol out at the trailhead a short time before, I had admonished her to walk slowly because I had to drive eleven miles to the other end of the trail where I hoped to do a quick hike to the orchis site before we met on the trail.
Due to my frequent stops along the roadside to capture photos of beckoning wildflowers, I was just now getting started on my end of the trail. Yet, Carol had walked the entire length and was telling me to forget going further!
I was in a quandry deciding which way to go.
Carol, who had already started walking towards the car, added, "I've found something better than the showy orchis. It's an orchid I've never seen before."
Casting aside thoughts of showy orchis blooms, I hurried to catch up with the modern Michaux.
As my silver Ford retraced its tracks to the trailhead near the Blue Ridge Parkway, images of various, published orchid plants flitted through my mind. Which one was the surprise that Carol had found?
Carol and I now share the Blue Ridge Parkway surprise with you.

Platanthera grandiflora

Standing nearly 3 feet tall, the Large Purple Fringed Orchid was easy to see long before we got to it.

The plant grew in a moist depression in the rich, mountain soil.

A single, sturdy green stem grew from the soil with no basal rosette of leaves.

Lanceolate leaves alternated their way up the stem towards the blooms.

Pinkish, purple blossoms grew beyond the leaves in a raceme at the top of the stem.

As we looked closely at each pinkish, purple blossom, we could see numerous flying insects enjoying its nectar.

An enterprising spider had captured one and was carrying it off for his evening meal.

Before we turned to leave the Large Purple Fringed Orchid to its mountainous habitat, we gazed one last time at the magnificent native wildflower. The Blue Ridge Parkway had given us a lovely surprise that Memorial Day weekend.

The hike was made Sunday, May 30, 2010, near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Patrick County, Virginia, USA.

Text, photos, and layout by Cecelia Butler Mathis
Botanical speciman discovered by Carol Broderson