Malaxis unifolia or Microstylis unifolia
Here’s a small member of the orchid family that is widely distributed across the eastern and central United States, yet is uncommon to find. Its small size combined with its overall green color make it difficult to see even when it is present in an area.
As the species name unifolia suggests, it usually produces one glossy leaf midway up the stem (not a basal leaf like many other orchids). The leaf is smooth and oval, and it completely clasps the stem. Upon blooming, Green Adder’s Mouth produces a raceme with scores of tiny green flowers that are about 1/8 inch long. Initially the flowers unfold from a dense, flat, circular cluster that is quite unique. See the photos in the gallery below. The cluster may take a long time to open fully.
The tiny fruit of Green Adder’s Mouth is a green oval capsule. It will eventually produce a dust-like seed when it dries out.
Bloom time is late spring/early summer in our area. The plants on this page started blooming in June and were just going to seed in early August. Habitat: swamps, moist woods, and sometimes dry woods.
This plant gets its common name from the shape of the flower: if you can get close enough to see the tiny flowers, they look forked, like a snake’s tongue.
Photographer’s note: due to the very small size of the flowers, I was not able to obtain a crystal clear photo of an individual flower. Therefore, two images in the gallery are courtesy of Wikimedia. The close-up photograph was taken by Rob Rutledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org; the illustration is by M. Hart and is in the public domain.