||orchids|height 6"-15"|spread 4"-15"|full sun/moist shade|green/white flowers in Summer||
Chatterbox Orchid (Epipactis gigantea)
This once-common terrestrial orchid reaches its southwest most limit in the Austin/San Marcos portion of the Hill Country. It is found on seeps, near springs and permanently flowing water. The vegative portion is 6" to 15" tall with leaves 1" to 4" long and 1/3" to 1-1/2" wide. The plant appears to be evergreen in our area (leaves lost in the low 20's) and spreads quickly from rhizomes. The greenish-white flowers are conspicuous from the inflated lip that "chatters" in the lightest breeze.
I have watched this once easily located orchid disappear from the Edward's Plateau, from both dropping water tables and deer eating the flowers. Unlike many other terrestrial orchids, this widespread species is downright weedy and easily grown. This plant is suitable for every shady/sunny site that is more or less perennially moist. Once established it appears to survive underground for several months of dryness.
In the late spring of 2009 I was fortunate to be allowed access to a private ranch in the Camp Wood - Leakey area. We located dozens of these orchids in bloom and later that summer we collected a small percentage of the population's seed. I was truly blessed to have not only germinated but transplanted hundreds (over 1000?) of these orchids.
The seeds germinated both promptly and in high percentages in the tissue culture lab that my wife and I cobbled together in the mid-90's. Not only did they germinate but they matured as if in the presence of their mycorhizal partner - very fortunate indeed! I began to transplant them from agar to potting soil and the survival and growth of these plants is very satisfying. I expect to have hundreds of these ready for fall 2010.