Type of Flower
White Egret Flower (Habenaria radiata) is a species of orchid found in China, Japan, Korea and Russia.It is commonly known as the White Egret Flower.
The Japanese name for this species is sagisou, meaning “egret grass/herb”. Japan is home to many white egrets and in fact they often share the same habitats with this little flower.
One of Japan’s most famous orchids is the delicate terrestrial species, the egret flower, Habenaria radiata. This plant’s flower indeed looks much like a snowy egret with its display plumage puffed out. Despite being well known world wide, ironically this species is imperiled in the wild. In addition, most growers find it a bit difficult to keep for more than a season or two, but that is mostly a problem with cultural requirements, as we shall see.
Habenaria radiata is a small terrestrial orchid of grassy wetlands and seepage slopes throughout Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and some parts of eastern China.
The leaves are grasslike, up to 7 in number, and are between 5-20 cm long, and about 1 cm wide each. New leaves are formed each spring, starting out as small leafy growths that extend upward over the summer. They are arranged alternately up a single stem that continues on as an unbranched flower spike up to 50 cm tall, but usually much shorter than that. Flowering commences in late July and peaks in August.
The flower stalk holds anywhere from 1 to 8 flowers, each being around 4 cm wide. The the extravagant lip as well as the petals are pristine white, whereas the sepals are simple, small and green. Without a doubt, the lip steals the show – it has three main lobes, the two biggest extend laterally and are highly fringed, while the center lobe is simple, elongate, and pointing downward
The lateral lobes of the lip give it the distinctive “egret flower” shape, while the petals, also pure white and lightly toothed, splay upwards, looking much like wings, and giving the flower an almost angelic appeal up close. The column itself is interesting, a trident shaped affair, bright green, with two yellow, elongate pollinia at the front in full view, just waiting for a ride on a pollinator’s back or head. If this weren’t remarkable enough, the flower also boasts a large nectary, or spur, green in color and extending up to 8 cm long in a graceful arc just below the lip. Truly, this is a regal flower.
The plant grows from a small underground tuber, no more than a couple centimeters long, and its associated network of fleshy, unbranched roots. Being a deciduous species, this tuber serves as an energy source early in its growth cycle, allowing new leaves and the flower spike to form. Over the summer new bulbs form on short underground stems (stolons) and the old bulb slowly diminishes and dies by early autumn. A healthy growth can produce up to 3 replacement bulbs, and sometimes more. The new bulbs are fully formed by late October and leaf antithesis occurs at that time. A short time later the roots grown that season die back as well and the newly formed bulbs become separate, individual plants.