Cephalanthera austinae
(A. Gray) Heller [Eburophyton austinae]
Phantom Orchid, Snow Orchid

Location British Columbia
Specific Habitat

Dimly lit virgin coniferous forests in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, from British Columbia to California. A relatively primitive genus, and the only truly saprophytic orchid, requiring on a symbiotic relationship with a subterranean mycorrhizal fungus for nutrients.
Fourteen other species inhabit Europe, North Africa, and the northern parts of Asia.

Flowering SeasonJune to August.

Roots thickened and fibrous, from a short rhizome.
Height to 65 cm. Stem white, glabrous, leafless, clothed in white sheaths up to 10 cm. long, passing into bracts above.
Raceme loose, up to 20 white flowers.
Flower sepals and petals do not spread widely, inner half of constricted lip is not readily visible, curving up either side of the column; anther sparkling-white, ovary twisted; outer segment of lip is broad, heart-shaped but blunt, bears a yellow centre with several low, papillose crests.
To the touch, the plant feels clammy, wax-like.


The only totally saprophytic species. Capsule is as white as the flower. The plant reminds one of the white Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora).


The Native Orchids of the United States and Canada excluding Florida


© Royal Botanical Gardens, Dr. Donald Gunn Image Collection.