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Arboretum Spotlight: This native orchid loves shade

Arboretum Spotlight: Serpentine Night stream orchid is a drought-tolerant California native that produces eye-catching flowers in dappled shade.
Arboretum Spotlight: Serpentine Night stream orchid is a drought-tolerant California native that produces eye-catching flowers in dappled shade.

This is one part in a weekly series featuring the UC Davis Arboretum’s “40 Plants You (Probably) Have Never Heard of – But Will Love,” 40 can’t-fail, easy-care, low-water plants well adapted to our region but hard to find.

Serpentine Night stream orchid

Epipactis gigantea ‘Serpentine Night’

Size: Clumps to one to two feet high and wide, spreading with time.

Bloom season: Greenish-brown flowers in summer.

Exposure: Prefers filtered shade.

Pruning needs: Cut down to the ground when dormant in winter.

Water needs: Medium water is best; will grow around ponds and in moist meadows. Once established, irrigate once a week.

Snapshot: You can grow backyard orchids and save water, too. Serpentine Night stream orchid is a California native perennial that spreads over time by producing rhizomes. The long and narrow leaves emerge an attractive maroon color and fade over the summer to a coppery green. The handsome orchid flowers look similar to cymbidiums in hues of green, gold and brown. Native to stream banks (as the name implies), this orchid also likes life on the dry side, but not too dry. In the Sacramento Valley, this tough plant prefers some shade and, while it may die back with summer drought, it returns next season – as long as the soil has some moisture.

For more on “40 Plants,” click on arboretum.ucdavis.edu.

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