Squiggly Wiggly was a real tiny snake…

…And the Green Adder was his name. He is venomous, sneaky, and raw-tempered – a back alley is not a safe place to meet Mr. Adder. But he doesn’t live here in Georgia so how did a very small, common orchid pick up the name of the nefarious Green Adder? Someone thought the tiny blossom resembled the mouth of this viscous serpentine creature. Since the viper resides in Central Africa, he is no danger to us and neither is the Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid (Microstylis unifolia sometimes Malaxis unifolia) which is native to much of Georgia and the Eastern US., but seldom seen.

Don’t mess with me – the next time you are in Africa!
I do see a snake’s head! I do!

The Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid is very small with blossoms on the order of a quarter of an inch if not smaller. The Latin term, unifolia, refers to the one leaf nature of this very small orchid. I have read reports that occasionally there are two leaves but I have only seen one and finding a two-leafer would be like finding a four-leaf clover.

The plant has but a single leaf growing from the stem not the base which is a key identifier.

The Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid isn’t particular where it grows but most will be found in damp, woodsy environments on the ground – not in a tree as the Greenfly Orchid. You will not be able to transplant the orchid to your home garden as the microscopic fungi, nematodes, and general soil conditions simply do not exist in our somewhat sterile gardens. The plant is no more than a foot tall and sometimes just a few inches and it is a Spring and early Summer bloomer. It is easy to see how the orchid is overlooked, after all, it is green and very small, but a persistent search in moist leaf litter anywhere in Georgia with a possible exception of swamps and sandy shoreline should turn up a few.

This is the White Adders Mouth Orchid which is a northern version of our Green Orchid.

Most Malaxis species are either further north or further southwest in Mexico and the southwestern states. As far as I could determine, the unifolia is the only member of its family in Georgia but it is relatively common – just hard to see.

A head-on view – keep in mind that the blossom is actually very, very small.

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