Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Three Birds Orchid - Triphora trianthophoros   (Swartz) Rydberg
Members of Triphora with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 5 » Family Orchidaceae
Author(Swartz) Rydberg
DistributionThroughout the southern and central mountains, but of spotty occurrence in the northern mountains, where known from just one county (Ashe). Only a very few records east of the mountains, including several from coastal maritime forests.

This is a very widespread, but nowhere numerous, species occurring from ME, southern ON, and southeastern NE, south sparingly to central FL and eastern TX. Though recorded from all states in the Eastern US, there are many small gaps in the range, and there is no area of primary abundance.
AbundanceThough recorded from all counties from Burke and Polk westward, it is surprisingly only rare to uncommon, and apparently declining. Very rare in the northern mountains and in coastal maritime forests, and extremely rare in-between, with records only from Forsyth and Northampton counties. It may be most "numerous" in the state at a site on Bogue Banks in Carteret County. The species has a proclivity of "disappearing" for a few years at a time, and all of a sudden, in some years, can be found in numbers where not seen in recent years. As a result of a likely decline in recent decades, the NC NHP identifies it as a Watch List species, even though technically it is the variety that is on that list.
HabitatIn the mountains, it occurs in rich humus of moist forests, mainly in somewhat acidic soils there. It can grow in association with rhododendrons and hemlocks, and is also found near creeks or growing on logs. East of the mountains, however, it is a "mafic" species of maritime hardwood or swamp forests, and Basic Mesic Forest.
PhenologyBlooms mainly from July to September in the mountains, but often in October or November in coastal forests. It fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is one of the shorter species of orchid in the state (not counting Spiranthes species). It normally has a stem of just 6-9 inches tall, with a few (often three) rather large flowers, for the size of the plant. Each flower is roughly 1 inch across, with the petals being white but with pink tinges on the undersides and at the tips. (Some populations may have only white flowers with little or no pink color.) The lip is white; thus, each flower has a soft pale pink overall color. The leaves are unusual for orchids, being about 1/2-inch long, heart-shaped but clasping, and a handful scattered along the stem. Do not be fooled by the large number of montane counties with records; this can be a very difficult species to find, and there seem to be relatively few recent reports.
Taxonomic CommentsThere are several varieties of the species; the only one occurring in the Southeast is the nominate one -- Triphora trianthophoros var. trianthophoros.

Other Common Name(s)Nodding Pogonia, Threebirds
State RankS2S3 [S2]
Global RankG3G4
State Status[W1]
US Status
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