Malaxis unifolia, the Green Adder’s Mouth Orchid, is among the smallest of our native orchids, averaging about 4 to 10 inches in height. Its small size, tiny green flowers and single leaf make it difficult to see against the typical woodland undergrowth.
Malaxis unifolia has an extremely wide distribution from Labrador and Newfoundland in the north to Mexico in the south. It is an example of those peculiar cases where a plant can have an extensive distribution but be uncommon in most of its range. Its small size and uniform green color certainly make it difficult to find. In North Carolina it is considered uncommon to rare.
The tiny green flowers are among the smallest in the orchid family, the Orchidaceae. The flowers are said to resemble the forked tongue of an adder, leading to the common name of Adder’s Mouth.
The single broad, oval leaf clasps the stem about midway up its length. The parallel veins typical of orchids can be seen on the glossy specimen below. The genus name “Malaxis” is related to the smoothness of the leaf.
Malaxis unifolia was described in the original 1932 edition of B.W.Wells’ The Natural Gardens of North Carolina, and the name has escaped the subsequent taxonomic revisions that many of the plants described in that volume have undergone.
The plant pictured above and one other were encountered along the Wake Forest Reservoir Trail in the town of Wake Forest, North Carolina.