Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Spiked Medusa - Orthochilus ecristatus   (Fernald) Bytebier
Members of Orchidaceae:
Only member of Orthochilus in NC.
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Section 5 » Family Orchidaceae
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Author(Fernald) Bytebier
DistributionRecords are from the Sandhills region and the southwestern Coastal Plain, with a shortly disjunct record in New Hanover County (from 1892). The only current record is from Fort Bragg Military Reservation in Hoke County.

This is a Southern species ranging north to southeastern NC, south to southern FL, and west to LA. It is limited to the Coastal Plain.
AbundanceVery rare, a single small population on Fort Bragg; not known presently from outside this military base. Not surprisingly, it is a State Endangered species.
HabitatThis species is not found in the most xeric sands, but favors more mesic pine forests, with a higher plant diversity than is found in the very sandy sites. It may occur in Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill natural community where Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica) is frequent.
See also Habitat Account for Loamy, Fire-maintained Herblands
PhenologyBlooms from June to September, and fruits from July to November.
IdentificationOnly a few biologists who have had access to study the vegetation at Fort Bragg have seen this species in NC, as similar mesic pine forest sites elsewhere in the Sandhills Game Land have not turned up this odd orchid species. It has a wand-like aspect, with a naked stem reaching 3-4 feet tall on average; there is a cluster of very long, strap-like leaves at the base, with each leaf growing to 2 feet long. Only at the very last few inches of the stem is the inflorescence, composed of a tight clustering of about 10 ball-like flowers, each about 1/2-inch long. The flowers are a variety of green and purple-brown colors. Fairly long bracts, each about 2-2.5 inches long, lie beneath each flower. At some distance, the plant might look a bit like a tall grass, but because it is so slender it could easily be overlooked unless you are specifically looking for this very rare species. The leaves are extremely similar to those of Calopogon tuberosus, so if your plant is vegetative only, proceed carefully with the identification.
Taxonomic CommentsThis species has switched genera several times in the last 50 years. When RAB (1968) was published, it went by the name of Eulophia ecristata. In more recent years it was known as Pteroglossaspis ecristata. Perhaps because that genus was too hard to spell and pronounce (!), it is now generally considered to be placed in the genus Orthochilus, which has at least 30 species around the tropics.

Other Common Name(s)Giant Orchid, Smooth-lipped Eulophia, Crestless Plume Orchid
State RankS1
Global RankG2G3
State StatusE
US Status
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B.A. SorrieHoke County, 1993, Fort Bragg. Scan from slide. HokePhoto_natural

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