Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Dragon's-mouth - Arethusa bulbosa   L.
Members of Orchidaceae:
Only member of Arethusa in NC.
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Section 5 » Order Orchidales » Family Orchidaceae
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DistributionWidely scattered in the Mountains, though only known from Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Henderson, and Transylvania counties; it is historical now from Ashe and Henderson counties, if not one or two of the others. It also historically was found in the Piedmont in Forsyth County.

This is a Far Northern species, ranging across much of Canada (Lab. to Sask.), but sparingly south to the north-central US. It reaches as far south as PA and northern IL, and in the Appalachians to northwestern SC. Apparently it has never been found in WV, KY, or TN.
AbundanceVery rare and of precarious existence in the Mountains, and presumed gone from the western Piedmont. The species, as are many of our orchids, has declined in the state, though it has always been rare. It is a State Endangered species.
HabitatIn NC, it is essentially limited to bogs, in full or partial sun. It can rarely be found in seepage swamps (under a canopy).
PhenologyBlooms in May and June, and fruits shortly afterwards. When in bloom, there are no leaves present; the single leaf develops just as the capsule develops.
IdentificationThis unique species, the only member of its genus, is another orchid that has a flowering scape with no leaves along it. The scape averages 6-12 inches tall, and it is topped usually by a single quite large and spectacular flower, often 1.5-2 inches high. The bright rose (to occasionally pink) petals and sepals, each curved forward to straight up, serve as "ears" of the "dragon", and the purple and white, fringed lip that curves downward like a tongue serves to give the overall appearance of the flower as a dragon's head. Thus, when the plant is in bloom, it is very difficult to overlook. After blooming, a single grass-like leaf grows from the base; it is often 6 inches long, but it is barely noticeable in a bog setting. Though when in flower it clearly catches your eye, sadly nearly all rose or pink orchid flowers in a bog or seepage swamp in the state will be those of Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) or Tuberous Grass-pink (Calopogon tuberosus). The species is so rare that you are highly unlikely to find a new population in the state.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Bog-rose, Arethusa. Many references use "Dragon's Mouth", without a hyphen, but that clearly is incorrect grammar; "mouth" is not a plant group name.
State RankS1
Global RankG5
State StatusE
US Status
USACE-agcpOBL link
USACE-empOBL link
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B.A. SorriePhoto taken 1983 on Martha's Vineyard, MA in natural interdune cranberry bog. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
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