Ground Orchid

Chinese Ground Orchid
aka, Forest Orchid
Hyacinth Orchid
or Urn Orchid

"I want to sing a fugue
sounding like the genius of flowers."

-Daniela Gioseffi,

The Forest Orchid, or Chinese Ground Orchid (Bletilla striata), is the hardiest of all temperate terrestrial orchids suited to the open garden. It is native of Japan where it is called shi ran & southern China where it is called pai chi.

Ground OrchidThis rather care-free perennial wants loose organically enriched acidic soil, regular watering but with perfect drainage, in brightest bright shade.

It dislikes full sun, but our experience on Puget Sound was that it did not bloom until we moved them to a location with a bit of direct sunlight, after which they became exceedingly floriferous. Inland, they might want more protection.

It's never afflicted with plant diseases, is not an insect favorite, & even slugs & snails are only reluctant visitors to its leaves.

If it doesn't like its location it will either not bloom or not bloom well, & no amount of babying will induce it to do better. But if it does like its position, it takes no babying. It's ideal for zones 7 & 8, & can be tried down to zone 5, but will need winter protection, such as placement near enough the house to get some residual warmth, & winter mulching; then if it produces shoots so early in spring it's at risk of experiencing frost, give it a burlap or newspaper tent the night before frosty mornings are expected.

In our area, no such extra care is called for, & its only risk is of too much wetness during its dormant winter, which a mulch of large maple leaves or clipped swordferns could fix if rainfall is too persistent for good drainage to be sufficient.

Ground OrchidCompared to really fancy aroid orchids, the bright pink blooms are small & rather unassuming, until you get down close to the plant, when it becomes obvious these are indeed orchids.

If pumped-up extravagant orchids are not the comparison, these these inch & a half blooms are rather showy with a very long bloom time, beginning as early as April but certainly for May & June, potentially lingering into July.

There are four to six leaves on each shoot, about a foot tall; it's not an unattractive foliage though a little plain. From the shoot an unbranched flower stem arises to a foot & a half. The upper portion of the stem produces a vertical row or loose raceme of three to seven (with the possibility a dozen or more) nodding blooms. The uppermost buds open first, the lowermost bud last. Each bloom lasts a full month, & as they open serially, you can imiagine what a long while it is blooming.

A herbaceous perennial, Chinese Ground Orchids spread by short rhizomes which develop compressed corms, with fibrous roots spreading from each corm. It occasionally produces seed-pods but mainly naturalizes by means of its rhizomnes.

In Asia it is regarded as a medicinal plant, the corm being sliced, sun-dried, & powdered to treat pulmonary illness; or mixed with oil as a topical treatment of wounds or skin conditions.

A study conducted at Nanjing University published in the Journal of Bioscience & Bioengineering [Huajia Diao, et al, 2008] isolated specific chemical components of B. striata which did appear to fascilitate healing of wounds or burn injury, though for internal use, whether it has effectivity beyond that of a placebo remains unproven. Certainly believers swear by it, entrusting even such serious illnesses as tuberculosis to herbal doctors.


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