This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Greenish white, in a loosely set spike; the upper sepal short, rounded; side ones spreading; petals smaller, arching; the lip long, narrow, drooping, white, prolonged into a spur often 1 1/2. in. long, curved and enlarged at base; anther sacs prominent, converging. Scape: 1 to 2 ft. high. Leaves: 2, spreading flat on ground, glossy above, silvery underneath, parallel-veined, slightly longer than wide, very large, from 4 to 7 in. across.
Preferred Habitat - Rich, moist woods in mountainous regions, especially near evergreens.
Flowering Season - July - August.
Distribution - From British Columbia to the Atlantic; eastern half of the United States southward to the Carolinas.
Wonderfully interesting structure and the comparative rarity of this orchid, rather than superficial beauty, are responsible for the thrill of pleasure one experiences at the sight of the spike of unpretentious flowers. Two great leaves, sometimes as large as dinner plates, attract the eye to where they glisten on the ground. The spur of the blossom, the nectary, "implies a welcome to a tongue two inches long, and will reward none other," says William Hamilton Gibson. "This clearly shuts out the bees, butterflies, and smaller moths. What insect, then, is here implied? The sphinx moth, one of the lesser of the group. A larger individual might sip the nectar, it is true, but its longer tongue would reach the base of the tube without effecting the slightest contact with the pollen, which is, of course, the desideratum." How the moth, in sipping the nectar, thrusts his head against the sticky buttons to which the pollen masses are attached, and, in trying to release himself, loosens them; how he flies off with these little clubs sticking to his eyes; how they automatically adjust themselves to the attitude where they will come in contact with the stigma of the next flower visited, and so cross-fertilize it, has been told in the account of the great purple-fringed orchis of similar construction. To page 12 the interested reader is, therefore, referred; or, better still, to the luminous description by Dr. Asa Gray.