Kramer’s twayblade orchid, Liparis krameri

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 plant
Liparis krameri is an unassuming plant, but in my eyes, a little jewel of Japan’s forests.

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 branch less 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.

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.

Liparis krameri flowers
The flowers of Liparis krameri give the plant its Japanese name, jigabachisou, which means “sand digger wasp plant” since the flowers resemble the wasp species Ammophila sabulosa.

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. The flowers, which are born in late spring or early summer, are commonly marked with purple and purple veins, but some 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.

Liparis krameri colony
This is the largest colony of Liparis krameri I’ve found. San-gun, Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan.

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.

Liparis krameri leaves
The leaves of Liparis krameri are perhaps its most beautiful feature. You can see from this photo how this genus got the name Liparis, from the Greek word lipar, meaning greasy or fatty – a reference to the leave


4 Replies to “Kramer’s twayblade orchid, Liparis krameri”

  1. We would like to use one picture from Liparis kumokiri for a new book about Orchids from Thuringia/Germany. Why?: We have here Liparis loeselii. This is the typus species of the genus Liparis. In the discription of the Genus we would like to show an other species from this genus. Liparis kumokiri look is very good. So I would like to get permission to use the picture with the four plants from this article and to get a copy from this picture with higher resolution (300 dpi), to publish it in our new book.

    Thank you!

  2. Named for Charles Kramer, a gardener who spent several years collecting plants in Japan:
    Charles Kramer est mort à Liège, le 8 octobre de cette année : il était chef de culture au château de St-Gilles, chez M. Ferdinand Massange de Louvrex. On sait que Charles Kramer, originaire de Hambourg ou plutôt de Flottbeck, près Hambourg, avait exploré, au point de vue de la botanique horticole, le Japon et une partie de l’Amérique centrale. Ces voyages avaient ruiné sa santé et ont, sans doute, amené sa fin prématurée. Kramer avait su gagner en Belgique la considération et la sympathie de tous ceux avec qui il s’est trouvé en relations. (La Belgique Horticole, 1882)

    English Translation: Charles Kammer died in Liège, October 8 this year: he was head of culture at the Castle of St Gilles, M. Ferdinand Massange of Louvrex. We know that Charles Kramer, from Hamburg or rather Flottbeck, near Hamburg, was explored in terms of horticultural botany, Japan and parts of Central America. These trips had ruined his health and, no doubt, brought his untimely end. Kramer had won in Belgium consideration and sympathy of all with whom he found in relationships.

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