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Rare, wild, and ephemeral — Orchids

An Orleans resident shares his passion for wild local orchids

Photo by: Rich Eldred

In search of orchids

With a knowledgeable guide, a sense of curiosity, and an appreciation for the natural world, you too can become an orchid detective. According to Falmouth resident, Mario DiGregorio, there is one important rule to follow in this endeavor: Always respect nature, and never pick an orchid.

DiGregorio should know. He is a trained naturalist with an emphasis on botany, as well as the vice president of the Botanical Club of Cape Cod and the Islands; he also co-authored Cape Cod Wildflowers: A Vanishing Heritage, first published by Mountain Press Publishing Company in 1989, with Jeff Wallner. Eldred says this book was his first inspiration to set off in search of local wildflowers, including orchids. “I wanted to see every one in the book,” Eldred says.

According to DiGregorio, all of the wild orchids on the Cape and I—slands are fragile—and some are endangered and even threatened by extinction—so extreme care must be taken when viewing them in nature. “Wild orchids,” he adds, “can’t live as houseplants, anyway.”

Books can be an excellent introduction. DiGregorio’s softcover book, Cape Cod Wildflowers: A Vanishing Heritage, focuses on a number of wild orchids. Though currently out of print, the book is available by request at local public libraries. DiGregorio also recommends Wild Orchids of the Northeastern United States: A Field Guide, by Paul Martin Brown, and Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, by Lawrence Newcomb.

Striking out on your own may prove frustrating and even fruitless. The best option is to go on a nature walk with a local conservation group or the Botanical Club of Cape Cod and the Islands (, which welcomes new members. The Falmouth-based Cape and Islands Orchid Society also holds events and meetings throughout the year, but the organization’s focus is on cultivated orchids.

If you are lucky enough to see a rare orchid in the wild, contact the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program. They will want to know about it! Also, be sure to email a photo of the beautiful flower to Cape Cod LIFE at

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