The small state of Rhode Island hosts 39 species of wild orchids. Although many people think of tropical climates when orchids come to mind, these plants are members of the second largest flowering plant family in existence, according to Palomar College. With over 20,000 identified species, orchids are found on all continents except Antarctica.
Known in botanical circles as Cypripedium acaule, this native orchid is commonly found in woods where oak and pine trees grow, which cause the soil to be acidic. It is sometimes called the moccasin flower. This pink flowering orchid is found in all of Rhode Island's counties. It blooms from mid May until around the first day of summer on June 20. Rhode Island also is home to the yellow ladyslipper, Cypripedium parviflorum, which lives in damp forests. The yellow ladyslipper is found only in Providence County. Other kinds of ladyslippers grow in other Eastern states, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists some of them as endangered or vulnerable.
The Galearis spectabilis lives in rich woods in Providence County. It forms clusters of pink and white flowers against its large, leathery leaves in mid to late May. Known only to exist in one site in Rhode Island, the USDA lists it as endangered. In other states where similar cultivars of this species occur, is either endangered or vulnerable.
The Platanthera ciliaris orchid inhabits damp fields in Washington County. Plants grow as tall as 3 feet and bloom with a burst of yellow-orange flowers in August. Only two sites are known where this rare plant exists. The USDA lists it as endangered in Rhode Island, and as threatened or endangered in other eastern states where it exists.
Large Purple Fringed Orchid
The Platanthera grandiflora grows along the banks of streams and in damp woodlands in the counties of Kent, Newport, Providence and Washington. In Rhode Island, this orchid is classified as rare. It sends up spikes of prolific pink-purple flowers in June. In other East Coast states where this orchid occurs, it is classified as endangered, threatened, vulnerable and "presumably extirpated" in Tennessee, according to the USDA Plants Database.