Lily-leaved Twayblade

Purple Twayblade,
Lily-leaved Twayblade,
Large Twayblade, or
Brown Widelip Orchid

Liparis liliifolia

This inconspicuous, native orchid blooms in May and June. Each plant grows from a new underground corm; the previous year’s corm withers away.  Two oval, waxy leaves emerge in April and eventually reach 4 to 6 inches in height. The small flowers begin to form in May, and are clustered on a single stalk. Note in the picture above how they open from the bottom of the stalk first.

The flowers are so delicate that in order to appreciate them, you really need to get down on the ground to look closely. Twayblade flowers are irregular in shape; the overall form of the flower suggests a flying insect–maybe an ungainly crane fly. At a distance, the inflorescence appears pink to brown in color; up close, they are actually mauve, pale green and purple. So exotic!!

Each small flower is held up by a dark purple stem. There are two green sepals and two lateral, purple petals that look like dangling threads. The most visible part of the flower is the wide, mauve-colored lip, which protrudes out toward the front of the flower.

Twayblade orchid (Pandapas area)
The “greasy-looking” leaves of Twayblade orchid (Pandapas area)

The genus name Liparis comes from the Greek word for fat or greasy, which may refer to the overly shiny surface of the leaf. Liliifolia refers to the oval shape of the leaves, which resembles plants in the lily family.

Lily-leaved twayblade prefers mesic to moist deciduous forests, pine woods, and often disturbed habitats undergoing succession. The plant is distributed across much of the east coast, although it has been declared threatened, endangered, or “of concern” in some parts of its range.  One of the plants in these photographs was found all by itself in a stand of young pines on my property in Montgomery County, VA.  It flowered consistently for the last five years, but never set seed. I read that it needs cross-pollination by insects in order to reproduce sexually.

June 29, 2014 Update:  I found two more plants found in the Pandapas area in Montgomery County!  Woohoo! Thanks go to John Ford for showing me their location!

News Flash! I just found a  small patch of twayblade orchids in bloom at Carvin’s Cove on June 14, 2015!

A small patch of twayblade orchids growing at Carvin's Cove on June 14, 2015
A small patch of twayblade orchids growing at Carvin’s Cove on June 14, 2015

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Trina says:

    I found one and only one in Walnut Creek park, Charlottesville VA. Thanks for writing about it. I was thinking it was a liparis or listera so thanks for saving me steps. It looks to be in full bloom now.

  2. We have a nice little stand of them in a cedar grove but this is the first year I’ve seen them during flowering. Your pics helped me to confirm the id on them – thanks 🙂

  3. tuquois says:

    found one in Stony Point…just north of Charlottesville….looking for another! I have a tone of Crane Fly orchids that I’m waiting to bloom too

    1. Gloria says:

      I have three twayblades now and they have been in bloom for about two weeks in Blacksburg. 🙂

  4. RB Perkinson says:

    A small batch for years in James City Co (Williamsburg ). They seem to last for several years in one location and then disappear, only to find others several hundred yards away.

  5. May 21, 2017 – a few were in bloom on the Wahrari Nature Trail in Lanexa, Virginia, with ants in the flowers.

  6. Esther Davis says:

    I’ve discovered one little twaublade in a corner of our land on Wildwood Road in Salem. Several years ago after we bought this piece of property from our neighbor I’d let this area grow a little wild to see what would come up on its own and I’m so glad I did.

    1. Gloria says:

      I had the same thing happen! I found one on our property 14 years ago. I moved it to another spot where I knew I would see it more often. It then grew every year in its new spot. Eventually, it cloned another one, and now I have two! I look forward to seeing it in bloom every year. I have also seen them at Carvins Cove.

  7. HANS LOBERG says:

    The two leaves I have been marking for years in our gravelly front yard on Laurel Woods Drive in Salem finally bloomed! Your pictures helped with the identification. Thanks!

    1. Gloria says:

      That’s awesome!

  8. Melanie says:

    Just found a patch of these in our woods in Augusta county, Virginia.

  9. Anthony Lee Kirk says:

    I found a small patch of these on my property in Logan County, West Virginia. They grow in the moss, on a rock, that is in a ditch. Also, on my property I found a patch of vining fern. I have learned to be on the lookout for unusual, wild flowers on my property.

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