Orchidaceae: Orchid Family — Piperia (Rein-orchid)

Orchids are perennials, with over 25,000 species worldwide.  All Monterey county orchids grow in the soil, rather than on trees.  Flowers are irregular, with the lowest petal being different from the other two petals.  There are commonly 3 sepals, all the same, which resemble petals.  Many orchids have a symbiotic relationship with soil fungus, which explains the absence of green leaves in those species.

There are three groups of (mostly native) orchids found in Monterey County.  1) those without obvious leaves, such as Corallorhiza (Coralroot);    2) those with leaves and spurs on the flowers, such as Piperia (Rein-orchid);    3) those with leaves but without floral spurs, such as Epipactis (Helleborine / Stream Orchid).

Elegant Rein-orchid / Coast Piperia – Piperia elegans subsp. elegans

Blooms:

May–Sept

Plant Height:

12–73 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Mainly coastal

Notes:

Like Michael’s and Wood/Elongate Rein-orchids (Piperia michaelii & elongata), this has a down-curving spur.  But unlike them, its flowers are pure white with a dark green mid-vein, and the inflorescence is more dense.  The upper sepal is erect to forward-pointing, and the lateral sepals are erect to spreading.  The lip is lanceolate and curved downwards.  Flowers are fragrant, but not clove-like.

Wood / Elongate Rein-orchid – Piperia elongata

Blooms:

May–July

Plant Height:

14–130 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Shaded places, generally inland

Notes:

This and Michael’s Rein-orchid (Piperia michaelii) have green to yellow-green flowers and a long, down-curving spur. This species is tall and slender with an inflorescence longer than the peduncle. The pale green flowers have sickle-shaped lateral petals and a narrowly triangular lower lip. The flowers are unscented.

Michael’s Rein-orchid – Piperia michaelii

Blooms:

Apr–Aug

Plant Height:

9–70 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Native

Rare or endangered?

Yes – 4.2

Habitat:

Exposed locations near coast

Notes:

This is less tall than Wood / Elongate Rein-orchid (Piperia elongata), and its inflorescence is shorter than the peduncle.  Flowers are a similar greenish-yellow color, but can be distinguished by the broad, spade-shaped lower lip and the upright, somewhat concave upper petals.  The spur is long, more or less curved and generally pointed down.  The flowers are fragrant at night.

Transverse Rein-orchid / Flat-spurred Piperia  Piperia transversa

Blooms:

May–Aug

Plant Height:

12–57 cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Generally dry sites, many communities

Notes:

This elegant, shade-loving Rein-orchid, with its long, slender inflorescence, is recognizable by its long straight spurs extending horizontally from the flower. The flowers are white to yellowish, the lateral petals having a green mid-vein. The upper sepal points forward through the erect upper petals. Flower are clove-scented.

Yadon’s Piperia / Rein-orchid – Piperia yadonii

Blooms:

June–July

Plant Height:

10–50 (80) cm

Flower Size:

Small

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Yes – 1b.1

Habitat:

Pine woodland and maritime chaparral

Notes:

This orchid, endemic to Monterey County, is named after Monterey Peninsula’s own Vern Yadon.  A tall, slender plant with congested flowers, it is similar to Elegant Rein-orchid (Piperia elegans).  However, it differs in its diminutive white-rimmed, green lateral petals, and the spur, which is much shorter than those of other Rein-orchids.  One unique feature of this Rein-orchid is the way the upper petals generally curve inwards like a horseshoe.