Hiking,  Outdoors,  Texas,  Travel & Places,  Wildflowers

Southern Twayblade Orchid (Neottia bifolia)


I have finally given up any pretense of writing in a timely manner here. Or sticking to a frequency schedule. Life is busy, writing time is scarce.

Let’s roll back to February of this year when we hiked the Four Notch Loop of the Lone Star Trail up in Sam Houston National Forest, where we did a quick overnight hike to see the southern twayblade orchids. Unfortunately I don’t know when we will be back on the LST or anywhere in Sam Houston because the Forest Supervisor just issued a major closure order for a significant portion of roads and trails in the NF due to historic flooding events in early May. While I’m sure trails and roads will open as they assess damage, it looks like their initial jump off point is — closed until June 2026! Two years! Listen, I get having to assess damage and fix roads but considering we have a lot of public lands that allow off-trail use and have no maintained trails, two years seems a little excessive to close off an entire forest to recreation. I digress…


I wanted to return to the Four Notch to photograph these orchid in bloom better than when we’d initially came across them back in 2018. Also, it was for another project that I hope to talk about soon!


It took a little time to re-locate the original population and I do think that some of that area has changed due to erosion as it’s very near a creek crossing. I’d even loaded a GPS with an approximate point but we’d blown past it by about a tenth of a mile and as we were walking I started thinking harder on the area we’d passed and that I was fairly certain it was the location. We backtracked and sure enough Chris managed to spot two plants just off the trail in an area that looked like it would easily fall into the creek if there was a heavy flooding event. I kinda wonder now if those plants are still alive.


Satisfied with relocating these plants, I took photos and was glad we saw what we came for—now we could just hike and find a place to camp later that afternoon. Except maybe half a mile later in a bottomland-y kind of area Chris spotted more orchids…and then more! We kept walking and stopping and lo and behold, they were much more prevalent along the trail than we had expected.


But you had to actively be looking for them because they are tiny! They blend in with the leaf litter and if you aren’t focused on searching the ground for a tiny ruddy-brown orchid, you aren’t going to see it.


Utterly delighted with finding more of the orchids than we ever expected, our spirits were lifted into the afternoon as we kept moving towards whatever campsite we could find to pitch the tent for the evening. Southern twayblade orchids are early bloomers, beginning around late January and peaking in late February and early March with a few stragglers continuing on into the spring. They are relatively uncommon, or just perhaps unseen, in Texas but once you have the eyes and habitat for them you’ll probably come across a couple. We found a few in another area near the Big Thicket a week later! The species is also found throughout much of the south in pockets of the right habitat, with a decent stronghold along the Atlantic seaboard in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.

February seems forever ago, especially as I peer out at the expanse of June and July and what I have on my calendar for that! And hopefully the Forest Service will come to their senses after initial evaluations and open the forest up for hiking much sooner than two years from now!


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