Japan is home to a handful of deciduous Liparis species, commonly called twayblade orchids. One of the more interesting in its leaf form is Liparis krameri, an unassuming herb who’s Japanese name speaks volumes about the flower’s showiness. Simply put, it looks like a small insect! Still, every time I find one of these little plants in the field my heart skips a beat – there it sits on the forest floor like some lost precious jewel.
Liparis krameri is a deciduous woodland terrestrial orchid. A pair of broad glossy leaves ascend from a pseudobulb that sits at ground level. The leaves are markedly veined with the center vein being the most prominent. The leaf edges are flat or undulating, giving the false impression of serrations. They are a bright shiny green, completely hairless, and tapering elegantly to a point; 7-12 cm long and 3-8 cm wide. The pseudobulb is round, but somewhat compressed; 2-3 cm in diameter.
From the center of the leaves the unbranched flower stalk grows to a height of 10-25 cm and supports anywhere from 5-20 insect looking flowers. While the flowers are typical looking for a Liparis, they are even more spider-like in appearance than most. Each is about 2 cm long. The broad lip is strongly recurved ending in a point. The long sepals are held in a triangle and are undulating. The hair-like petals are held directly backward The column is long and arching. The flower color is variable from pure bright green throughout to deep purple-brown, and every shade between. Many plants have a complex purple veined lip. The flowers are born sequentially, thus the plant can bloom for weeks. I’ve not seen any pods form on wild plants in my region.
This twayblade orchid is found throughout the cool temperate regions of Japan as well as the Korean Peninsula, China (Manchuria), and the higher elevations of Taiwan. It lives in moist woodlands in mountain forests. In the mountains of southern Japan it seems to prefer somewhat higher elevations (500+ meters) where night time temperatures are cooler, thus revealing its true nature – a cool temperate climate species.
This plant is very similar looking to Liparis kumokiri, however, when not in flower L. kumokiri is a larger plant with more broad leaves while L. krameri has more elegantly tapering leaves. The later seems to have more intricately veined leaves as well creating a complex and lovely pattern. While in both species the leaf margins are crimped or frilled, those of L. krameri are to the point of looking serrated from a distance. To date I’ve only seen this species on one mountain in the Fukuoka area, and in just one small patch. I have searched many similar environs across a wide area and have never found additional plants. The reason for this is a mystery to me, but given this plant’s distribution I’m inclined to think the coastal mountains of Kyushu are near the southern end of its range. The flowers, which are born in late spring or early summer, are commonly marked with purple and purple veins, but as fate would have it, the specimens I’ve seen all have nearly pure green flowers.
The genus name, Liparis, is from the Greek word lipar meaning “oily” or “fatty”, a reference to the shiny, almost greasy looking leaf surfaces of many species. The species epithet, krameri, is perhaps in honor of Johann Georg Heinrich Kramer (1684-1744), an Austrian physician and botanist or his son, Wilhelm Heinrich Kramer (?-1765), physician, biologist, and entomologist. The son in particular is well known for being one of the first scientists to adopt the Latin binomial nomenclature system created by Carl Linneaus.
Its Japanese name, jigabachisou, comes from the words jigabachi meaning “sand digger wasp” and sou meaning plant or herb, rendering, “sand digger wasp plant” because the flowers resemble the sand digger wasp (Ammophila sabulosa).
L. krameri should be grown as per its near relatives L. kumokiri and L. makinoana. Being cool to warm growing woodland plants, they need high humidity and moisture at all times while in growth. If plants dry out the leaves quickly turn lighter and wither within a few days.
Beyond its water requirements, this species shouldn’t be too finicky about the growing substrate so long as it is free draining and not too high in organics. Any good woodland loam should do or conversely a mix of sand, humus, and coarse material such as perlite should be sufficient as well. Compost reaction should be acidic. Fertilizer can be given while in growth, but I’d err on the gentle side with this one. Given its wide range, it should be happy from USDA cold hardiness zones 6-8, but possibly a bit colder and warmer if sited well or protected from weather extremes.
This twayblade should be grown for its foliage alone. Having said that, virtually all plants in cultivation have been wild sourced, so it is up to the grower to decide if they wish to try them. Not a stunning species, but a real jewel in my opinion.