Orchids do not grow on trees; therefore, a tree blooming with abundant orchid-like blossoms may pose a bit of a mystery. Orchids are renowned for their exotic allure and colourful blooms in varying shades of pink, purple, red, white, orange and yellow. Many gardeners are not aware that other plants, including several trees, bloom with similarly shaped flowers that resemble orchids.
Orchid-like flowers adorn the catalpa tree from May through June. Blossoms are relatively small (approximately 3/4 inch long) and bell-shaped. Flowers are vibrantly coloured, with purple, orange, violet or purple spots against light yellow or white. Flowers are bell-shaped and resemble orchids. The tree is also referred to as Chinese catalpa and it is native to western China. Catalpa trees reach heights and spreads of 20 to 30 feet and flourish in planting sites that receive full to partial sunlight.
Impatiens glandulifera (ornamental jewelweed) is an invasive flowering plant that reaches heights of 3 to 6 feet and blooms with orchid-like flowers in colours such as white, pink, purple and red. Blooms have five petals (two of which are fused) and average lengths of approximately 1-inch. Ornamental jewelweed may inhibit native plants from growing in the area and can impact area wildlife negatively. Impatiens namchabarwensis (sapphire jewelweed), is not invasive and blooms with similarly shaped flowers that resemble bluish-violet orchids. Sapphire jewelweed's jade-green leaves have serrated edges and plants grow to heights of approximately 2 feet.
The Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) is a deciduous tree that blooms during spring with fragrant pinkish-lavender blooms that look similar to phalaenopsis orchids. Leaves are vibrant green and large, growing to widths up to 2 feet. Trees are fast-growing and can grow to heights of 12 feet in one growing season. Trees grow as tall as 15 feet with a 3- to 6-foot spread. Empress trees are highly adaptable to various soil types; plant in areas that receive full sunlight and have well-drained soil for best results.
Spotted coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) belongs to the orchid family and grows to heights between 8 and 20 inches with characteristic maroon-coloured stalks. Plants bloom with 1/2-inch flowers throughout the summer; flowers look like miniature orchids and have colourful speckles on the inner surfaces of the petals. Colouration is usually red to greenish-brown; yellow spotted coralroot bears vibrant yellow stalks and yellow spotted flowers. Plants flourish in locations that receive partial sun to moderate shade and tolerate swampy or moist soil conditions.
Toad lilies (Tricyrtis formosana) bloom with flowers that look more like orchids than lilies, with their upward-facing blossoms and spotted petal interior. Flower colour varies depending on the type being grown and may include light pink, lilac or white with purple or red spots. Plants bloom throughout early fall and grow to heights between 2 to 3 feet. Toad lilies flourish in locations that receive partial to heavy shade and moist, well-drained soil.