Some Native Orchids of California and the Bay Area

Ed Nazzal



I have been hiking California and the Bay area longer than I have been growing orchids. Not until I started growing orchids did I realize that there are many orchids growing in my own backyard. Since then I try to always carry a camera, and sometimes a tripod, on my hikes to take pictures of native orchids and many many other beautiful flowers that grow in California. Below are some pictures of some of the orchids that I encountered in my hikes.


Epipactis helleborine

Even though E. helleborine is not a native orchid it is well established in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the East Bay hills and the Monterey Peninsula. In the Santa Cruz Mountains  there are thousands of colonies with hundreds of plants each as well as thousands of individual plants. They are in bloom around June/July time frame.


Epipactis gigantia

Also called Stream Orchid.  This is the state orchid of California; it grows at a variety of altitudes starting at sea level. I have seen some growing in Sequoia NP at an altitude of 7000 ft. That means they are covered in snow about 6 months a year! There they were growing in a small creek in pure gravel with their "feet" in the water. Easy plant to grow in pots and they are available for sale in native-plants nurseries.




C. maculata                                                        C. maculata ?? (no spots)                                C. striata

Very prevalent in the Santa Cruz mountains and rarely in the East Bay Hills. It usually grows in clumps of several plants but not in large colonies. Very prevalent in northern California.  It blooms in early spring through early summer.


Platanthera dilatata


Never saw it in the bay area but fairly prevalent in the Sierras around 3000 - 5000 ft alt. They grow in wet meadows on river banks. Above picture was taken in Kings Canyon NP.


Piperia transversa


Very rare, I came across a couple of colonies in Big Basin Redwood State Park in bloom in July.


Piperia elegance

Very rare in this area, came across few scattered plants growing individually in bloom in early September in San Bruno Mountain State Park.


Calypso bulbosa


Rather rare in the area. It is reported to grow throughout the Santa Cruz mountains and in Marin County as well as many parks in Northern California. I only encountered it in Butano State park in a very small colony in bloom in March. I do not do much hiking in March due to the very wet conditions in the SC mountains. I'll try to brave it some year and see if I can find other colonies.


Cypripedium californicum

Grows only in Northern California and Southern Oregon. In bloom in late May / early June. Absolutely spectacular species. It grows in large colonies in very wet conditions along creek banks. Lots of the plants have their "feet" in the water. Such a beautiful sight it is worth a two-day trip to Northern California just to see it in bloom.


So, if you hike in California keep your eyes open for orchids. Most are not easy to spot, but once you learn what to look for there are plenty to see. If you do hike please also keep an eye open for the many other beautiful flowers that grow alongside. Also, most important, be careful of other creatures that share the same environment but should not be touched, poked or stepped on! ENJOY.