Orchids underfoot

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Unawares, you could be walking on a Lilliputian orchid in your own lawn and not know it! This orchid is known as the Soldier’s Orchid or Lawn Orchid. I have always known it as the Soldier’s Orchid as I for years have found it popping up out of my lawn with its tiny white flowers.  And although it is not a native plant, it does not appear to be too invasive or damaging in any manner here in Florida, simply a curiosity.  Have you seen the Soldier’s Orchid?  Is it underfoot in your yard?

In discovering a Soldier’s Orchid patch in your own landscape, you may only see the stalk of tiny white flowers peeping out above the grass.  The plant itself is barely four to eight inches long, with an inflorescence of about two inches.  The flowering panicle can have as many as fifty individual white flowers each with a yellow lip.  According to literature, it has been in Florida since 1936 where it was likely introduced from Asia.  Besides Florida, the Soldier’s Orchid can now be found in parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Texas, as well as Hawaii and California.  The literature also mentions that once a single plant flowers, it sets seeds and dies.  New plants may develop from the roots before the parent plant dies, and of course minute, spore-like seeds are produced in abundance.  Most of the flowers will occur from October through January.  This orchid prefers moist areas and I most often find the ones in my lawn at the edge of my swale.

Although some may find Zeuxine strateumatica a nuisance, it is really more of short-lived phenomenon and random at best.  Reports are that in some years the Soldier’s Orchids actually disappears only to reappear years later.  They are in my lawn this year, but I really have to search to find them.  More often than not, I am probably stepping on them!

Unique things may pop up in your lawn from time to time – go search for your patch of Soldier’s Orchid!  For more information about Florida plants – both native and invasive – please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf.     Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Warner, K.(2017) Q:  I found this plant in my yard. What is it? The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Nassau County
Matt (2017) The Lowly Lawn Orchid – In Defense of Plants. http://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2017/1/9/the-lowly-lawn-orchid
Wikipedia -Zeuxine strateumatica – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeuxine_strateumatica
Dave’s Garden. Species Orchid, Lawn Orchid, Soldier Orchid, Centipede Grass Orchid.  https://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/62751/
FLEPPC http://bugwoodcloud.org/CDN/fleppc/plantlists/2017/2017FLEPPCLIST-TRIFOLD-FINALAPPROVEDBYKEN-SUBMITTEDTOALTA.pdf
Wunderlin, R. P., B. F. Hansen, A. R. Franck, and F. B. Essig. 2019. Atlas of Florida Plants (http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/). SOLDIER’S ORCHID; LAWN ORCHID http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?ID=1660
Stephen H. Brown, Horticulture Agent, UF/IFAS Lee County Extension – personal communication

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