Japan’s largest twayblade orchid, Liparis kumokiri

A close cousin to Liparis krameri is L. kumokiri. It shares many attributes with that species including its overall habit as well as habitat choice. I haven’t heard of any reported natural hybrids between the two, but it is quite likely, and such plants would be hard to distinguish from the parents. Their differences lay mostly in the flower shape and color, as well as L. kumokiri being on average a far larger plant with broader, ovate leaves. Out of flower though, one could easily be mistaken for the other.

Liparis kumokiri habitat with flowers
This flowering plant of Liparis kumokiri is growing on the top of a mountain overlooking Fukuoka City at an elevation of 730 meters. Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.

Liparis kumokiri is a deciduous woodland perennial orchid. A pair of broad glossy leaves ascend from a pseudobulb that sits at ground level. The leaves are 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 green and completely hairless; 7-15 cm long and 4-10 cm wide. The pseudobulb is round, but somewhat compressed, and 2-4 cm in diameter.

From the center of the leaves the branched less flower stalk grows to a height of 10-25 cm and supports anywhere from 5-20 bright green flowers. The flowers are typical looking for a Liparis, but give the impression of being rounded. They are about 1 cm across. The broad lip is strongly recurved. The sepals are arranged in a nearly perfect triangle while the petals are wispy almost hair like affairs and point backwards strongly. The column looks almost stalked. One interesting feature is the shape of the flower stalk – it has four distinctly flat sides so that the cross section would produce a square shape much like the stems of plants in the mint family. Like every other part of this plant, the seed pods are bright green and are held vertically.

Liparis kumokiri flowers
The flowers of Liparis kumokiri are unremarkable and not more that 1.5 cm across. Cultivated specimen.

Like its near relative, this twayblade orchid is found throughout Japan in moist woodlands and mountain forests, even up to the subalpine zone in grasslands and thickets. It flowers anytime from May in the south to July in Hokkaido. In the Fukuoka area it is limited to higher elevations, not below 650 meters or so. It is possible that L. kumokiri is a variant of the wide ranging L. campylostalix which is found from the subtropics of Indochina clear up to Siberia!

I first saw this orchid in a nursery in Fukuoka City. They had about 50 plants all just recently out of flower. Of course I couldn’t resist and I bought two. I had read that this species is actually quite common in Japan, but up to that point had I never crossed paths with one. In late July 2006 I finally got my chance. I was walking a high ridge line (about 850 meters elevation) and to my left was a lovely forest just screaming ORCHIDS!, so I went off trail for a hunt. I was soon rewarded with a large Liparis plant. At first I thought it was L. krameri, but closer inspection showed it to be this species instead. A search of nearby areas revealed several dozen plants, many of them in small clumps. Some individuals were huge for a Liparis with leaf spans up to 30 cm – I’d never seen such large robust plants before. I was stoked. Many had seed pods as well.

Liparis kumokiri in habitat with seed pods
This plant of Liparis kumokiri is growing at 850 meters elevation in Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. Plants in this colony were very large and many had set seed.

I believe that these plants are growing at the warm end of their temperature limit, hence the reason I’d seen none further down on other mountains. Temperatures at altitudes above 800 meters are appreciably cooler than the lowlands, especially at night. The day I saw these plants the ambient temperature was in the high 20’s C at that altitude while in the valleys below it was in the mid 30’s. To date I’ve never seen any growing below 650 meters, showing this species preference for cooler conditions.

The Japanese name for this plant is kumokirisou from kumokiri meaning “cloudy mist” and sou meaning “plant” or “herb”, thus rendering, “cloudy mist plant” – perhaps a reference to their habitat choice, high up in the mists and clouds of Japan’s mountains. The Latinate species epithet, kumokiri, follows the Japanese name.

I’ve found this terrestrial orchid to be fairly easy on the one hand, yet difficult on the other. It is fully cold hardy in winter, does well in the spring and fall, but the summer heat here in lowland Fukuoka is not to its liking at all.

Liparis kumokiri in cultivation
Liparis kumokiri in the author’s garden. Unfortunately, these plants gave up the ghost after three seasons. The reason was mostly like excessive heat in summer. Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.

These plants relish the cool, moist woods of high mountains, not the dry heat of urban valleys. Beyond that, it offers no resistance to cultivation. Any decent well draining mix will do as long as it isn’t too high in organics. The plants should not receive any sun, particularly in southern regions. The humidity should also remain high. So the biggest hurdles are keeping it moist and relatively cool, say below 30 C if possible during the day and closer to 20 C at night.

Liparis kumokiri seed pods
The seed pods of Liparis kumokiri are bright green and held vertically.

I fertilize with a highly dilute inorganic blend regularly while in growth. Given their ability to exist in high mountain conditions and on Hokkaido, this species is very cold hardy, perhaps even to USDA cold hardiness zone 4. It also can take hot temperatures, so USDA zone 8 and even 9 would be possible where summer temperatures are not too high. Winter temperatures don’t need to be too cold to properly vernalize it – anything below 10 C is probably sufficient.

Not a beautiful plant, but also not difficult, therefore it deserves a place in the woodland garden for those with a taste for terrestrial orchids. Like L. krameri though, all plants in cultivation are from the wild, so consideration needs to be taken before purchasing one.


2 Replies to “Japan’s largest twayblade orchid, Liparis kumokiri”

  1. A great article; Liparis kumokiri F. Maekawa is a native orchid that you can find in northeast China’s Jilin province mainly in the Changbai mountain area. But in the Jingyue Lake National Forest Park in Changchun northeast China Latitude: 43°46’42.42”N Longitude: 125°26’40.09°E you can find them in small numbers. Along with Malaxis monophyllos var. monophyllos in much larger numbers, all though the park dug a trench some 300 meters long and destroyed over 227 Malaxis monophyllos var. monophyllos so they could install light and speakers so people can walk at night a hear music as the walk.

    1. Nice to know that this species is still found in NE China. In my little area of southern Japan I’ve watched this plant disappear little by little due to over foraging by deer populations that are out of hand. The little Malaxis is so easily overlooked that I doubt anyone will miss their presence – but I certainly would, and in the end we cannot know the importance of any organism’s life on the whole ecosystem. I hope for a bright future for orchids and other rare plants, but at this point I’m not so sure.

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