Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Purple Twayblade - Liparis liliifolia   (L.) L.C. Richard ex Lindley
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Section 5 » Order Orchidales » Family Orchidaceae
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Author(L.) L.C. Richard ex Lindley
DistributionThroughout the Mountains; scattered over nearly all of the Piedmont and western half of the Coastal Plain. Generally absent over most of the eastern and southern Coastal Plain, and from the Sandhills proper. There is an odd scarcity of records for the central Piedmont than for the eastern Piedmont; this likely is a real dichotomy, as such a pattern is not normally seen for other wide-ranging species in the Piedmont and western Coastal Plain.

This is a Northern species ranging from southeastern Canada and MN south to central SC, northern AL, and central AR.
AbundanceFairly common in the Mountains and western Piedmont; uncommon to locally fairly common in the eastern Piedmont and adjacent Coastal Plain. Rare to uncommon in the central Piedmont. Very rare in the eastern and southern Coastal Plain. Records from Harnett and Cumberland counties are from mesophytic forests bordering the Cape Fear River.
HabitatThis orchid favors rich to moist forested habitats. It can be found in bottomland forests, mesic hardwood forests, and along stream banks. It is not as tied to acidic soils as many other forest orchids, though it clearly is not a "mafic" species, either.
PhenologyBloom from May to July, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis species has two large, widely elliptic to nearly rounded, bright green, shiny, and entire leaves that grow essentially flat on the ground or slightly ascending. As the leaves are usually about 4 inches long, the plants are easily seen by an observer. However, the inflorescence can be almost "invisible". The flowering stem grows only about 4-6 inches tall, but there are often 15 or more flowers scattered along the stem. Yet, each flower has a broad translucent lip that is a pale, "watery" purple and can blend into the background leaves on the forest floor. Each lip is about the size of a human fingernail. Thus, it is a quite distinctive plant when in bloom, despite its rather bland flower color. Note that the two large rounded basal leaves look very, very similar to those of the Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis); there are few distinctive marks to separate the two species by its leaves, and thus you likely will need to see it in bud or bloom to be certain. (Showy Orchis also has cluster of flowers, but these are rose and white in color and thus are much more colorful than those of the twayblade.)
Taxonomic CommentsNote that RAB (1968), if not many other older references, misspelled the specific epithet, as lilifolia; the newer name has the double "ii" in the name -- liliifolia (but not with a double "ll")!

Other Common Name(s)Large Twayblade, Lily-leaved Twayblade, Mauve Sleekwort, Brown Widelip Orchid
State RankS3 [S4]
Global RankG5
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US Status
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B.A. SorrieUpper mesic terrace of Cape Fear River. CumberlandPhoto_natural
BA SorrieW side Killets Creek, Triassic Basin, N of Bethlehem Ch Road. 2 plants only.
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